Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Identifying Student Competencies in Macro Practice: Articulating the Practice Wisdom of Field Instructors

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Identifying Student Competencies in Macro Practice: Articulating the Practice Wisdom of Field Instructors

Article excerpt

ALTHOUGH DETERMINING THE practice competence of social work students has always concerned social work educators, the current Council on Social Work Education's (CSWE) Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS; CSWE, 2008) require more systematic approaches to obtaining outcome data about schools' success in meeting their objectives. Obviously reliable and valid assessment of students' learning and performance in the field practicum constitutes an important component of any evaluation strategy. It is therefore imperative that educators develop effective measures for evaluating student field performance. The first step in this process is identifying the competencies that are required for effective practice. Core competencies for the foundation of practice articulated in the EPAS for MSW programs are expected to also prepare for advanced practice through "knowledge and practice behaviors specific to a concentration" (p. 3). In this regard macro practice is seen as one such concentration.

The scholarly literature with respect to the identification and evaluation of practice competencies has focused primarily on micro or clinical practice across disciplines including medicine (Farrell, 2005; Resnick, 1993), pastoral care (Gordon & Mitchell, 2004), respiratory therapists (Cullen, 2005), dentistry (Albino et al., 2008), psychology (Spruill et al., 2004), nursing (Bondy, Jenkins, Seymour, Lancaster, & Ishee, 1997), and social work (Bogo et al., 2004; Regehr, Regehr, Power, & Bogo, 2007). In this literature, two components of competency have been identified (Bogo et al., 2006; Kane, 1992; Talbot, 2004). One is a set of procedural skills including such aspects as conducting an assessment, implementing an intervention strategy, and communicating that strategy to other members of the treatment team verbally and in writing. These procedural aspects of competency have been the focus of competency-based assessments. This is in part due to the overt observable nature of such skills and in part due to the fact that such skills are relatively amenable to measurement. These skills can be taught by field instructors in the practicum and in practice courses. They can be acquired by students with practice and mentoring.

The second component of professional competency involves personal qualities that students possess when they enter the practicum. Kane (1992) has described this as the judgment needed to combine knowledge, skills, and abilities into effective solutions to client problems across a wide range of situations. Talbot (2004) refers to meta competencies of professional practice that include relationship, self-development, analysis, and judgment. Bogo et al. (2006), in conducting interviews with experienced clinical field instructors with regard to student competencies expected to identify a set of skills and competencies that field instructors would use to describe the differences between exemplary students and problematic students. What emerged instead was a constellation of personal qualities possessed by students that were perceived as affecting their approaches to learning, their interactions with others in the organization, their relationship with the field instructor, and their ability to develop relationships with clients. Exemplary students were described as bright, intuitive, motivated, enthusiastic, self-directed, engaging, and tactful. Problematic students were described as irritable, defensive, judgmental, nonempathic, shy, needy, and demanding. It was concluded that these personality characteristics seemed to take precedence over skills and behaviors, with the skills and behaviors used more as supporting evidence for these underlying traits than as evidence of having achieved or failing to have achieved competence.

A more limited literature exists with respect to competencies in community, organization, and policy contexts. No doubt this is largely due to the fact that only about 10% of social work MSW practicum are in macro practice (Raymond, Teare, & Atherton, 1996) and few MSW programs offer macro concentrations (Mor Barak, Travis, & Bess, 2004). …

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