Academic journal article Field Educator

The Future of Field Education: A Conversation with Darla Spence Coffey

Academic journal article Field Educator

The Future of Field Education: A Conversation with Darla Spence Coffey

Article excerpt

[Editor's Note: In this issue's Conversation, Dr. Darla Spence Coffey, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Council on Social Work Education, is interviewed by Springfield College's Director of Field Education and Professor, Dr. Bill Fisher. In a wide-ranging interview we learn about Dr. Coffey's thoughts on the preliminary findings of the recent national Commission on Field Education (COFE) survey, and her impressive efforts to better link Field Education to federal workforce development initiatives. CSWE's new affiliation with The National Center for Inter-professional Practice in Education is also discussed. Preliminary findings of the COFE survey of Field Directors on Models, Staffing and Resources can be found at CSWE]

Bill Fisher: Darla, first I'd like to start by recognizing the importance of your leadership in working to improve field education. As co-chair of the task force that will be examining the results of the field education survey, I'd like to say that it's very positive that there is an increasing understanding of the central role of field education.

Darla Spence Coffey: This has been very natural for me. I have a BSW, MSW, and PhD in social work. I'm a social worker through and through. I spent many years practicing social work before I even considered going into the academy.

As a social work student, I had some fabulous professors, but I would be hard pressed to give you any details about the classes that I took. I could definitely tell you some detailed stories about my field experiences. Those are the experiences that really bring things together for students. It's really important for me to contribute and lead in these conversations.

For me, field is absolutely the heart of social work education. I always cringed when I heard folks talk about social work education and field education as though they were two separate entities. Hopefully, we'll get to the day when we say "social work education" and everybody in the room understands that means field is intricately integrated into all of that.

It's been an honor and privilege to be in my position and try to find ways to highlight the importance and elevate the conversations about field education.

BF: The initial findings of the state of field survey, an initiative of CSWE and COFE, were recently released. What implications do you see in a preliminary look at the data?

DSC: First, let me thank you for the work that you did on the report and the ongoing work in terms of diving deeper into this data.

I'm looking forward to what we decide to focus on within the data. In general, it highlights a number of things that we're doing very well. It also highlights that as much as we talk about the need to have creativity and innovation, we're still relying on traditional models for the structure of field education. That surprised me.

For example, in terms of the academic year, a student starts in the fall, and goes through the spring. We really have not budged in terms of how field has been historically structured. That was a bit surprising.

BF: If I can offer an insight on that, new models could really enhance the learning experience and the skill development, but they're also complicated to administer.

That's something that we don't always consider when we're exploring a model, that is, if you have half of your student body pursuing one model, and a third pursuing another model, and a quarter pursuing another model, it's very complex to administer. That, of course, brings us back to resources. That's one caveat that I would add to the idea of alternative models, alternative models usually require more resources.

DSC: I know.

BF: How do you see deans and directors using the information from the survey? Do you think there are some important takeaways for them?

DSC: I have a great appreciation for the pressure that deans and directors experience. They're betwixt and between, dedicated to quality social work education as well as needing to answer to provosts and to presidential priorities. …

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