Academic journal article Field Educator

Utilizing Student/Peer-Facilitators to Create a Dynamic Field Seminar Learning Environment

Academic journal article Field Educator

Utilizing Student/Peer-Facilitators to Create a Dynamic Field Seminar Learning Environment

Article excerpt

Introduction: Schools of social work are training grounds for professionals who, on the whole, will continue on to practice in the community, as opposed to residing within "the ivory towers" of academia. In order to support students in bridging the gap between the academy and the practice world, integrative seminars are structured to connect course content to the students' goals and experiences. The nature of the integrative classroom format enables students to make the connection between the theory of the profession and their practice in the field. As a result, the integrative seminar is the ideal classroom companion to field education.

There are over 700 students in the University of Michigan School of Social Work (U-M SSW) Master of Social Work program. Each year approximately 300 students are required to enroll in the foundation field seminar, taken concurrently with the student's first term of field placement. Students start field placement in either fall or winter. In past years, the foundation field seminar was taught by adjunct faculty. In 2005, the field office faculty assumed teaching responsibility, instituting a small group discussion format based on the topic-focused group lecture. It was soon determined that the format was plagued by a number of issues, and the classes received poor-feedback ratings from student participants.

An MSW student saw an opportunity to reconfigure the course. Enrolling for independent study credit, Shoshana Hurand worked with field director Betsy Voshel to research and evaluate other schools' field seminar models. They jointly designed a new foundation field seminar experience. The resulting model (a seminar focused on reflective practice and integrative learning, and co-facilitated by a student/peer and a field faculty member) originated at U-M SSW ten years ago and has a tenured history of success according to both students and faculty.

Literature Review

According to the Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS) of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), field education is the "signature pedagogy" for social work education (CSWE, 2008). However, the literature contains very few recommendations regarding an educational approach whereby students, through a reflective process, learn how to integrate their knowledge and practice experiences.

Smith (2013) points out that there are a "limited number of studies that have evaluated social work students' capacity to integrate field education and classroom learning" (p. 251). Bogo (2010), referencing earlier work by Wayne, Raskin, and Bogo (2006), states "integrative seminars may be offered as a vehicle to assist with theory-practice linkages, although accreditation standards have not required this particular pedagogical approach" (p. 13-14). Poe and Hunter (2009) "found that 96% of social work programs reported the presence of a seminar but that they discovered a wide variation in the concept, purpose and structure of the seminar" (as cited in Bogo, 2010, p. 14). Bogo (2010) concludes "there are no studies of integrative seminars in graduate social work programs, while anecdotally it seems as if the use of this educational approach is less pervasive" (p. 14).

Cheetham and Chivers (2005) developed and empirically tested a model of professional competence by looking at twenty professions, leading them to propose a new model of professional practice. Cheetham and Chivers (2005) found that colleagues valued consultation focused on problem solving. To address this gap, one could argue that a student/peer-facilitated seminar model focused on processing the field experience may be beneficial to students, simultaneously developing proficiency with the required competencies and practice behaviors (CSWE EPAS, 2008).

Ashwin (2003) and Topping (2005) articulate the valuable learning that takes place using the peer facilitator role. Topping (2015) states that "peer learning can be defined as the acquisition of knowledge and skill through active helping and supporting among status equals or matched companions" (p. …

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