Academic journal article Field Educator

Field Education with External Supervision: Supporting Student Learning

Academic journal article Field Educator

Field Education with External Supervision: Supporting Student Learning

Article excerpt


Field education is recognized as central to preparing social work students for professional social work practice (Abram, Hartung, & Wernet, 2000). It is generally discussed as the heart of social work education (Beddoe, 2000; Homonoff, 2008) or a signature pedagogy (Wayne, Bogo, & Raskin, 2010). In Australia, social work students are required to complete 1000 hours of placement in a human service organization where their learning is guided, supported and assessed by an experienced social worker within the agency (Australian Association of Social Workers [AASW], 2012/2015). Internationally, the social worker supervising the practice learning is referred to as the field instructor (Wayne et al., 2010) or the practice educator (Domakin, 2014). In an Australian context, the qualified social work supervisor is referred to as the field educator (AASW, 2012/2015). Placements can be set up with external supervision, where a qualified social worker external to the setting provides weekly supervision (AASW, 2012/2015). This article reports on qualitative research exploring the experiences of key stakeholders in social work field education with external supervision.


Field education has been an essential part of preparing future social work practitioners since the beginning of social work education (Barretti, 2007). The theoretical conceptualization of learning in social work field education has moved from a pure apprenticeship model, where the students followed and copied the expert social worker, to a model were students are seen as active participants in their learning experience (Barretti, 2007). According to Maidment (2013), field education is a time in which students "[...] learn how to practice one's discipline" (p. 4). Moreover, it offers opportunities to learn about procedures, practices and the connections between theoretical learning and practice settings. Field education is an opportunity to incorporate a core value of the social work profession: a social justice focus (Havig, 2013). It is a time for students to understand social work roles, advance their competencies and skills and develop a professional identity (Cleak & Wilson, 2013).

Learning by doing is a key focus of social work field education (Pack, 2011). Generally, students are placed with a qualified social worker in a human services organization, and much of the learning in field education is seen as being mediated through the supervisory relationship (Cleak & Smith, 2012). Research highlighted the value of role-modelling and observation in field education (Beddoe, Ackroyd, Chinnery, & Appleton, 2011; Havig, 2013). Students want to learn from observing the field educators' practice and be guided by their expertise (Barretti, 2009). Thorough observation of students' practice can assist in normative and formative supervision (Beddoe et al., 2011). Supervision in field education can be an avenue for students to: critically reflect on practice issues and tensions, untangle their thoughts, explore the connections between their personal and professional self, learn to practice independently and develop skills for practice (Hooyberghs, 2012).

Social work education prepares social work students for the realities of practice. Researching and reflecting on practice knowledge, transferring knowledge and skills to new contacts and using them creatively are important abilities for students to develop in professional practice (Fook, 2001). Educating social work students for the profession through field education consequently requires them to critically engage with the practice context (Havig, 2013; Morley & Dunstan, 2013). Therefore, in assessing the quality of a placement, it is important to consider its surrounding pedagogical culture (Bellinger, 2010).

The significance of social work field education and supervision invokes questions about social work field education with external supervision. …

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