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THE ROLE OF HELD PLACEMENT AND EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING IN SOCIAL SERVICE EDUCATION

Nancy A. AmosWayne C. Evens

Bradley University Peoria, IL, USA

Field education and experiential learning play a central role in preparing social service workers to practice in their chosen areas. This paper examines and explains some of the issues in delivering this type of education and proposes some ideas for developing these ideas in a Russian context. This paper will focus on the role of field and experiential education in Social Work education in the United States. In the U.S., social workers fulfill the roles of social workers, social pedagogs, and social psychologists in Russia.

Social Service Roles in the U.S. and Russia

Social workers in Russia work with the elderly and provide support services. In the U.S., these functions are provided Bachelors level social workers. Social pedagogs provide families with supportive services and assistance in dealing with larger social systems. In the U.S., masters level social worker/case managers provide these functions. Psychologists or social psychologists provide therapeutic services to individuals, families and groups. In the U.S., these services are provided by masters level social worker/therapists.

From the experiences of U.S. faculty and therapists working through Russian/American Summer University (RASU), we have learned that Russian education is only beginning to develop field and experiential education (Evens et al., 2003). Russian workers often get only one month of experience under the guidance of an experienced worker. This creates problems for agencies and for supervisors (Moukanina, personal communication).

In the United States, professional endeavors require students to have an extended practical experience before they are allowed to practice independently. This is because professions are both art and science. The purpose of the field practicum in social work education is to provide students the opportunity to work in a professional setting to develop and demonstrate skills in social work, to integrate the theories and practices learned in the classroom, to develop a sense of commitment to the social work profession and to its ethical

 

3 code, and to have role models for the implementation of both the science and the art of social work. In

addition, students have an opportunity while in field placement to observe the role of culture in the practice of social work, to develop an understanding of how administrative processes and policies impact the delivery of social work services, and to begin to develop relationships that will serve as a professional network when they are in practice.

In social work education, programs are required to provide undergraduate students with a minimum of 400 hours of field experience and Masters degree students with a minimum of 900 hours (Accreditation, 2003). Accreditation standards further require that the people supervising these students hold social work degrees from accredited schools (Accreditation, 2003). Students receive academic credit for the field hours, and, normally, they are concurrently enrolled in a seminar to help them integrate their experience with the academic training they have received.

The basic structure of field education is set out by the Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS) of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Individual social work programs then refine the structure to fit the mission, goals, and educational objectives of their particular social work program and of the educational institution that contains the social work program. However, like the practice of social work, the conducting of a field education program has an element of art. This art is taught as Field Education Coordinators meet in formal and informal organizations. The Structure of Fieldwork Education in the United States

The basic structure of the fieldwork program in a university program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education includes the following:

The EPAS require that field education be "designed, supervised, coordinated, and evaluated on the basis of criteria by which students demonstrate the achievement of program objectives" (EPAS, Educational Policy, 4.7).

2. The program must specify the "policies, criteria, and procedures for selecting agencies and field instructors; placing and monitoring students; maintaining field liaison contact with the agencies; and evaluating student learning and agency effectiveness in providing field instruction" (EPAS, Accreditation Standards, 2. 3).

3.Supervisors selected for field education must hold degrees from schools accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. For baccalaureate field education, this can be either an accredited bachelor or a master's degree and for a master's program, supervisors must hold accredited master's degrees (EPAS, Accreditation Standards, 2.1.4).There is allowance made for the program faculty to assume responsibility for providing the social work perspective if a qualified supervisor is not available. However, this author would recommend that faculty limit the number of students for whom they 4 responsible so that other teaching responsibilities and/or the field supervisory responsibilities are not compromised.

4. The social work program must provide orientation and training to the field instructors that it uses and must maintain a dialog with both the field instructors and with the agencies that employ them (EPAS, Accreditation Standards, 2.1.5).

5. The fieldwork coordinator is required to have at least a Master of Social Work degree from an accredited school and also have at least two years of clinical experience. In addition, the fieldwork coordinator must be given at least a 25% release from teaching responsibilities to coordinate the fieldwork program (EPAS, Accreditation Standards, 3.0.5, 3.0.6).

6. Students who hold a degree in social work from an accredited school can be admitted to a Master of Social Work Program in an advanced standing status (EPAS, Accreditation Standards, M5.3.2). In the United States, some Master of Social Work Programs give advanced standing for the undergraduate fieldwork placement and only require one additional fieldwork assignment; other programs require that all students in the MSW program do two separate fieldwork placements during the master's program.

The Art of Fieldwork Education

Most social work programs require that students attend a weekly seminar at the same time that they are in field placement. A faculty member with clinical social work experience teaches the seminars. This may be the Fieldwork Coordinator, but in programs with multiple seminars concurrently, the instructor may be another faculty member who is then called the "Field Liaison." If students are at some distance to the university in field placement, there are versions such as having a portion of the seminar discussion on­line or having a longer seminar every other week.

2. Theseminarhasassignmentsthatrequirestudentstodemonstratethatthey are able to integrate classroom knowledge. For example, students can write a paper about a client in their agency using a theoretical perspective that they have studied. Another common assignment is for students to do a case study of a particular client. To encourage self-awareness, students are frequently asked to keep a weekly diary, or "log," of their activities and their reactions to the activities. They can also be asked to include in their log an example of how they were able to integrate classroom learning into their field experience. Class assignments should be written to achieve both program objectives and specific learning goals established by the faculty for the fieldwork seminar.

The seminar takes on many of the characteristics of a small group and can be used as a place for students to ask questions that they may be reluctant to ask in their field placement. It is important, however, that the faculty member leading the seminar not give direct supervisory advice about a client of an agency but rather talk about general social work principles or the student's reaction to experiences in the agency.

The student should be referred to the agency supervisor for specific questions about specific clients.

Nearly every social work program has a Field Manual. This is a book that sets out the policies for selection of both field supervisors and field agencies, the procedures by which students are placed in agencies, and the way that contact with agencies and evaluation of students and field instructors is Joiie. Included in the manual should be a list of approved agencies and the expectations of the program for its students, its agency field instructors, and for its faculty involved in the fieldwork program. This is needed to clearly spell out roles and responsibilities.

Programs have flexibility in the way that students are assigned to placements. Two methods commonly used to assign students are having the student complete a form or interview and then having the faculty assign a field placement and asking students to schedule interviews at approved field agencies and then allowing students and agency field supervisors to negotiate a field placement assignment. Both models have strengths and limitations. The first is probably more efficient and uses the experience and knowledge of the faculty to make placements. The second allows the students and field supervisors to experience the initial comfort level that they have with each other and to make a placement selection in part based on this "fit." It also, in this writer's experience in a baccalaureate program, prevents some problems that are caused by the normal power and control developmental issues of traditional baccalaureate students in late adolescence. Regardless of the method used, it is most important that the procedures be clear and written.

The person leading the field seminar must visit the student in placement. This should be done at least every two months probably but more frequently if there are problems in the placement. At these visits, a written evaluation of the student's performance should be reviewed. It is best to include the form to be used in the Field Manual so that both student and instructor know from the beginning how evaluation will be conducted. Again, evaluation should be based on the goals and objectives of the social work program and of the fieldwork placement.

Finally, there needs to be a way to monitor the performance of the agency supervisors. Since they are volunteers in the sense that very rarely do they receive pay from the university, this can be a delicate undertaking. However, it is vital that students receive frequent and appropriate supervision both for their learning and for the protection of the clients that they are serving. Thus, it is important that the teaching of the agency supervisors be evaluated. Some unofficial evaluation goes on as the social work faculty

have contact with the agency supervisors and as students talk to seminar faculty. However, a form on which students give feedback about the performance of their agency supervisor is needed. The evaluative criteria should be consistent with the criteria for selection of agency supervisors and with the expectations set out in the Field Manual. It seems fair and useful for agency supervisors to receive feedback on their teaching. This needs to be done in a way that protects the students' confidentiality.

3. & 4. Much of the art of coordinating a social work field program takes place in the interactions between a field supervisor and the Fieldwork Coordinator. Agency supervisors must clearly understand their role and the patterns of appropriate communication. Thus, new supervisors should receive training before they have students in their agency. Supervisors who have had students from the social work program before should receive training at least once a year also. More frequent training is probably desirable if program resources allow. Topics for training include safety issues for students, the role of the supervisor in preventing students from graduating who are not ready to practice social work ethically and appropriately, and how to evaluate students. Agency field supervisors need to feel that they are part of the university training program and they need some way to show that they are appreciated. In some programs, agency field supervisors are made adjunct faculty without monetary compensation, in other programs they are provided meals and small gifts.

It is also recommended that a dialog be maintained between the social work program and the administration of the agencies used in field instruction. This is because personnel of agencies need the support of the administration to take on the extra responsibility of supervising students. Also, it is with the agency administration that issues of liability and malpractice protection are worked out. No student should be placed at an agency without a clear agreement between the agency and the university. In the U.S., this takes the form of a legal contract in nearly every social work program.

The Fieldwork Coordinator needs to maintain a dialog with the administration of the social work program. In large programs, the Fieldwork Coordinator usually has no other responsibilities. In smaller programs, however, the Fieldwork Coordinator may teach the field seminar and other courses. If the fieldwork program is to be done well, the Fieldwork Coordinator must have the both the financial and time resources needed.

One of the ways that the art of field education is taught is through networks of Fieldwork Coordinators, The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) has a section that looks at the issues related to fieldwork and an organization of Fieldwork Coordinators meets regularly at CSWE meetings. In addition, networks are organized locally in cities where there are multiple social work programs or in states.

7 Listserves are used to share valuable information and to disseminate quickly the results of research in field

education. Fieldwork Coordinators have an ethical responsibility to read journals and attend seminars in which research regarding social work field education if presented. Experiential education

Students are prepared for field education through lecture and reading, but also through experiential exercises. To prepare students for field, most practice classes provide role-plays and other experiences, which allow students to practice various skills in a safe environment. For example. Barlow, Biythe and Edmonds (1999) provide a series of exercises that can be used to help students develop comfort and skill in doing group work.

One such exercise involves having group members pair off in twos. They are given three minutes each to ask the other questions. At the end of the exercise, they have to introduce their partner to the group and tell three interesting facts about their partner. This exercise teaches them to focus questions and to gain information rapidly. It also helps them grow more comfortable in groups.

In the first practice course, students practice interviewing and empathic listening. They are frequently required to have a watch and to time 10 seconds before they respond to the last statement made. This teaches them to listen to what is said, and to not begin forming a response until the other has finished speaking.

To teach ethics, students are given an ethical problem and asked to discuss how they would resolve it. They might be given a situation in which a client has expressed that she or he intends to harm another person. The student has to resolve the conflict between the ethic of confidentiality and the duty to protect society. This encourages them to think about ethical requirements.

All practice is linked to particular social situations. All field and experiential learning must, therefore, be linked to the social system. Exercises and learning experiences must reflect the culture in which the student will practice. It is impossible to move the U.S. experience directly to Russian practice. Cultural differences

Borisova (1997) notes that Russians have always viewed the state as the external protector, but the internal oppressor. Since many social services are delivered by state organizations, Russian practitioners are likely to find it more difficult to develop client trust. A part of field education would be to teach students how practitioners develop trust with their clients.

The U.S. has over two hundred years experience living as a free society. Freedom is fairly new in Russia. A recent study (Cockerham, Snead, & Dewaal, 2002) links many of the current health issues and problems being experienced in Russia to the values learned under the socialist system and the change that has occurred. Russian social service education and field experience will have to help students leam how to help people adapt to the new social system.

8 There is now a ten-year history of delivering social services in a freer environment in Russia. Many

practitioners have developed techniques and understandings of delivering service in the new environment. Placing students in field experience with these practitioners will help students develop skills and understandings.

Accreditation, C. o. S. W. E. С. о. (2003). Handbook of accreditation standards and procedures (5th ed.). Alexandria, VA: Council on Social Work Education.

Barlow, C. A., Biythe, J. A., & Edmonds, M. (1999). A handbook of interactive exercises for groups. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Borisova, T. (1997, 1998). Peculiar features of mentality and value of freedom in the political consciousness of Russia's society. Paper presented at the Russian consciousness: Psychology, culture and politics, Samara, Russia.

Cockerham, W. C., Snead, M. C., & Dewaal, D. F. (2002). Health lifestyles in Russia and the socialist heritage. Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 43(1). 42-55.

Evens, W. C., Malkin, M., Miah, M. R., Nikolov, I., Welsheimer, K., Tebb, S., Tracy, P. D., & Tracy, M. B. (2003). Russian-American summer university:A collaboration between Samara Oblast and Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Illinois. In L. M. Healy & Y. Asamoah & M. C. Hokestad (Eds.), International social work projects (pp. 125-135). Washington, D.C.: Council on Social Work Education.