Experts recognize field education as the signature pedagogy in social work education (Drolet, 2020). Despite its importance, field education is in crisis in Canada (Ayala et al., 2018; McConnell, 2016). Social work education programs are facing significant multi-layered challenges with delivering practicum experiences for students and integrating research in field education (Drolet & Harriman, 2020). Social work students tend to express disinterest in research and a self-perception that they lack the necessary skills, including reading, understanding, and integrating research into their practice (Drolet, 2020).
Field educators, including field instructors, faculty liaisons, and field education coordinators and directors, can play an important role in bridging the gap between research and practice in field education. This is particularly important for social work students during their practica. This training module invites field educators and students to learn about and discuss the role of practice research in field education, to foster ‘research-mindedness’, and to incorporate practice research in field education. Research knowledge and skills are vital components of social work practice and need to be integrated in field education. Social work students often experience heightened anxiety and a lack of understanding of how research informs practice, in comparison to other educational disciplines (Frampton et al., 2020).
Social work researchers have often viewed traditional formal research approaches as not being applicable to social work practice and as inaccessible to social work students and practitioners (Driessens et al., 2011; Fook et al., 2011; Shannon, 2013). In the field of social work, there is a long-held assumption that knowledge is developed by researchers and then applied by practitioners rather than being co-created. This is a significant concern for the profession of social work because social workers are expected to possess the skills and knowledge to analyze research evidence, incorporate research findings into their work, and carry out research in their practice.
The Canadian Association for Social Work Education (CASWE) requires that all social work students develop core research skills through engagement with research, as outlined in Domain III Program Content on Curriculum and Field Education in Section 6 of the Standards for Accreditation (2014). The Canadian Association for Social Work Education (CASWE) also requires that all social work students interact with research, as outlined in Section 6 of the Standards for Accreditation (2014). Specifically, the Standards provide the following (CASWE, 2005b):
- Social work students acquire knowledge and skills to critique, apply, or participate in social work research.
- Social work students at both levels of university education are prepared to apply social work knowledge, as well as knowledge from other disciplines, to advance professional practice, policy development, research, and service provision.
- Master of Social Work (MSW) students acquire knowledge and skills in conducting social work research and competence in evaluating professional practices. (p. 11)
The challenge is that while many students complete research courses in their undergraduate and/or graduate social work education, they rarely have the opportunity to apply their learning in a research project. Field education is a site where students can apply and practice their research knowledge from courses .
Value 6 of the Canadian Association for Social Workers (CASW) Code of Ethics (2005a) refers to competence in professional practice. Principles include :
- Social workers uphold the right of clients to be offered the highest quality service possible.
- Social workers strive to maintain and increase their professional knowledge and skill.
Social workers contribute to the ongoing development of the profession and its ability to serve humanity, where possible, by participating in the development of current and future social workers and the development of new professional knowledge. (p. 8)
Invitation to Field Educators and Students
Field educators support the development of current and future social workers and contribute to the development of professional knowledge through research. Therefore, it is crucial to invite field educators into the discussion of the value of integrating practice research into social work field education. New opportunities are needed for students to facilitate the integration of research into practice and into field education.
After completing this module, you will be able to:
- Define key terms related to practice research
- Understand the context of research in social work education
- Understand the role of practice research in field education
- Understand the concept of Research As Daily Practice
- Identify a variety of strategies for incorporating practice research in field education