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Raising the Bar in Field Education

Given that CSWE accreditation is tasked with gathering program data on field education, I wondered how many of the 450 Baccalaureate programs responding to the annual survey had a junior field education component, and if so, what was their hour requirement, where did it fit in their gate keeping process, and in the overall curriculum matrix? What if any research has been conducted in recent years to examine the effectiveness of the junior field experience?

What I found out in my first attempt to answer these questions was not unexpected.  CSWE does not gather data on junior field since it is not an accreditation requirement. NADD research efforts focus more on our MSW Programs to date.  I have not conducted an exhaustive literature search but Dissertation Abstracts identified several more recent studies on field education in social work and they confirmed what I had already suspected.

With the increase in the number of distance education programs, research comparing the experiences of field instructors for distance education social work programs with the experiences of field instructors for site-based programs is important in order to identify their needs and outline appropriate strategies for recruitment, retention, and training. No such research was found. In addition, there is no research that investigates the differences between field instructors for BSW and MSW programs (Fletcher, 2019, p. 9).

So, if this information has not yet been collected, who would possibly have access to this data and how quickly could it be collected? Four logical places to start would be with the list serves for NADD, BPD, the North American Network of Field Educators and Directors, and the North American Association of Christian Social Work Educators.

After serving for 23 years in the social work program at Roberts Wesleyan College, I am now in my third year of teaching in the Liberty University Department of Social Work online program. The program is growing rapidly and completing its first reaffirmation BSSW accreditation site visit this academic year even as we launch the new Pre-Candidacy MSW program this fall.

The BSSW team designed a 100 hour field experience that I believe significantly raises the bar in their junior field pre-requisites and requirements that has set a higher standard of field preparation for students before entering their senior field placement. The key components of this program include a social work exploration course (SOWK 135) that began as a traditional 40 hour agency shadowing experience. This course has been modified to increase student success and lay the groundwork for future field experiences. The new model is more accessible as shadowing has been limited during the pandemic so it now includes an interview of a social worker, an agency tour, and the development of a community agency data base. This introductory course is required as part of the initial gate one process into the declared major of social work. The second requirement includes the review and sometimes required faculty interview of the student’s application materials that includes their background check, references, autobiographical statement and trauma history. The successful passing through gate one opens the door to gate two which aids the student in preparing for all of the junior field requirements.

While in gate one or in gate two, but before a student can enter junior field, they are all required to have completed SOWK 355, which is the group intensive practice course. By locating this practice course earlier in the curriculum it provides opportunity for both traditional and online students to spend an intensive five days together where they learn to build supportive relationships. Under COVID-19 restrictions this course is currently being taught in the online format only. In this group intensive practice course there are four primary goals. Each student will get to experience group facilitation, group membership, learn to be supportive of one another, and get to know each other better. This intensive process models for the students what will be expected of them in both their junior and senior field seminars and it is the third key component that significantly raises the bar in the junior field seminar. Students are once again in a synchronized face to face two hour weekly seminar support group in every sense of the word.

The fourth key component is the scaffolding and reinforcing of the development of the students active listening skills, and introducing them to several trauma-informed concepts.  It is our belief that this dual focus advances the junior BSW student more quickly into learning how to avoid contaminating their clients’ experience with their own issues and to more readily identify and locate physiologically their own bias and triggers and lead ultimately to a more enhanced level of self-care.

The fifth and final component is the intentional integration of faith and social work in the weekly seminar discussions, in their journal entries, and as part of the learning contract review regarding our programs additional core competency on Spirituality. Students are given the opportunity to wrestle with a multitude of life issues and begin to examine how faith can be an additional support and how easily it can be distorted and taken out of context.

Two other noteworthy factors to consider include the following. First, typically the junior field provides an introduction and socialization to the field and the implementation of social work values.  It may be primarily observation since it is only one day per week, but it prepares them well for their senior field which emphasizes intensive skill development and the responsibility of facilitation or co-facilitation in direct service to clients. Second, as a preparation for generalist social work practice, it provides exposure to different social work settings and approaches. This is the reason we require the two different placements to be with different populations/settings and different supervisors.

Gate 3 then prepares students for the 400 hour senior field. With the completion of senior field, the passing of the comprehensive exam, also known as gate four, and any remaining course credits, students are ready to graduate.

There are still numerous questions to answer related to the effectiveness of the junior field and what building blocks specifically carry over into their senior field experience and ultimately into a future MSW program. We are up to the challenge and welcome any input. If you are reading this and have not answered a brief questionnaire sent to the NACSW educator listserv, we would still welcome your feedback before our poster presentation in Glendale, California this fall.

David Skiff served for 23 years in the Department of Social Work at Roberts Wesleyan College and is now in his third year in the Department of Social Work at Liberty University. He has been a member of NACSW since 1997.


Fletcher, P. (2019). Social Work Field Education: A Survey of Field Instructors’ Experiences in Site-Based and Distance Education BSW and MSW Programs (Order No. 13879043). Available from ProQuest

Dissertations & Theses Global. (2231608943). http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?qurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.proquest.com%2Fdissertations-theses%2Fsocial-work-field-education-survey-instructors%2Fdocview%2F2231608943%2Fse-2%3Faccountid%3D12085





5 thoughts on “Raising the Bar in Field Education

  1. I appreciate your input in this blog entry! I am the field education director for the BSW program at Oral Roberts University. We also have a junior field requirement, which involves 2 field experiences of 60 hours each prior to beginning the senior 400 hour field experience. The integration of faith is an additional competency our program implements in addition to the 9 CSWE competencies. I would enjoy connecting further to discuss aspects of the faith integration, as well as how your program empowers students to work through their own trauma in preparation for a career in Social Work.

    1. Hi Brittany

      I would be happy to talk further with you on this subject and send to you the poster /power-point on this topic for NACSW. Both the integration of faith and trauma concepts are infused in many ways including in our gate interview and in our groups practice course. We also happen to have an accelerated resolution therapy trainer on our team in Professor Jennifer Street. I participated in that training last spring and now incorporate some of their concepts into field seminar.

  2. Hi Brittany

    Thank you for your response. I would be happy to talk further and to share our power point on this topic with you. The trauma portion is an important connection to our gate interview and in the support group training in our groups practice course. We also happen to have an Accelerated Resolution Therapist trainer on our team in Professor Jennifer Street. I participated in that training this past spring which led to adding in an additional trauma concept into our field seminar.


  3. I appreciate your blog. You definitely highlight the importance of conducting research around junior field education. I think it’s important to not focus so heavily on the MSW placement, that we don’t focus on the BSW field education as much because both field experiences build upon one another.

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