Theses Doctoral

Analysis of the Relationship Between Social Work Schools and Field Placement Agencies in Their Joint Task of Educating Social Workers

Kahn, Sandra

This is a study of the process of collaboration between schools of social work and their field placement agencies as they go about the business of educating tomorrow's social workers. In order to develop a complete picture of the nature of the inter-organizational interactions actors in both settings were studied. The student, the field instructor and the university's director of field work were chosen because of their active involvement in the process under investigation.

The sample was drawn from the six graduate schools of social work in the New York City area (i.e., Adelphi, Columbia, Fordham, Hunter, New York University and Wurzweiler). The study was conducted during the 1975-76 academic year. Perceptions of students and field teachers regarding the school-agency relationship was obtained through the mail administration of two separate questionnaires. A total of 285 second year students and 180 field instructors responded. Each of the six field work directors were viewed as "key informants" and seen in individual face-to-face interviews.

The history of social work education is marked by the consistent association between academia and practice. This study attempted to explain the reasons for this engagement. Areas examined involved the·motivation of each institution in initiating this educational partnership and each setting's stake in maintaining it. Efforts were also made to understand the historically recurrent tensions between school and agency through eliciting respondents' opinions regarding their existence and degree of friction. The strains investigated included conflict in organizational structure and goals, the generic-specific controversy, discrepancies in content taught in class and field and the integration of the two.

Special attention was also given to respondents' views of the intimacy of the school-agency relationship, the linkage mechanisms joining them, the reciprocal influences on each others' systems, the importance of the field experience and its connection to the university.

In addition the investigator sought out differential perceptions of various debatable issues in social work education. Among these was the subject of generic training. Opinions were solicited regarding the applicability of the same practice skills in work with individuals, groups and communities and on the need for a "fields of practice" approach. Responses indicated a dubiousness about generic education and an inclination towards method teaching and away from fields of practice concentrations (e.g., aging...). Other educational issues dealt with the prevalence and need for uniform standards for student performance in the field, as well as for choice of field work placements and field instructors.

An attempt was made to explain the views of respondents by school affiliation, by certain demographic factors and by ratings of the field placement as an educational experience. In order to determine whether role effected opinions the analysis of the results also included comparisons of student, field instructor and field work director perceptions.

The findings of the study reaffirmed the centrality of field work in social work education. It was viewed as being more influential than class work in shaping a student's professional training. Not surprising was the view that the field instructor exerted the greatest influence on learners. Serious question was raised as to who controlled field instruction since the field teacher was seen as a relatively isolated and unsupported agent in his role of helping students to integrate the skills of professional practice. Teaching the field instructor to teach emerged as an issue for further exploration.

Although there was some variation attributable to differences in a school's pattern of field advisement, the relationship between the academic and.practice settings was usually not seen as a close one. This raised a question of the role of the faculty advisor as a connecting link. There tended to be general agreement on the need for uniform standards in field work performance and the establishment of criteria for acceptable field work placements and field teachers.

Respondents saw the school as the senior partner in the relationship having ultimate responsibility for student education both in the class and in the field. This study's findings emphasized the need for a great deal more work from both partners in providing quality field education for the aspiring professional.


More About This Work

Academic Units
Social Work
Thesis Advisors
Fanshel, David
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 26, 2015