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Towards enhancement of practicum teaching and learning: a theoretical framework to inform social work field education.


This article is divided into three sections. It begins by reviewing the literature on experiential learning and learning in context as it applies to the practicum. Next, the process and rationale used to develop the theoretical foundations on which the field education research was based is explained. Finally, in light of the research results, 'Towards enhancement of practicum teaching and learning' is explained. This framework represents the synthesis of principles embedded in learning theory that in turn were reconceptualised in light of the experiences of students and educators in the field.

A review of learning theory as it relates to the practicum

Understanding the nature of experiential learning appeared to be the most obvious point to begin in terms of theorising practicum teaching and learning. Definitions of experiential learning include, "learning from experience or learning by doing" (Lewis and Williams, 1994, 5) where "learning focuses on authentic learning experiences as the necessary basis for meaningful skill acquisition and human development" (Jackson and MacIsaac, 1994, 22). Not surprisingly, the concept of 'situated cognition' is therefore integral to experiential learning, where "cognition is a social activity that incorporates the mind, the body, the activity, and the ingredients of the setting in a complex and interactive and recursive manner" (Wilson, 1993, 72).

The most formative writing on experiential education appeared early this century in the work of John Dewey, Experience and Education (1938), provided the rationale for out-of-classroom learning with an emphasis on using students' past and current experiences to derive knowledge and develop skills in problem solving (Cranton, 1992). Other key concepts in Dewey's work included an emphasis on democracy to promote quality human experiences, and the notion of continuity in knowledge development. In this context, 'continuity' refers to a process whereby past and current experiences are integrated and serve to prepare students for later experiential encounters, resulting in deeper and more meaningful learning encounters (Burns, 1995). From this perspective, education is therefore considered a lifelong social process, rather than a series of isolated, unconnected events.

Clearly the philosophical foundations of Dewey's ideas are akin to a humanist approach to education. In keeping with this tradition student learning is legitimated both by using objective reasoning and by reflecting upon emotional responses to experiences (Crosby, 1995). Although Dewey's original work was not focused on adult learning, the notions of using direct experience to facilitate learning and drawing on student past experiences as a resource for learning, are principles firmly embedded in adult education (Cranton, 1992). Not surprisingly then, experiential learning and adult education have a number of value positions in common. Both paradigms acknowledge the need for educational endeavours to be relevant to the learner, use activities adapted to suit individual learning styles, and promote student self-directed learning, where the 'teacher' performs more as a facilitator, coach or mentor.

More recently, the work of Donald Schon has provided an alternative frame of reference for understanding learning in applied disciplines (Schon, 1983; 1987). In particular, Schon challenges the imposition of theoretical paradigms to explain practice, using instead the term 'professional artistry' to articulate the process of decision making in practice (Schon, 1987, 22). He argues that it is through an amalgam of knowledge gained from past experiences, theory, and intuition, that workers make spontaneous decisions. This decision-making process cannot be explicitly attributed to any set of practice rules or guidelines. He maintains that workers use a process of 'reflection-in-action' where responses to new or unexpected situations are shaped on the spot by workers drawing from knowledge and past experiences. (Schon, 1983, 49-69). In this way, Schon argues, decision making in practice is not so much guided by positivist constructions of knowledge and theory, but rather through a blend of experience, knowledge, ideas and intuition. This paradigm was of particular significance for investigating the ways field educators' work, in terms of understanding skill development and knowledge transmission in the field.

Learning Theory and Social Work

Social work has traditionally incorporated a practicum component in student education where 'learning by doing' has been the norm (Wijnberg and Schwartz, 1977). Using genuine practice experience has been the basis for learning in both the early 'apprenticeship model' of field education, and current practicum education, which also emphasises the use of critical reflection (Fook, 1999; Gould and Taylor, 1996). The difference between these approaches has been in the way the student and educator interact and use the experiences to learn. Whereas the apprenticeship model was focused on the student completing sets of tasks in the field in a way that was largely directed by the supervisor, current models of field education place emphasis on a collaborative relationship. Both the educator and student plan field experiences that will fulfil individual student learning needs and provide opportunities for critical reflection (Taylor, 1996).

Although the use of genuine experience is incorporated into both models, the process used to facilitate student learning differs. In particular, early 'apprenticeship' field education was not conducted in a way that reflected the democratic principles of experiential learning.

Considerable academic attention has been given to how experiential learning theory can inform professional education across a range of disciplines, including social work (Raschick et al., 1998; Cavanagh et al., 1995; Svinicki and Dixon, 1987). Applying an experiential approach to field education involves using methods such as structured observations of social work practice, audio and videotaping of student practice, student and field educator working together, and student presentations (AASWWE, 1991; Davenport and Davenport, 1988). In addition, inductive learning can be aided through the use of journals, concept maps, critical incident analyses, autobiographical work (Boud and Knights, 1996); role plays, simulations, and the making and analysis of process recordings (Papell and Skolnik, 1992). The aim of these methods is to facilitate student reflection on alternative views and assessments of situations, making professional judgements, and generating informed decisions.

However, on its own experiential learning theory did not adequately explain the opportunities to enhance or inhibit learning opportunities in the field. This research on field education needed to take account also of the impact made by micro and macro contextual influences on the experiences of both learner and educator during the placement. In order to incorporate an understanding of these influences on the learning transaction it was necessary to consider models of learning that accounted for the context in which the learning occurred.

Situating Learning in Context

While considerable attention has been paid to creating physical environments conducive to the enhancement of adult student learning (Vosko and Hiemstra, 1988; Fulton, 1991), and to the notion of self-directed learning (Merriam and Caffarella, 1991), the social context in which adult learning takes place has largely been ignored (Brookfield, 1984; Boud and Walker, 1998). Walker and Boud account for the impact of context on the teaching and learning transaction in their model illustrated in Figure 1 below.


Boud and Walker (1998:202) contend: "Understanding context is always hard-won and there are always multiple readings of what it might be". In their model of practicum learning, they distil the elements that, throughout the placement, impact on the interchange between the student and the learning milieu. It is the interaction between the learner and the learning milieu that creates the learning experience. Milieu is defined in the following way:
 The milieu is much more than the physical environment; it
 embraces the formal requirements, the culture, procedures,
 practices, and standards of particular institutions and
 societies, the immediate goals and expectations of any
 facilitator, as well as the personal characteristics of the
 individuals who are part of it. (Boud and Walker, 1990, 65)

The concept of milieu in Boud and Walker's model therefore equates with the context in which practicum learning takes place. The experiences, values and intent that the learner brings to the educative encounter are central to the ongoing nature of the interaction between the learner and the milieu. In this way, the model reflects Gardiner's contention (1989, 59) that, "to understand the relationship between teaching and learning, and the influence of context, it is necessary to look closely at learners' perceptions of the learning task in a particular context, and their conceptions of the learning required to accomplish it".

In addition, the learner on placement needs an understanding of agency history and formal and informal power dynamics in order to appreciate the milieu in which the learning encounter is taking place. The prevailing ideological positioning of the agency within welfare provision will also impact on the student learning experience, as will agency responses to issues of class, gender and ethnicity. Within the milieu, the student interacts with the learning experiences via processes of 'noticing' and 'intervening' (See Figure 1).

'Noticing', which can occur on a number of different levels, is both an activity and a measure of the degree to which the student engages with the learning milieu. Conscious use of noticing involves the student developing particular skills and strategies in order to become more fully involved in the teaching and learning interchange (Boud and Walker, 1990).

'Intervening' refers to action by the student, within the learning situation, which affects the learning milieu or the learner. Such actions may include either conscious or subconscious responses to some feature of the learning milieu (Boud and Walker, 1990). Intervening with the milieu involves the learner in extending and testing his/her understandings, and enables the learner to explore more about the events that have been 'noticed' (Boud and Walker, 1990). The degree to which a learner intervenes with the milieu is affected by a number of conditions including the learner's level of confidence, experiences in past learning situations, and degree of motivation to learn. Conscious or subconscious conditioning may prompt intervening by the learner.

The facilitator (field educator) has a role in preparing the learner for his/her interactions with the milieu with regard to skills and strategies. Due to the dynamic nature of the placement context, not all encounters between the learner and milieu will occur in a planned way. Unexpected opportunities and learning events are likely to occur.

The model illustrated in Figure 1. incorporates three phases to practicum learning--preparation for the placement, actual placement experiences, and reflective processes (Walker and Boud 1994, 8). As noted above, the field educator has a role in preparing the student for his/her exposure to the interaction with the milieu. However, Walker and Boud situate the learning within the wider realm of milieu, suggesting that the student, school and agency, as stakeholders in the placement process, all have a part to play in preparing for the placement learning encounter.

The second phase of the model incorporates the student encounter with the learning milieu, namely experience. This is a dynamic process, characterised by the student noticing and intervening with elements of the placement milieu. The third phase incorporates the reflective process whereby the learner's assumptions and prior experience are drawn out to inform the creation of new understandings about the learning experience. Such reflection may occur before or after the learning experience. Most recently considerable attention has been given in the literature to exploring ways in which to facilitate learning for social work students using critical reflection (Fook, 1999; Gould and Taylor, 1996).

The macro influences on practicum teaching and learning have been identified and discussed by Boud and Walker (1998), Taylor (1997), and Shardlow and Doel (1996), among others. These authors note that field education programs are strongly influenced by macro and micro contextual features that affect educator and student relationships, agency structure and policy, as well as the content and process used to teach the social work curriculum. Together, these factors shape the delivery of field education and constitute the complex context in which the teaching and learning encounters exist. Context, therefore, is defined as the micro and macro milieu in which field education takes place. Boud & Walker explain the notion of context in the following way:
 The context to which we are referring is the total cultural,
 social and political environment in which reflection takes
 place. This broader context is so all pervasive that it is
 difficult to recognise its influence. It is, however, mirrored in
 and is in turn modified by particular local settings within which
 the learning occurs: the classroom, the course, and the
 institution.... The learning milieu, as we conceived of it then
 (1990) represented the totality of human and material
 influences which impinge on learners in any particular situation.
 These include co-learners, teachers, learning materials, physical
 environment and everything that was to be found therein. Whilst
 these influences are undoubtedly important and provide some key
 resources for change, a conception of milieu which focuses on
 these alone is far too limited to describe adequately the context of
 learning and its effects. Context is perhaps the single most
 important influence on reflection and learning. It can permit or
 inhibit working with learners' experience. (Boud and Walker,
 1998, 196)

Thus in order to formulate a theoretical framework to guide the research on student and field educator practicum teaching and learning experiences, a synthesis of the principles inherent in experiential learning theory and learning in context was required. A deconstruction of this synthesis follows.

Learning from Experience in Context

Clearly, either experiential learning theory or 'learning in context' could be used to interpret field learning in social work. However, each offers a single unique perspective that is missing from the other, and critical to field education. Although genuine workplace experiences are part of experiential learning, this paradigm also incorporates the use of simulated activities to stimulate new thinking and learning. In field education this would include the use of role-play and video work to introduce different aspects of learning in an incremental way. Boud and Walker's model does not focus on these types of organised learning opportunities. Learning in their model is situated entirely within the realm of genuine experience, and does not incorporate simulation. However, Boud and Walker's interpretation and incorporation of environmental influences is broader than the immediate physical work space that has become the focus of experiential learning. Within their model, facilitating student understanding of both micro and macro socio-political influences that impact on workplace practice is integral to the learning process. Students are encouraged to engage with, reflect upon, respond to, and intervene at both micro and macro levels of the milieu in which they are placed. This aspect of the Boud and Walker's model is particularly relevant for teaching social work. Developing students' knowledge and understanding of the wider social, cultural, political and economic factors that impact on practice is an essential part of social work education. In this way the notion of student engagement with the milieu serves two functions. It challenges students to examine their own personal values, as well as to carry out practice interventions that are informed by a political analysis.

Table 1. Outlines the distinguishing features of experiential learning and Boud and Walker's model of learning in context.

Although this discussion has so far noted the differences between experiential learning theory and 'learning in context', it must be noted that both paradigms have a number of features in common. Both are focused on teaching and learning, both acknowledge the importance of the student/educator relationships and the impact of significant others on the learning encounter, and both take account of environmental influences on the teaching and learning encounter, although in different ways. Through a process of integrating experiential learning theory with 'learning in context', I devised three central constructs that were used as the framework to analyse and interpret field learning during the research. This new framework--'Learning from Experience in Context'--is depicted in Figure 2.


The framework 'Learning from Experience in Context' is made up of three main components. These are experiential learning theory, the model of learning in context, and the three constructs: Contexual Influences, Teaching and Learning Transactions, and Relationships. This model of understanding the process of field teaching then underpinned the research into field education. These three constructs are now discussed and specific examples of how they were used to inform the field education research are explained.

Contextual Influences: This construct refers to the workplace environment in which the student placement took place, but also encompassed the wider political and social milieu in which social work is delivered. Context therefore referred to cultural norms both in the agency and in its external environment.

Hence for the purposes of the research 'context' was examined from a macro socio-economic and political perspective, noting how these factors influenced the daily practice and organisation of social service delivery in New Zealand. In this regard two macro contextual influences were of particular importance. These were the commitment to bi-culturalism in social work practice and education, and the impact of the neo-liberal ideology on the delivery of welfare services. Together these macro contextual influences had considerable impact on how students and educators understood and carried out the teaching and learning tasks during the placement. These influences were evident in student and field educator comments ...
 It was different for me. I was bogged down with a lot of work and
 so I approached the University thinking that students would be
 quite cheap labour, I mean to be honest about it ...

 (Huia, Field Educator, School B)

 It's not straightforward. The resources are just not there. You might
 have well-meaning field educator, but because of her workload and
 agency restructuring and development, the environment is just not too
 conducive for learning.

(Harry, Student, School A)
 An ongoing problem is work pressure. That's a biggee. When you're a
 social worker you have to be available to clients and students do
 take a lot of intensive time. I don't tell my operations manager
 about the amount of time I spend with student, you know she'd be
 pretty upset ... I have to justify the time I spend on the student
 to the management, who have a great deal of difficulty getting
 their heads around the fact that social workers need supervision
 and so you know why should I be spending time with this student
 whose not actually paying us?

(Ilene, Field Educator, School C)

Pani, a Maori student, expressed how working in a Maori agency with a Maori kaupapa helped her learning. The presence of the Kaumatua and Kuia (1) ensured that the spiritual dimensions of addressing Maori health were not forgotten.
 They (the agency) have a Kaumatua and a Kuia there and I believe
 that having that within a Maori mental health system does do
 quite a bit ... it has meaning for how we operate and how
 we think if we have a Kuia and they are kind of soothing, a
 calming force in themselves and they are good, they are worth
 their salt, they are knowledgeable and wise and you know you're
 working in a Maori Kaupapa (2) therefore you don't step out of
 that and they make sure of that so that things are also kept
 in the spiritual dimensions of things Maori and are kept on an
 even keel.

(Pani, Student, School B)

The Teaching and Learning Transaction: This was the second construct derived from the synthesis of experiential learning theory with Walker and Bouds model of learning in context. Both experiential learning and the model of 'learning in context' are concerned with the processes of facilitating learning. This focus is in keeping with the principal aim of the research--which was to discover teaching and learning strategies that enhanced student learning in the field. The notion of 'transaction' was developed in recognition of the fact that both concrete activities and reflective processes contribute to learning in the field. The term 'transaction' acknowledges too that students, workers, educators and clients in the practicum are involved in a system of mutual exchange, and that learning is embedded in all interactions including those that are both positive and negative (Galbraith, 1991). Students and educators commented on these transactions in the following ways ...
 It's (being an educator) been an interesting process for me. It's
 been a useful opportunity where a student makes me think, question
 and examine my practice and makes me relate it back to theory in a
 way that I wouldn't do if I weren't being called to account for
 why I did something. So unquestionably I have found it an exercise
 that, whilst it's been demanding, has had some clear spin-off
 benefits for me that's contributed to the analysis I attach to
 my practice and that's been really useful.

(Alan, Field Educator, School A)
 A lot of learning came out of some negativity, actually there
 were quite a few negative experiences for me with a lot of
 learning. I learnt about myself during that placement. I found I
 had a problem as far as assertiveness goes and the hours of my
 work were never really contracted. I would be working until
 fairly late in the evening sometimes because I wasn't able
 to stand up and say, well it's time to go. I had to start to
 draw some boundaries for myself and I found that quite difficult,
 but I did manage it. I sort of negotiated with her that I would
 be leaving at a certain time and I stuck with that. So that
 to me was quite a strong learning curve.

(Ann, Student, School B)
 I think a (learning) moment was my first introduction to one of
 the bi-lingual workers and my natural reaction was to shake
 her hand, but she withdrew her flesh up her sleeve and told me
 it was not appropriate for her to touch me, and I was immediately
 confronted with different cultural expectations. You know, like
 I was in a lift with some clients and when it opened I stood
 back to let them go out first, but in their culture the males
 go first, not the females. So those situations really bring
 home to you that you're there to learn.

(Harry, Student, School A)

In understanding student learning, one of the most helpful frameworks I was able to identify came out of research conducted in the 1980s, in which students' 'deep' or 'surface' approaches to learning could be differentiated (Entwistle and Ramsden, 1983). As with the Walker and Boud model, the notion of student intent is integral to how learning occurs. Students interested in understanding ideas and delving for meaning approached subject content using a critical analysis. Entwistle and Ramsden classified this as characteristic of a 'deep' approach to learning (1983). Where the student intention was to 'cope with course requirements', the process of learning tended to be fragmented and characterised by rote learning and lack of reflection. This is where 'surface' learning occurred (Entwistle, 1997). Although this type of categorisation on its own is an oversimplification of learning (Cooper, 1994), proponents of adult education acknowledge these dichotomous approaches: "A concern with meaning and understanding is (thus) central to an experiential conception of the teaching and learning process, for the gap between reproduction and understanding represents a quantum leap in the quality of what has been learned" (Hounsell, 1997, 240). Hence the concepts of deep and surface approaches to learning were integral to understanding the nature of the teaching and learning transaction between the student and field educator. Both surface and deep approaches to learning were evident in student comments about their placements ...

Surface Approaches ...
 A lot of learning was 'by example'. I would just sit and watch
 her do the things. That was the main technique used ... Initially
 it was good, because for the first couple of weeks it felt
 appropriate sitting back and observing before I tried to work
 with clients. It was useful, but after that it would have been
 good to move on to something a little meatier ...

(Claire, Student, School C)
 I was at (name of agency) I wasn't given anything (direction). I
 just walked in there. I was there for a specific reason, to set
 up um a support network for women living in violence and um I
 basically wasn't given anything, I just walked in there and [was]
 told to do it. So I was given nothing, absolutely nothing, just
 told to go out and do this, this is what we want, this is how we
 intend to run it ... I didn't get anything in terms of
 fieldwork supervision and there were no
 models to work from ...

(Fiona, Student, School C)

Deep Approaches ...
 He (the educator) challenged me. I remember one example, I sat
 down and I said "I'll just tell you what happened with this
 client" and I was reading it out, and he said, "Why are you
 actually telling me this?" and I said, well I just thought you'd
 want to know. And he said, "So you actually haven't got an
 issue that you want to discuss about this?" No actually I just
 thought that you'd want to know since I am your student. You
 know in a way he was fishing me to develop confidence, to know
 that I don't have to tell him everything any more. Only when the
 time comes when I need him specifically.

(Tanya, Student, School A)
 She (the field educator) would look at situations and say,
 "Well look at the learning that has come from that" rather
 than the other way around of say having a learning need and
 imposing it on to the situation. She would look creatively
 at what was taking place and we would analyse the organisation
 skills I might need to complete the task ... So rather than
 imposing her learning methods on what I was doing, she was
 looking at what I was doing and looking for the learning
 in that.

(Karen, Student, School A)

The third construct to emerge from blending experiential learning theory with the model for learning in context, as seen in Figure 2, was 'relationships'.

Relationships: This construct was derived out of recognition that multiple stakeholders have an investment in the placement process. Complex connections exist between schools, students, educators, agencies and the wider community. While these multi-layered connections are acknowledged within both Boud and Walker's model, and experiential learning theory, the part they play in influencing the quality of the learning experience was integral to understanding how field education could be enhanced. For the purposes of the research the notion of relationship was addressed on two levels. The first level to be addressed was the relationship between of the student and the educator. This relationship was considered to have a major bearing on student learning during the placement The second level of 'relationship' that needed to be taken into account was the formal and informal network that exists between the network of stakeholders involved in the placement process. These relationships in turn extended beyond those parties immediately involved in the practicum, to include 'significant others' such as the professional association, employers, funding providers and family networks. The broad and complex nature of relationships that influenced student and educator teaching and learning processes were evident throughout the research ...
 I think it's important to say that if the people involved
 like the fieldwork co-ordinator, my supervisor, my employer,
 and the agency manger (placement agency) hadn't all had an
 attitude of flexibility and trust, I suppose you know the
 trust that I was actually getting on with it (the research)
 and I wasn't doing nothing ... What I am trying to say is
 if people around me hadn't had that trust that flexibility
 the whole thing would have been a nightmare for me as a student
 and I can't see how I could have at the end of the day gone to
 lectures, done a placement and held down a job. I don't see
 how that would have been possible if the placement hadn't been
 one that had all those things built into it. I couldn't have
 met all the needs and expectations that had to be met and I
 probably wouldn't have learnt as much as I might have got so
 demoralised that I would've pulled out.

(Karen, Student, School A)
 I think I am accountable to my employers first, to the practice.
 If they were to come and say to me Lucille, this is just too
 awful (student practice), this is terrible and we've had
 complaints from this client or that client, then the placement
 would most definitely end.

(Lucille, Field Educator, School A)
 Her (the field educator's) willingness to talk about herself
 and her life and her family and her experiences at school
 and experiences in social work, her life experiences generally
 really helped. She wasn't much older than I was and some of
 her disasters, yeah it was really good to hear about people's
 disasters, it just makes you feel more human.

(Mandy, Student, School B)

The discussion so far has provided an explanation of learning theory, the theoretical paradigms used to guide the research, and the specific constructs distilled out of these paradigms that were subsequently used to examine social work field education. The final section of this article explains the emergence of a learning paradigm through the research process, which can be used to explain practicum teaching and learning. 'Towards Enhancement of practicum Teaching Learning' is a framework that was derived out of the synthesis of existing learning theory with the research findings related to each of the above three constructs.

Towards Enhancement of Practicum Teaching and Learning

It was possible to identify two trends within the research findings that had implications for informing practice and theory development specific to social work education. Firstly, both students and educators were part of an evolving process of redefining their identities through the activity of field education. During the field placements students were involved in the process of establishing a social worker persona, while their supervisors were learning to become educators. Secondly, both students and educators equated quality of learning with the degree to which they felt immersed, excited and intrigued by the learning process. In light of these findings, I revisited the three constructs used to examine social work field education, and reconceptualised these into a framework (See Figure 3). 'Towards Enhancement of Teaching and Learning' shows how the process of learning can be understood in the field, and helps explain why some students and educators are able to develop meaningful learning relationships, while others are not.

The notion of deep and surface approaches to learning is incorporated into this model to illustrate the differing levels of engagement with the learning process that students and educators had. These approaches were first discussed earlier in the article and refer to the extent to which learners adopt a critical stance in relation to their learning, question and reflect upon their personal understandings and actively seek out new learning (Entwistle, 1997). Both students and educators in the research identified these attributes as making a significant contribution to the quality of the learning experience in the field. The notion of surface and deep approaches to learning was therefore incorporated into the model as it was found to have significant bearing on the teaching and learning outcome.

Context, the teaching and learning transaction (pedagogy), and relationships were the three constructs used to inform this research. In Figure 3, these constructs are illustrated on a continuum where the approach to field education is an amalgam of the three, spanning from surface to deep approaches of learning. From the research findings it was possible to identify individual students and educators who were positioned at different points of the continuum for each of these constructs. So what does this mean for understanding practicum teaching and learning?

If we accept that both students and educators were engaged in a reciprocal learning process, there is no guarantee that both parties would be positioned at the same point of any continuum at the same time. For example, a student may neither acknowledge the contextual influences on practice, nor use a task-focused approach to learning yet acknowledge and value difference. This same student may have had a field educator who examined and integrated the contextual influences into the placement learning, but used a reactive approach to teaching and had a limited understanding of points of difference. In this way, the teaching and learning encounter between student and educator is significantly influenced by individual positioning on each continuum. Within the practicum, both student and educator are moving towards the construction of a new professional self: the student as social worker, and the social worker as educator. The interaction between student and educator is dynamic and fluid, and individuals may move backwards and forwards on each of the continua in response to stressors, feedback and incidental, unplanned events.

Ideally, to ensure quality practicum learning, students and educators would adopt a deep approach to field education on each of the three continua. However, this could only happen where both parties have experienced and integrated a reflexive approach to living and learning into their personal and professional lives. The developmental process used to facilitate a deep learning approach is gained through the experiential transaction, which is then subjected to critical reflection. In this way, both students and educators gain new insights and understandings of their developing roles.

The framework, 'Towards Enhancement of Practicum Teaching and Learning', explains the parallel learning process for both educators and students, and shows why and how supervisor and student dyads 'connect' better in some placements than in others. Its development is significant for social work in two ways. Firstly, it provides a model, specific to social work field education that helps explain the nature of the teaching and learning process for both student and educator. In this way, its development goes some way towards addressing the current theoretical void in practicum education. Secondly, it is a model that both students and educators can actually use to trace their engagement in the educational encounter in order to identify specific areas that may need further development and attention during the placement. The framework provides a 'map' to help students and educators understand differences in their own personal approaches to the teaching and learning encounter. It can be used as a tool for addressing both difference and conflict in style and ideology within the supervisory relationship. 'Towards Enhancement of Practicum Teaching and Learning' therefore makes a contribution to understanding field education at both a theoretical and practical level.


This article provides an illustration of how learning theory in social work education can emerge and is developed using an iterative qualitative research process. The model developed articulates a theoretical framework for learning specific to social work and situated within the daily teaching and learning transactions that occur between students and educators. Still it is just a beginning. The challenge remains for social work as a discipline to continue to build upon existing theoretical foundations to create its own unique paradigms that help explain, inform and guide this under-theorised area of social work education.


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(1) Kaumatua: Elder Maori Male. Kuia: Elder Maori Female

(2) Kaupapa: Principles, foundation and framework

Jane Maidment [1]

[1]. Author:

Jane Maidment is a lecturer in the School of Social Inquiry, Deakin University, Pigdons Rd, Waurn Ponds, Victoria, 3217, Australia. Tel: 035227 2892. Email:
Table 1. Comparison of Experiential Learning and 'Learning in Context'

 Experiential Learning in Context

Theoretical * Humanist Cognitive

Key Participants * Learner, facilitator, * Learner, facilitator,
 peers and staff peers and staff

Environment * Learning facilitated * Learning is embedded
 through introducing within all interactions
 student to new
 environment, real or * Student engagement with
 created the milieu central to
 learning process.
 Milieu includes both
 micro agency and macro

Learning Activity * Emphasis on practical * Focus is on getting
 activities and student to be
 concrete learning consciously aware of
 using processes of
 intervening' and '

 * Reflection used to * Reflection used to
 consider practice shape understanding and
 experiences in order challenge personal
 to improve future values
 practice outcomes

Figure 3. Towards Enhancement of Practicum Teaching and Learning

Surface Approach Deep Approach

Contextual Unacknowledged Negative contextual Contextual
 in the practicum influences are influences are
 continuum ameliorated. examined and
 Positive influences actively
 are exploited integrated into
 the practicum

Pedagogical Unplanned and Task-focused Planned and
 reactive approach approach to cover reflective
 to teaching and required teaching and
 learning using competencies learning that
 techniques not accounts for
 specifically developmental
 linked with considerations.
 learning Challenges
 objectives understanding
 of self and

Relational Limited Identification of Relationships
 recognition of preferred modes founded on
 points of of working and acknowledgment
 difference. values and valuing of
 Boundary blurring difference.
 Notions of
 virtue and
 awareness to
 the fore
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Author:Maidment, Jane
Publication:Women in Welfare Education
Date:Sep 1, 2002
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