Practical learning: achieving excellence in the human services

January 23-25 2008 Edinburgh International Conference Centre

Social work education: a developmental perspective

Keywords: Components of social work education, professional socialization - integration of learning and practice, developing a professional identity

Authors: Dr Atalia Mosek (Tel Hai Academic College); Miriam Ben-Oz (Tel Hai Academic College)

Social Work is a semi-profession whose professional socialization occurs within an academic framework, and field work in social welfare agencies. These are two setting which are governed by different and often conflicted organizational rules, norms and expectations and social status. The research was concerned with: How do social work students become professionals? Empirically, what are the components of the socialization process, and how do they change over time for first, second, and third-year students, in comparison to their field instructors and professors?

This was a longitudinal case study utilizing a questionnaire and focus groups to explore this topic within a three-year Bachelor of Social Work program in an academic college in Israel. A developmental perspective on the process of professional education showed that students begin their studies with an abundance of motivation, natural skills and values, by the second year they have enhanced their skills and rely on 'use of self' and knowledge, in their third year they are positively and negatively charged, with a stronger belief and confidence in their 'use of self' and skills, but less sure of their knowledge and value base. Field instructors rely mainly on skills with a firm value base and 'use of self', and professors utilize value, knowledge and skills in similar proportions.

Students' views and ideas on learning play a crucial role, and it is therefore essential to take these into account in order to optimize learning. The tendency of the faculty to rely on knowledge as well as skills and the 'use of self' supports an adult education model of mentoring which is characterized by mutual collaboration between student and teacher in developing learning activities and goals, and by a flexible approach to achieving educational aims. This applied approach which allowed the integration of learning and practice, individualized students and encourages the development of a professional identity.

The unique contribution of this paper is its exploration into the integration of learning and practice as major goals of social work education. Understanding the student's perspective, and using comparative data from professors and field instructors identified the components and developments involved in the socialization process. The discussion will focus on the significance of the findings for all involved in professional education: students, field instructors, and educators.

Date: Friday 25 January 2008, 12.00-12.30

Venue: Carrick One

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Organised by the Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services in association with PEPE (Practical Experiences in Professional Education).