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
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.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
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 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
'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
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
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
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:
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
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.
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
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 ...
(Harry, Student, School A)
(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.
(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 ...
(Alan, Field Educator, School A)
(Ann, Student, School B)
(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 ...
(Claire, Student, School C)
(Fiona, Student, School C)
Deep Approaches ...
(Tanya, Student, School A)
(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: 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 ...
(Karen, Student, School A)
(Lucille, Field Educator, School A)
(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
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,
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
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(1) Kaumatua: Elder Maori Male. Kuia: Elder Maori Female
(2) Kaupapa: Principles, foundation and framework
Jane Maidment 
Jane Maidment is a lecturer in the School of Social Inquiry, Deakin
University, Pigdons Rd, Waurn Ponds, Victoria, 3217, Australia. Tel:
035227 2892. Email: email@example.com
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 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,
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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 ...
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 ...
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
linked with considerations.
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.