The practicum is considered an integral and essential component in
the professional degrees of Education, Family Medicine, Nursing, and
Social Work. The practicum in these disciplines facilitates professional
development and professional socialization. Within the context of
'real-life', 'real-time' situations, the practicum
exposes students to the opportunity for integrating theoretical
understanding with the technical skills and values of professional
practice. Accreditation and professional guidelines in each of these
disciplines encourage early and ongoing exposure and access to
professional practice under the supervision of qualified practitioners.
The student/field instructor relationship therefore assumes a critical
importance to the vitality of professional degrees.
Background and Context
Since 1995 at the University of Calgary, there has been an ongoing
dialogue between the professional faculties of Education, Family
Medicine, Nursing, and Social Work. These faculties share the mutual
challenge of delivering components of their degree programs through
practicum education. During the early stages of this exchange it became
evident that there were common interests both pedagogically and
administratively associated with practicum education. All of us want to
graduate students who are self-aware, adaptable, flexible, critically
reflective, and intellectually and personally prepared to practice as
professionals (Rogers 1995).
During this dialogue, we found that problems expressed in practica,
whether it is between students and field instructors, students and other
student(s), field instructors and faculty liaisons, are often associated
with, or are symptomatic of, larger problems in the system. There was no
difficulty finding a common language to discuss and describe our
understanding of the system-wide tensions and constraints that affect
practicum education and the methods used to resolve or manage
practicum-related problems. We could relate to each other's
problems in communication, in relationships, and in attempts to resolve
difficulties before they escalate into fullblown conflicts. Conflicts in
practica require many hours, invoke much stress and inevitably result in
someone or several people being anywhere from dissatisfied or unhappy to
more disastrous outcomes. We have all had similar experiences of losing
a student, losing a community resource by way of a field instructor or
placement, damaging collegial relationships within a department or
faculty, and coping with the negative consequence on the learning
environment, all due to the inability to understand and effectively deal
Rationale for Study
The research project emerged from this collaborative conversation
and in particular the concerns about the deleterious effects that can
result from conflict in field placements. Based on the interdisciplinary
dialogue, the following points ground the research project:
1. University-based professional faculties tend to pay less
attention to teaching and learning processes in the practica, since it
is field and relies on practitioners from the professional community for
much of the teaching, supervision and evaluation of students. Thus,
issues such as conflict within the practica are rarely dealt with at a
programmatic level (Johnston 1995);
2. Dealing with conflict situations consumes immeasurable amounts
of time and resources for students, faculty, and field instructors
particularly when all appeal options are exercised (Benson 1995);
3. A better understanding of potential conflict situations and
individuals at-risk holds the promise of early identification and
intervention (Konnert 1995); and
4. Practicum education by its very nature requires collaborative
working relationships between the university and the professional
community and conflict jeopardizes this important but often fragile
liaison (Sawa 1995).
REVIEW OF RELATED RESEARCH
Despite the awareness of the presence of conflict in field
education and its potential to disrupt student learning, little direct
and systematic research can be located on this aspect of the practicum
(Cavazos 1996; Perese 1996; Smith 1992; Weaver and Stanulis 1996).
Consequently, other than anecdotal and impressionistic evidence,
assumptions about conflict in the practicum can only be inferred from
related research. For example, research dedicated to factors associated
with satisfaction with field practica, perceptions of field instructor
qualities, and role expectations are unable to provide the comprehensive
understanding necessary to adequately address conflict in the practicum.
Factors Associated with Practicum Satisfaction
Raskin (1988) surveyed 170 BSW students in their senior year of
practicum to determine factors associated with student satisfaction in
their field placements. 'New Learning', the single most
significant factor, contributed to over 60% of the variance in student
satisfaction with their field placement. Raskin describes this factor as
"achievement of field work objectives" (p.329). Less
significant factors included the climate of the practicum setting,
supervision, and demographic characteristics.
In a study designed to determine predictors of student satisfaction
with their field experience, Fortune and Abramson (1993) surveyed 142
MSW social work students. A stepwise multiple regression determined the
best predictor of satisfaction among the 16 identified variables
associated with satisfaction. Only three factors were significant:
perceived quality of field instruction, agency desirability and
inclusion, and explanations by field instructors. Of these three,
perceived quality of field instruction was the powerful predictor of
Based on their findings, both Raskin (1988) and Fortune and
Abramson (1993) suggest interventions in the field education program to
enhance student satisfaction. Neither of the research reports considered
the implications or vicissitudes associated with student dissatisfaction
with their field experience.
Field Instructor Qualities
Ellison (1991) surveyed 293 first and second year graduate social
work students and 188 of their respective field instructors to identify
effective and ineffective field instructor behaviours. Students and
field instructors perceived both task and expressive behaviours as
important. Provided information, provided opportunity for students to
express concerns, feedback, and validated student's feelings were
the four most frequently identified effective field instructor
behaviours. Ineffective behaviours were often the opposite of effective
behaviours. For example, lack of feedback and information,
inappropriate/inadequate response to student's concerns, and
denigration of student. The study concludes with the suggestion that the
research findings have implications for the enhancement of field
education. In particular, Ellison (1991) indicates that the findings can
be applied to the training and evaluation of field instructors.
Field instructors can be considered a professional role model for
their students (Hayes and Harrell 1994). In a 1996 study exploring what
resident doctors look for in their role models (staff physicians),
Wright developed a 50-item role model questionnaire for residents in
internal medicine, family medicine, surgery, paediatrics, and
psychiatry. Of the 230 questionnaires distribute, 195 were returned.
Clinical skills, personality, and teaching ability were ranked as the
top three factors residents look for in their role models. The role
model's clinical skills included such items as interaction with
patience, enthusiasm for work, and proficiency in diagnostic skills.
Personality features of the role model referred to attitude toward
resident, compassion for patient, interaction with colleagues. Teaching
ability of the role model involved the ability to explain difficult
subjects, patience, communication skills, and making learning exciting
Like Ellison (1991), Wright (1996) considers the importance of the
research findings in terms of faculty development and evaluation.
However, as with Raskin (1988) and Fortune and Abramson (1993), Wright
and Ellison make no attempt to determine or suggest the potential
outcomes of a role model or field instructor who displays unimportant
role model traits or ineffective behaviours.
Hartung (1982) investigated the role behaviour of social work field
instructors perceived to be important by social work students, practicum
coordinators, agency executives, and field instructors themselves. In
addition, Hartung wanted to determine if there were differences among
the four groups in their perception of important role behaviours, the
priority assigned to these behaviours, and the amount of time field
instructors should spend performing important behaviours.
Responses to a mailed survey questionnaire were received from 398
social work students, 14 practicum coordinators, 134 agency executives,
and 163 practicum instructors. By arbitrarily assigning as important all
role behaviours that received a "very important" rating by 80%
or more of all groups of respondents, Hartung (1982) created a list of
important field instructor role behaviours. Included in the list were
such role behaviours as defining the student's role in the agency,
teaching specific treatment modalities, pointing out student strengths
and weaknesses, and helping student with self-awareness.
Differences were also evident among the groups as to the
importance, priority, and time to be spent on some role behaviours. For
example, the groups differed on the importance of the field instructor
communicating with the social work school, helping the student develop a
work schedule, writing letters of recommendation for the student, and
being aware of other employee feelings toward the student. Similarly,
there were differences in the priority assigned to some role behaviours.
Each group tended to give priority to their own orientation to the field
practicum. Finally, in terms of time allocation, the groups differed on
over half of the categories of important role behaviours, for example,
the evaluation of students.
Hartung (1982) designated the differences in role expectations as
conflicts and suggests that role conflicts can lead to
"misunderstandings and feelings of alienation" (p. 669).
Apropos to this research project, in the concluding segment of the paper
Hartung (1982) states:
Summary of Related Research
In summary, the extant research appears to be dominated by the
investigation of variables that are associated with a positive or
negative practicum experience. The thrust of this research approach
appears to be based on the assumption that the practicum experience can
be enhanced if these positive variables can be isolated and then
accentuated by practicum personnel. Concurrently, the research tends to
pay little attention, beyond identification, to those factors that
detract from the field experience. In particular, the research does not
address the implication of the presence of negative factors in the
In a sense, this project begins where the others have stopped--the
investigation of one potential impact of the presence of negative
factors, conflict in the practicum. For the reasons suggested by Hartung
(1982), quoted above, the research project adopted a multidisciplinary
approach to the exploration of conflict in the practicum experience.
In recognition of the limited research relating to conflict in the
practicum setting, the research team favoured an exploratory research
approach (Grinnell and Unrau 1997). To accommodate the diverse research
capabilities and interests of the team membership, it was decided to
triangulate quantitative and qualitative methods. Six research questions
1. Do students/field instructors experience conflict in their
2. How often do students and field instructors feel in conflict?
3. To what degree does conflict strain the student/field instructor
4. What are the various types of stimuli of conflict in the
5. How are conflicts resolved in the practicum?
6. What are the outcomes of conflict in the practicum?
A modified simultaneous quantitative/qualitative triangulated
research design (Morse 1991) was developed to explore the experience of
conflict in the practicum. The quantitative aspect of the design
consisted of a mailed survey questionnaire. From the qualitative
perspective, in-depth open-ended semi-structured qualitative interviews
were conducted with volunteer survey respondents.
The sample included all students and their field instructors at a
large urban university in their senior practica during one term from
Family Medicine (N=128), Nursing (N=120) and Social Work (N=150) but a
random sample from Education (N=150). This occurred because of the large
number of students in the Faculty of Education (N=500) compared to the
From the quantitative respondents, 58 students and field
instructors volunteered for qualitative interviews. Potential
participants were contacted by telephone with the goal of interviewing
three students and three field instructors from each discipline. The
final qualitative sample involved 24 participants: three students each
from Education, Nursing, Family Medicine and Social Work; and three
field instructors from Education and Social Work, two from Family
Medicine, and four from Nursing.
The research team developed a four-part survey instrument
judiciously adjusted for students, field instructors and discipline.
Each of the two survey forms (student and field instructor) contained
sections requiring the respondents to provide descriptive data related
to themselves and their perceptions of the field instructor/student
relationship, their perceptions of the nature of supervision, their
perceptions of conflict in the practicum, and general information. The
nature of field instructor supervision section provided the opportunity
to assess the presence of conflict in relation to various aspects of the
supervisory relationship. These instruments were pre-tested by a small
number of recently graduated students and former field instructors from
each discipline, which resulted in minor changes to the instruments.
Every effort was made to make the qualitative interview as
open-ended as possible. However, it was necessary to introduce some
structure into the interviews. An emphasis was placed on exploring the
participant's perceptions about the formation of the student/field
instructor relationship, how the relationship progressed, the challenges
that might have emerged in the relationship, how any challenges were
managed, and suggestions for improvements in the programs.
The data collection phase of the research project consisted of two
parts. First, the survey questionnaires were mailed to students and
field instructors. The initial and only mailing consisted of a covering
letter explaining the research project and soliciting volunteers for the
qualitative portion of the study, a consent form, and the survey
instrument. Ethics approval was granted and all participants were
In the second phase the one member of the research team who was not
affiliated with any of the four disciplines conducted semi-structured
interviews. Interviews, lasting from 60-90 minutes, were carried out in
the researcher's office, the participant's office, or the home
of the participant. All interviews were recorded on audiotape and later
transcribed verbatim. Coding ensured the confidentiality of
participants. Transcripts were verified and corrected as necessary by
participants. Validations were received from 17 participants.
A total of 548 questionnaires were distributed and 234 were
returned--110 students and 124 field instructors--for a response rate of
43%. It was hoped that there would be a high return rate from
student/field instructor dyads. However, this only occurred in 58 cases.
Although the research design contained quantitative and qualitative
components, this article concentrates on the quantitative findings.
Nevertheless, the qualitative material has influenced the discussion and
concluding sections of the paper.
Characteristics of Student Respondents
Of the 110 student respondents 86 (78%) were female and 24 (22%)
were male. The vast majority had a Bachelor degree (71%); 22% had no
degree. One student possessed a Master degree and four (4%) were RNs.
Most students (73%) were in the 20-29 age range. One-fifth (20%) fell
into the 30-39 age category. Six students (6) were in the 40-49 age
bracket and one student was in the 49 plus age grouping. Social Work had
the largest number of students in the 40 plus age range while Family
Medicine had proportionally more students in the 30-39 age range.
Almost two-thirds (62%) of the students overall reported that their
university experience either "did not prepare them" or
"only prepared them a little" for their field placement.
However, in both Education and Social Work 79% of the students reported
the university prepared them little or did not prepare them.
Characteristics of Field Instructor Respondents
Of the 124 field instructor respondents, 88 (71%) were female and
36 (29%) were male. Slightly over half (54%) of the field instructors
had Bachelor degrees, 27% possessed a Master degree and six (5%) held
doctorate degrees. The remaining field instructors (14%) were RNs. Half
(50%) of the respondents were in the 40-49 age range, 32% fell into the
30-39 age bracket, and 13% were 49 or over. Six (5%) of the field
instructors were age 20-29.
Most of the respondents had student supervision experience; 84%
reported supervising either a few or many students. Almost all
respondents (94%) were 'willing' field instructors. One
respondent was 'not willing' and six (5%) felt 'it was
their duty'. About two-thirds (65%) indicated that the
student's university experience either prepared them a little or
not at all. Finally, 53% reported participating in a workshop designed
to develop supervisory skills.
Nature of Supervision
Students/Field instructors were asked about their perceptions of
the supervisory experience. Questionnaire items included the amount of
supervision and feedback; the helpfulness of the feedback and the
students urge to question the field instructor's feedback; and
permission, encouragement and support for trying new
approaches/techniques of practice. Tables 1 to 3 summarize the findings
in regard to these items.
Most students reported that they received the right amount of
supervision and the right amount of feedback from their field instructor
(83% and 72% respectively). Ten students, six of whom came from Social
Work, reported that they did not receive enough supervision. Nine
students, all from the other faculties, reported that they received too
much supervision. In relation to feedback, 27 students did not believe
that they received enough. The largest single number of these students
came from Nursing, followed by Social Work, Education and Family
The vast majority of field instructors reported that they provided
the right amount of supervision and feedback (85% and 88% respectively).
Six field instructors, four of whom came from Social Work, believed that
they did not provide enough supervision. Thirteen field instructors,
nine of whom were from Education, believed they provided too much
supervision. Eleven field instructors evenly distributed among
faculties, thought that they did not give enough feedback, while only
three field instructors all from Education reported providing too much
Table 2 shows that over three-quarters (77%) of the students found
their supervisors' feedback useful. Another 20% found the feedback
at least helpful occasionally. Only three students claimed their
supervisor's feedback was never useful. Field instructors have an
even more optimistic view of their feedback. Eighty-seven percent
reported that their feedback was either frequently or always helpful.
Another 13% believed their feedback was occasionally helpful. No field
instructor reported his or her feedback as never being helpful.
A response pattern similar to that of the amount of supervision and
feedback emerged in the data regarding permitting and supporting
students trying new approaches/techniques, as shown in Table 4. The
majority of students expressed the view that their supervisors allowed,
encouraged and supported trying new approaches/techniques (85% and 75%
respective). An overwhelming majority of field instructors reported that
they allowed, encouraged and supported students trying new
approaches/techniques (100% and 98% respectively).
Research Question 1: Do students/field instructors experience
conflict in their relationship?
Students and field instructors were asked if they experience
conflict with their field instructor/student. Table 4 summarizes the
extent of conflict in the student/field instructor relationship.
Overall, 32% of students reported the presence of conflict with their
field instructor. Students in Family Medicine reported the highest
percentage of conflict (44%), followed by Education (38%), Social Work
(29%), and Nursing (24%). These differences were not statistically
significant. Several other interesting findings emerged from further
analysis of the student/field instructor conflict outcome data although
the category "facilitated student growth" would appear as a
potential positive effect of conflict, this outcome was consistently
paired with less attractive outcomes such as "impeded
student's learning", "detrimental to student's
health", "impeded supervisory ability", "detrimental
to field instructor's health", "mediation sought"
and "relationship dissolved". Of the seven students who
reported that conflict led to seeking mediation, five identified that
the conflict was detrimental to their health. In these five cases, the
supervisory relationship was dissolved in two instances and rescued in
three. However, in the later situation, none of the three students
reported that the conflict contributed to their growth. In the 10 cases
in which students reported that the conflict was detrimental to their
health, only half were involved with mediation.
From the field instructor perspective, one-quarter of field
instructors report the presence of conflict with their student. Field
instructors in Family Medicine had the highest percentage of reported
conflict (50%) followed by Social Work (30%), Education (25%), and
The remaining research questions pertain to those 35 students and
31 field instructors who reported that they had experienced conflict
with their field instructor/student. These students and field
instructors are not matched dyads.
Research Question 2: How often do students and field instructors
feel in conflict?
Those students and field instructors reporting the presence of
conflict were asked to indicate how often there were occasions when they
felt in conflict with their field instructor/student. Table 5 summarizes
the findings. Just over half (51%) of the students either frequently or
most always felt in conflict with their field instructor. On the other
hand, 16% of the field instructors reported either frequently or most
always feeling in conflict with their students. For the most part, field
instructors report conflict with their student occurring occasionally.
Research Question 3: To what degree does conflict strain the
student/field instructor relationship?
Those students and field instructors reporting the presence of
conflict were asked if there was strain in the relationship with their
field instructor/student. Table 6 summarizes the findings. Over half
(59%) of the students perceived their supervisory relationship as either
strained temporarily or for a prolonged period of time. In contrast, 70%
of the field instructors perceived the relationship with their student
as either not strained at all or only momentarily.
Research Question 4: What are the various types of stimuli of
conflict in the practicum?
Those students and field instructors reporting conflict were asked
what they perceived to be the stimulus for the conflict with their field
instructor/student. Respondents were permitted to select as many stimuli
as they perceived applied in their circumstance, thus the categories are
not mutually exclusive. Table 7 summarizes the frequency of
Students most frequently cited "expectations of field
instructor", "personality/personal issues between student and
field instructor", and "issues associated with the institution
where practicum took place" as stimuli for conflict. Field
instructors most frequently selected "expectations of field
instructor", "expectations of student", "knowledge
level of student", and "skill level of student" as the
stimulus for conflict.
Research Question 5: How are conflicts resolved in the practicum?
Students and field instructors reporting conflict were asked how
the conflict in their relationship was resolved. Respondents selected
one category of resolution from the six categories offered as
alternatives. The frequencies with which the six categories of
resolution or non-resolution were reported are summarized in Table 8.
From the student's perspective, the majority of conflict
situations (68%) were not resolved to the satisfaction of the student.
In contrast, field instructors perceive conflict being resolved to the
satisfaction of the student and field instructor in the majority of
instances (63%). There are no instances in which the conflict was
resolved to the satisfaction of student but not the field instructor.
However, there were conflict situations perceived as being resolved to
the satisfaction of the field instructor but not the student.
Research Question 6: What are the outcomes of conflict in the
Students and field instructors reporting conflict were asked what
outcomes resulted from the conflict. Respondents were presented with 11
potential outcomes. Since they could select as many outcomes as they
believed to be appropriate, the categories are not mutually exclusive.
The frequencies of outcome selection are presented in Table 9. Field
instructors chose "facilitated student's growth" as the
most frequent outcome. Whereas, students selected "facilitated
student's growth" with the same frequency as "impeded
student's learning" as their number one conflict outcome.
Correlates of Conflict
The student and field instructor data were further analysed using
contingency tables and the non-parametric statistic Chi squared.
Statistically significant relationships between the presence of conflict
and various independent variables are itemized in the figures below.
As a group we were somewhat struck by the extent, prevalence and
complexity of conflict in the practicum. Moreover, the study has
revealed the deleterious effect conflict can have not only on learning
but also on the physical and psychological well-being of those involved.
Although as professionals we like to think that conflict presents the
opportunity for growth, there is little evidence in these findings to
support such a proposition. There are four aspects of the findings that
are particularly noteworthy: the presence of conflict in the supervisory
relationship; the difference in perceptions of students and field
instructors; the correlates of conflict; and, the complexity of the
phenomenon of conflict.
Magnitude of Presence of Conflict
Fully one-third of the students and one-quarter of the field
instructors reported the presence of conflict in the supervisory
relationship. The qualitative data tend to support this quantitative
finding. Furthermore, the qualitative data suggests that the
quantitative findings may not have captured the full extent of the
presence of conflict. There is no alternative but to view this
quantitative finding as indicative of conflict as an inherent feature of
the practicum for a number of students and field instructors. Certainly
this finding can support the contention that conflict in the practicum
setting cannot be ignored.
A partial explanation of the ostensibly high incident of conflict
in the practicum lay in two systemic issues. First, restructuring in the
social, health, and education sectors is having a serious impact on the
training of professionals. The management of social and health services
coupled with the cutbacks in education have created new tensions and
added more stresses to university/community relations especially at the
point of field instruction. Social workers, nurses, teachers, and
physicians are no longer afforded the time, support, training and
resources that once were associated with the role of supervisor. Yet,
the organizations in which these professionals work (and train students)
are increasingly complex in their management models, program structures
and accountability measures (Farber and Armaline 1994; Giddings Thompson
and Holland 1997). At the same time, students present with more
complicated lives and juggle multiple roles and responsibilities. These
factors may mean that students have less energy for coping with
stressful work/learning environments (Knight 1996).
This theme of time pressure and lack of resources experienced by
field instructors finds expression in the qualitative interviews. One
field instructor in conversation about what could improve the practicum
experience eloquently conveys the sense of this theme with the comments:
Secondly, students are increasingly diverse in part due to the
efforts by the university to recruit from equity groups and take
affirmative action seriously. A wider range of differences between field
instructors and students increases the potential for misunderstanding
especially without the time, support, training or resources to manage,
mediate or resolve difficulties before they escalate to conflicts (Hayes
1994; Wiggins and Clift 1996). In a discussion about the selection of
diverse students, a field instructor explains:
A field instructor may assume that problems in the practicum are
due to the cultural background of the students.
Difference in Students' and Field Instructors'
Although the nature of the data precludes a statistical
determination of a difference in perceptions, the findings appear to
support this assertion. Marked difference between students and field
instructors appear to emerge in the data relating to all the explored
dimensions of conflict. Students tend to report higher rates of
conflict, more often feel in conflict with their supervisors and
experience a greater degree of strain in the supervisory relationship.
They emphasize conflict stimuli related to the field instructor and
practicum setting. Conflict resolutions are perceived by students to
favour the field instructor. Finally, they characterize outcomes as more
detrimental to their learning, health and self-image than do field
On the other hand, field instructors incline toward reporting lower
rates of conflict, less often feeling in conflict with their students
and a lower degrees of strain on supervisory relations. They emphasize
conflict stimuli relating to the student's knowledge and skill
level, problems with clients and student expectations. Unlike students,
field instructors perceive conflict resolutions dominated by field
instructor/student satisfaction and outcomes that emphasize student and
field instructor growth.
These findings suggest the lived experience of conflict differ for
students and field instructors. Conflict for the student can be
conceived as a more intimate, involved and threatening phenomenon than
for field instructors. In effect, students have more to lose in a
conflict with a field instructor, therefore require a heightened
sensitivity to the phenomenon. The qualitative data makes it quite clear
that students are aware of the power differential that favours the field
instructor, an observation supported by the literature (Collins 1993).
This specific point arose in a qualitative student interview. During a
discussion about a practicum problem, the student, who had two field
instructors, expressed the power issue in the following way:
Students and field instructors do share some common ground
regarding the nature of the supervisory relationship. The majority of
students and field instructors maintain that they receive/provide the
right amount of supervision and feedback and that field instructor
feedback is helpful. Similarly, the majority of students and field
instructors agree that field instructors allow, encourage and support
students trying different approaches/techniques. However, the percentage
of field instructors supporting these variables is noticeably higher
than that of students.
The work of Schacht (1991) provides one plausible insight into this
field instructor/student dynamic. Schacht suggests that a facilitative
supervisory relationship must be in place before students feel
comfortable engaging in controversial dialogue with their supervisor and
creative solutions can be found. A facilitative supervisory relationship
consists of the core dimensions of empathy, respect, genuineness,
concreteness, confrontation and immediacy.
Correlates of Conflict
The researchers found that personal characteristics such as age,
gender and education of the students and field instructors were not
associated with the presence of conflict. Rather, in this study
correlates of conflict were confined to the nature of the supervisory
relationship and the role performance of students/field instructors.
These findings appear to be consistent with the research related to the
factors associated with student satisfaction in the practicum and the
behaviour and role expectations of field instructors (Alperin 1998;
Ellison 1991; Fortune and Abramson 1993; Hartung 1982; Knight 1996;
Raskin 1988; Sieh and Bell 1994; Wright 1996). Moreover, these findings
offer a suggestion to what happens when students are not satisfied with
their practicum, their field instructor displays ineffective supervisory
behaviour, or there are contentious role expectations--an effect
overlooked in the related research.
Complexity of Conflict
In the developmental phase of the project, the research team shared
a somewhat naive and simplistic view of conflict. What we found is that
conflict in the practicum occurs within the context of the student/field
instructor relationship--a relationship embedded in a dynamic intricate
web of systemic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal forces. From an
ecological perspective (Sheafor, Horejsi and Horejsi 1997), three
fundamental ecosystems can be identified: the university represented by
the university liaison, the practicum setting represented by the field
instructor and the student (Figure 7). The student/field instructor
learning relationship manifests itself at the intersection of these
[FIGURE 7 OMITTED]
Superimposed on and concurrent with the ecosystemic interactions
are the interpersonal and intrapersonal dynamics of the university
liaison, the field instructor and the student (Figure 8).
[FIGURE 8 OMITTED]
The importance of the psychosocial impact on the dynamics of
conflict was evident in both the student and field instructor
qualitative interviews. For example, a field instructor offering an
insight into a conflict with a student remarks:
The antecedents of conflict are lodged in the web of ecosystems and
psychosocial forces. Conflict emerges from these antecedent conditions.
Once activated, conflict flourishes and is addressed in unique
circumstances peculiar to the ecosystems and people involved. Conflict
cannot be considered a simple matter (Figure 9).
[FIGURE 9 OMITTED]
A notable limitation of the study is the reliance on student and
field instructor perceptions. Although students' and field
instructors' judgements are important considerations, there may be
an element of bias in the responses. For example, Bratton (1997)
suggests that social workers are uncomfortable with conflict and tend to
avoid conflict and unpleasantness. In addition, the study did not
operationally define conflict, the key variable being explored. Students
and field instructors were free to assign their own personal meaning to
the term 'conflict'. Other variables important to the study
such as supervision, supervisor feedback and relationship strain share
the same shortcoming. As a consequence of these two limitations, the
findings relating to the presence of conflict in the supervisory
relationship may be under represented or over represented depending on
how the respondents interpreted their situation and what meaning was
assigned to conflict.
Another limitation of the study is the number of respondents
reporting the presence of conflict. The overall sample was dramatically
decreased in the detailed analysis of conflict. This was particularly
noticeable in the N for individual disciplines that limited statistical
analysis by disciplines. The detailed analysis of conflict therefore
provides an interdisciplinary view of conflict that may or may not
accurately reflect any one of the four disciplines.
This exploratory study has shed some light on the student/field
instructor conflict in the practicum. However, as with all exploratory
research, more questions than answers have been forthcoming. We
therefore hope that others will use these findings as a starting point
to further investigate this area of professional education.
A person in charge must befell more than heard-not heard more than
she is felt.
Figure 1. Conflict and Student Perception of Field Instructor
Conflict is more apt to be present for students when they perceive
their field instructor as not:
* willing to supervise students; [chi square]=28.883, p<.0001
* considering students' university preparation as valuable;
[chi square] =19.091, p<.001
* being professionally competent; [chi square]=11.262, df=l,
* providing the right amount of supervision; [chi square]=28.246,
* providing the right amount of feedback; [chi square]=16.754,
* providing feedback that was either frequently or most always
helpful; [chi square]=23.279, p<.001
* permitting student to trying new approaches/techniques; [chi
square]=20.138, p<.001 (this relationship was strongest in Nursing
and Education, somewhat weaker in Family Medicine, and non-existent in
* supporting students to try new approaches/techniques; [chi
square]=14.107, p<001 (the relationship was strongest in Family
Medicine, somewhat weaker in Education and non-existent in Nursing and
Figure 2. Conflict Reported by Students
Conflict was more likely to be reported by students who:
* felt like either frequently or always questioning the feedback of
their field instructor; [chi square]=26.025, p<.001
* are less satisfied with their field placement; [chi
square]=29.188, df=3, p<.001
* are less satisfied with the quality of their field
instructor's supervision; [chi square]=56.12, df=3, p<.001
* are less satisfied with their relationship with their field
instructor; [chi square]=52.737, df=3,p<.001
* are less satisfied that the practicum met their learning needs;
[chi square]=28.331, df=3, p<.001
Figure 3. No Statistically Significant Relationships Between
Conflict and Students'
No statistically significant relationships were found between the
presence of conflict and students':
* gender (except for Family Medicine where males outnumbered the
* academic degree
* age range (proportionally more students in the 30-39 age bracket
* membership in a visible minority
* perceived degree of preparation from university (proportionally
more students who reported conflict either felt that the university
either did not prepare them or prepared them little)
Figure 4. Field Instructors and Conflict
Conflict is more apt to be present for field instructors when they
perceive their student as:
* not prepared by the university for the practicum; [chi
square]=15.332, df=1, p<.001
* wishing to question their feedback but refrained from doing so;
[chi square]=18.928, df=3, p<.001
Figure 5. Conflict Reported by Instructors
Conflict is more likely to be reported by field instructors who:
* participated in a supervisory workshop; [chi square]=6.687, df=l,
* perceived themselves as not providing the right amount of
feedback; [chi square]=10.721,df=2, p<0.01
* perceived themselves as not providing frequent or almost always
helpful feedback; [chi square]=20.176, df=2, p<.001
* are less satisfied with the practicum; [chi square]=28.512, df=3,
* are less satisfied with the relationship with their student; [chi
square]=18.124, df=3, p<.001
* perceive that the student's learning needs are not being
met; [chi square]=10.000, df=3, p<.05
Figure 6. No Statistical Significant Relation Between Conflict and
No statistically significant relationship was found between the
presence of conflict and field instructors':
* academic degree
* age range
* membership in a visible minority
* previous experience supervising students and willingness to
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Russell Sawa Author:
The authors form the Professional Education Cluster, University of
Calgary. Direct communication to: Dr Gayla Rogers, Professor and Dean,
Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive,
NW, Calgary AB Canada T2N 1N4. Phone: (403) 220 6155. Email:
The general area of practicum, fieldwork, internship, practice
teaching, or whatever term a specific profession uses to
describe the practical training of its students has potential
for further study. A review of the literature indicates that
there is very little transfer of information from one profession
to another in this area. Although there are, of course,
differences in subject matter and approaches among professions,
much could be learned from research and experience of other
professions (p. 669).
I think that one of the things that supervisors really need in
order to do a good job is the full support of their managers
to provide them the time to work effectively with students.
In my experience what happens is there's a list of priorities
that I'm responsible for handling and the student unfortunately
comes at the bottom. You know, while it may not be realistic
to expect that people dump half of their workload, I think
that there can be a balance struck, if the organization really
buys into this [the value of the practicum].
And so when we were interviewing for students, one of the things
that we've been looking at as part of the directive of the
multicultural organizational change work is the accessibility in
our agency and looking at diversity across a lot of variables.
One of the things that I found was that our counselling staff
in particular, were quite similar in terms of age,
gender and background. So I have been trying to recruit different
candidates when I'm looking for new employees. So this young woman
[practicum student] brought some of that in terms of coming from
another culture. Her first language was not English.
...they were quite disappointed that I was saying that I didn't
think this community was ready for this kind of program. That's
not what they wanted to hear but they were willing to swallow it
at that last stage. But I think part of the reason why it became
a lot more clear at that last meeting was because I knew I had
somebody [university liaison] there who understood clearly what
I was trying to say and was on my side. I felt a bit, J don't
know what the word is, but you know how you always kind
of feel a power imbalance between the supervisor and student
anyway. When you have two supervisors and a student, it seems
I wanted to work with Jane but have everything out in the open
a bit more as I didn't know what was going on with her. It sort
of seemed like she was preoccupied and not really focussed and
that she was sort of in never-never land. It was almost as if
she was on drugs but J didn't think she was on drugs. 1 thought
there must be something happening with her life and that point
I didn't really know her very well personally. I just
knew that her initial choice for a practicum was [another city]
where her former fiance had lived and she said they had broken
off. And actually the university staff person later told me it
was her fiance and that they had planned a wedding and it was
Table 1: Interdisciplinary student/field instructor perception of
receiving/providing supervision and feedback expressed numerically and
Students (N= 110) *
Right Not Too
Amount Enough Much
Supervision 90 (82.6) 10 (9.1) 9(8.3)
Feedback 78 (71.6) 27(24.8) 4(3.7)
Field Instructors (N=124) **
Right Not Too
Amount Enough Much
Supervision 104(84.5) 6(4.9) 13(10.6)
Feedback 105(88.2) 11(9.3) 3(2.5)
* 109 students reporting on supervision and feedback
** 123 field instructors reporting on supervision and 119 on feedback
Table 2: Interdisciplinary student/field instructor perception about
the helpfulness of field instructor feedback expressed numerically and
Frequency Students (N=110) Field Instructors (N=124)
Never 3 (2.8) 0
Occasionally 22 (20.2) 16 (12.9)
Frequently 26 (23.8) 40 (32.3)
Always 58 (53.2) 68 (54.8)
Total 109 124
Table 3: Interdisciplinary student/field instructor perception of
student permitted and supported in trying new approaches/techniques
expressed numerically and in percentage
Students (N=110) * Field Instructors (N=124) **
Yes No Yes No
Permitted 92 (85.2) 16 (14.8) 112 (100)
Supported 79 (74.5) 27 (25.5) 110 (98.2) 2 (1.8)
* 108 students reported on permitted and encouraged, 106 on supported
** 112 field instructors reported on permitted, encouraged, and
Table 4: Interdisciplinary student/field instructor perception of the
presence of conflict in the supervisory relationship expressed
numerically and in percentage
Students (N=l 10) Field Instructors (N=I24)
Yes 35 (32.4) 31 (25)
No 73 (67.6) 93 (75)
Total 108 124
Table 5: Interdisciplinary student/field instructor perception of how
often feeling in conflict with field instructor/student expressed
numerically and in percentage
Frequency Students Reporting Field Instructors Reporting
Conflict (N=35) Conflict (N=31)
Occasionally 17 (48.6) 26 (83.9)
Frequently 13 (37.1) 4 (12.9
Most Always 5 (14.3) 1 (3.2)
Total 35 31
Table 6: Interdisciplinary student/field instructor perception of the
extent to which the presence of conflict strained the student/field
instructor relationship expressed numerically and in percentage
Extent of Strain Students Reporting Field Instructors
Conflict (N=35) Reporting Conflict
Not at all 6 (17.6) 6 (20.0)
Momentarily 8 (23.5) 15 (50.0)
Temporarily 8 (23.5) 7 (23.3)
Prolonged 12 (35.4) 2 (6.7)
Total 34 30
Table 7: Interdisciplinary frequency of students/field instructors
reporting types of conflict stimuli
Stimulus Students Reporting Field Instructors
Conflict (N=35) Reporting Conflict
Expectations of field 21 20
Personality/personal issues 17 7
between student & field
Issues associated with 10 4
practicum took place
Knowledge level of 6 14
Skill level of student 6 12
Personality/personal issues 3 8
between students and
Field placement office 1 1
Expectations of student * 16
Other 12 11
* This stimulus did not appear on the student version of the
Table 8: Interdisciplinary students and field instructors selection of
different categories of conflict resolution expressed numerically and
Category of Conflict Students Reporting Field Instructors
Resolution Conflict N=35 Reporting Conflict
Resolved to the 11(31 .4) 19 (63.4)
satisfaction of both student
and field instructor
Resolved to the 0 0
satisfaction of the student
but not the field instructor
Resolved to the 6(17.1) 1 (3.3)
satisfaction of the field
instructor but not the
Some resolved but some 7 (20.0) 7(23.3)
Acknowledged but left 4(11.5) 2 (6.7)
Neither acknowledged nor 7 (20.0) 1 (3.3)
Total 35 30
Table 9: Interdisciplinary outcomes of conflict
Frequency of Outcomes
Outcomes Students Field Instructors
Conflict (N= 35) Conflict (N=31)
Facilitated student's learning 16 22
Impeded student's learning 16 8
Destructive to student's 15 3
Detrimental to student's health 10 2
Impeded field instructor's 9 6
ability to supervise
Facilitated field instructor's 7 19
Mediation sought through a 7 5
Supervisory relationship 6 2
Destructive of field 3 1
Detrimental to field 2 2
Other 4 7