THE INDIAN JOURNAL OF SOCIAL WORK Tata Institute of Volume 75,...
Tata Institute
Volume 75, Issue 3
Social Sciences
July, 2014
Exploring Ways of Strengthening Fieldwork
Training in Social Work
Teddy Andrews
The quality of fieldwork practice provided to social work trainees is one of the major
challenges of Social Work training. This paper attempts to look at the strengths and
gaps in the fieldwork training practices. The paper is based on available literature, the
author’s experience and feedback received from postgraduate social work students of
Manipal University. It discusses various factors that need to be considered to strength-
en the fieldwork training and the significant role of the Social Work educator in strength-
ening the fieldwork training component.
Teddy Andrews is a Lecturer at the Department of Public Health, Manipal University,
The Social Work profession has a number of distinctive features. One
significant feature that makes Social Work training unique is its fieldwork
component. Social Work being a helping profession, its core focus is
to enable and empower people in their psychosocial functioning. This
therefore requires very intensive, well planned and structured training
in fieldwork. The lack of competency as demonstrated in social work
graduates has raised questions on the quality of education and training
imparted. One of the reasons attributed to this is the commercialisation
of the profession, which has led to the mushrooming of numerous social
work education institutions. Consequently, with the increase in institutions
offering the Social Work programme, organisations are flooded with
trainees of various competencies; the agencies are thus burdened with the
responsibility of training a larger number of graduates and, hence, fail to
provide quality training.
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366 Teddy Andrews
At the same time, the quality of classroom instructions and fieldwork
supervision rendered by the teaching faculty is also a matter of concern.
Certainly, theoretical inputs with sub-standard fieldwork training can
hardly develop required competencies in the trainees. The learning
experience through classroom instructions and field practice should rather
complement each other. However, this is not the case in most institutions
due to lack of congruency in classroom teaching and field realities. Besides,
there is a dearth of knowledge on models of effective fieldwork training.
This paper, therefore, attempts to look at the strengths and gaps in
fieldwork training practices. The paper is based on available literature,
the author’s experience and feedback received through focus group
discussions from the MSW trainees of Manipal University. Attempts are
made to contextualise some of the effective fieldwork training strategies
followed in the West to the Indian setting. The factors that need to be
considered to strengthen the fieldwork training are discussed below.
The Orientation Programme
As the Masters programme in Social Work attracts trainees from various
disciplines, the students take a longer time to understand the nature of
the Social Work programme—concepts, theories and fieldwork. Even
trainees with a Bachelor of Social Work background sometimes find it
hard to understand the concepts taught at the Masters level. A structured
orientation programme for a week or 10 days in the first semester would
help students to understand the basic concepts required to start fieldwork
training and thereby build their confidence. The orientation programme
could focus on values and attitudes, self-awareness, self-esteem, working
in teams, social consciousness and relationships, motivation, leadership,
reaching out to vulnerable population, stigma and discrimination. As these
areas are significant to the Masters Programme, it is imperative that these
topics are discussed early and the trainees develop their knowledge and
skills with regard to self, social relationships, structures in the society and
social systems. The participatory nature of the orientation sessions will
enable the trainees to start thinking critically, creatively and rationally, and
overcome their inhibitions.
Partnership between Fieldwork Agency and the Institution
The IASWR (2007) states that the challenge is for social work education
to become a knowledge translation and implementation enterprise,
building on existing field/academic partnerships to bring existing
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Exploring Ways of Strengthening Fieldwork Training in Social Work 367
science to “real world” practice. Integration of theory and field practice
experience is integral to social work education. This can be achieved
through establishing strong partnerships between the teaching institution
and the fieldwork agencies. The IASWR (2007) has emphasised in their
report that there should be a strong focus on communication between the
academic institution and the field placement agencies to develop a mutual
understanding of the needs.
In a way, it could be understood that the fieldwork practicum should
be designed not just by the institution, but in consultation with the field
placement agencies. The fieldwork guidelines and requirements could
be developed by the academic institution and the agencies. As the
professionals in the agencies have a deeper working knowledge of the
areas of intervention, such collaborations would enhance the possibility of
trainees developing appropriate skills. This also fosters a more conducive
working relationship between the agency and the institution.
Linking Classroom Instructions to the Fieldwork Practice
The fieldwork training should be supported by well planned classroom
instructions to strengthen the knowledge base and skills of the trainees.
While providing practical and realistic field based examples supported
by a theoretical framework is significant to understanding social work
concepts, making use of participatory methodologies in the classroom
helps trainees to link theory with field practice. It is therefore critical for
social work educators to assess whether their classroom instructions is only
a traditional monologue or a didactic lecture or a live theatre performance
with enough room to discuss and trigger critical and creative thinking
among students of social work. Classroom instructions should include
a right blend of lecturing, power point presentations and documentaries,
role-plays, and group activities, followed by discussions and creative group
games. The use of multiple teaching strategies can also be considered as a
participatory mode of training wherein the faculty member is not the only
key player in teaching, but the trainees are also engaged in the teaching-
learning process.
Wrenn and Wrenn (2009) found that learning is best achieved when
students are actively involved in a cyclical process which includes
observing, applying, reflecting, and sharing of personal experiences. From
the social and pragmatic constructivist literature, we see that students
learn best as active learners who integrate thinking and acting, who reflect
on the act, and who share their reflections and observations with others.
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368 Teddy Andrews
Active and constructivist learning models also stress multiple teaching
modalities, including learning by doing and having the student serve as
a teacher of what they are learning. Therefore the social work educators
need to be open for learning from the trainees.
The MSW trainees of Manipal University have also shared their views
on the teaching-learning process.
Lecturing with power point slides improves learning and acts as a main tool
of learning through auditory and visual sources – A 2nd Year - MSW trainee,
Manipal University (January 2011).
Use of role-plays enhances our confidence levels and clarity over the concepts
and provides an experience to get a feel of what it is to be a social worker and
also as a client – A 2nd Year - MSW trainee, Manipal University (January 2011).
Role-play increases our abilities to analyse situations and find out alternative
ways of handling issues – A 1st Year - MSW trainee, Manipal University (January
Group activities help us to build our skills through working in teams, interpersonal
relationships, coordination and overall leadership abilities – A 2nd Year - MSW
trainee, Manipal University (January 2011).
Social work students interviewed by Wilson and Kelly (2010) expressed
that: “Role-plays were useful in identifying and developing communication
As part of an ongoing class work assessment, trainees should be
encouraged to work on tasks that provide suitable exposure to the
application of knowledge rather than being made to write assignments
on various topics. For example, regarding an assignment situated in a
school: The students can be asked to choose an area/issue of concern
affecting the school and explain the approach/approaches used to tackle
the issue. The faculty can assist the students to access available literature
and other resource materials and, consult school social workers, if
At a NACSW (North American Association of Christians in Social
Work) National Convention in the US, Boyer (2006) stated: “teaching
social work is an art; each new class allows you to be creative and try
different things. I always tell my students that they will learn some things
from me, some from their readings, films, speakers...but that they will
learn the most from each other. The classroom is a small piece of our
society and great change can start there”. He emphasised the importance
of conducting small group activities, and using films, guest speakers to
enhance the learning experience.
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Exploring Ways of Strengthening Fieldwork Training in Social Work 369
Actual Fieldwork Practice and Guidance
Wilson and Kelly (2010) evaluated the effectiveness of social work
education in the UK and found significant levels of disjunction between
academic and practice learning. Barring a few social work institutions
in India, most institutions do not have dedicated field work instructors.
The faculty members instruct and guide students placed for fieldwork.
Therefore, to better integrate academic and practice learning, academicians
must visit the field along with the students and coordinated with the field
supervisors in training the trainees. This will result in better modelling of
social work principles and strategies. While this method enhances effective
student learning, it also aids academicians to integrate theoretical concepts
with current ground realities during classroom discussions.
Trainee students greatly appreciate faculty members accompanying
them to their fieldwork agencies.
You came to the field and explained to us the application of theory into practice
which helped me to get more clarity on approaching and intervening with client’s
difficulties – A 2nd Year MSW trainee, Manipal University (January 2011).
In addition to the guidance provided in the field, the faculty supervisors
also need to give adequate feedback on the weekly reports submitted by
students. These reports can be discussed at individual and group conferences
to optimise trainees’ learning. As report writing is an important skill of
documentation, the trainees should be trained in language skills, content
writing, and application of theory into fieldwork practice.
Another significant factor that plays a major role in trainees’ fieldwork
training is the interpersonal relationship that s/he establishes with the
fieldwork instructor. The ability to understand concepts, and instructions
given by the fieldwork instructor is to a certain extent dependent on the
quality of relationship established between the student and the instructor.
Initial contacts and interactions between the trainees and the instructors are
very crucial in laying the foundation for a good professional relationship.
The trainees can develop the requisite skills and potentials by following
the verbal instructions given to them by the concerned instructors and also
by observing how they deal with the concerns of individuals, groups and
As the core area of fieldwork training and intervention is methods
oriented—case work, group work and community organisation, the other
secondary methods of Social Work like research, administration and social
action are given least priority.
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370 Teddy Andrews
Practicing Different Methods of Social Work in the Field
Learning the direct or primary methods of Social Work is important; but how
far are these methods used in actual practice is a big concern to social work
educators. Just having an understanding and field exposure in practicing
the direct methods of Social Work is not adequate, the secondary methods
also need to be given importance as some of the national and international
organisations require social workers to take up administrative, research
and advocacy positions. The fieldwork training requirements stipulate
that the trainees should complete a particular number of case work cases,
group work sessions and community oriented activities in their academic
programmes. In addition to these, other activities such as conducting a
small study, designing some Information Education Communication (IEC)
/ Behaviour Change Communication (BCC) materials, developing short
videos or documentaries and designing training modules would certainly
strengthen the fieldwork training programme.
In Manipal University, students are mandated to conduct a study on an
area of concern and mobilise resources for the fieldwork organisation they
are associated with in their first year of practicum. For example, two Social
Work trainees designed a study on the health needs of a tribal community
in Udupi District in their first semester of fieldwork in consultation with
the fieldwork supervisor. The trainees were guided to carry out a literature
search to develop the right design, sampling method and tools to conduct
the study. In the second year, the trainees are expected to develop training
modules, short videos and conduct evaluative assignments. The trainees
specialising in medical and psychiatric social work participate in school
mental health programmes. They are encouraged to design policies for
schools on anti-bullying methods, prevention of tobacco consumption and
other relevant health concerns.
Community Extension Activities
Besides the usual exposure that the trainees receive through the fieldwork
training, community extension activities could be added to build the
capacities of both the trainees and faculty members. As professionals
involved in the development and service sectors, social work trainers/
educators are equipped with skills in understanding the needs of vulnerable
people, designing relevant intervention packages and evaluating outcomes
of interventions. It is therefore imperative for faculty members to take up
need based community extension initiatives that cater to the felt and implied
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Exploring Ways of Strengthening Fieldwork Training in Social Work 371
needs of the neighbouring society. These activities provide an opportunity
for the faculty members and trainees to sharpen their skills and abilities.
For example, as a response to various newspaper reports on the high rate
of suicides in Choolaimedu, Chennai, in 2004, the Department of Social
Work of Loyola College, Chennai, in partnership with “The Banyan”
began a community mental health initiative catering to the mental health
needs of the local community. The intervention team comprised a faculty
coordinator and students specialising in medical and psychiatric social
work from the department, and the mental health team from The Banyan.
The engagement of faculty members and trainees enhanced the process
of understanding the community mental health needs and designing the
relevant service package in partnership with a local organisation.
Social Work Administration is an area of exposure that is given
least importance in fieldwork training in India. The Rutgers University
Centre for International Social Work in their report (December 2008)
has recommended that the social work curricula be expanded to address
administrative and management skills such as needs assessment,
programme development, strategic planning, and programme evaluation.
The Department of Public Health, Manipal University, takes up health
programmes and evaluation studies as part of the community extension
projects. The MSW trainees at Manipal have been involved in seven such
projects since September 2009:
1. Evaluation of pulse-polio immunisation in collaboration with Nation-
al Pulse Polio Surveillance Programme, World Health Organisation;
2. Evaluation of mass drug administration for filariasis supported by the
Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of Karnataka;
3. Social auditing of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment
Guarantee Scheme as a joint venture with Udupi Zilla Panchayath;
4. Performance evaluation of solar home lighting system in a rural com-
munity funded by the Bharatiya Vikas Trust, Manipal;
5. Health seeking behaviour of a tribal (Koraga) community in Udupi
District, Karnataka;
6. Mental health status and social networks of older people in Udupi
District, Karnataka; and
7. Evaluation of child protection systems in Udupi District, Karnataka.
Chui and others (1997) in their evaluation of a community work
education programme found that the acquisition of interpersonal and
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372 Teddy Andrews
communication skills was particularly significant among students who had
the opportunity to meet and interact with real clients. The MSW trainees
at Manipal University are regularly provided with opportunities to interact
with diverse populations through community extension activities. As a
result, students have acquired skills in programme planning, organisation
and overall management of projects.
Skill Development Sessions
Skill development sessions need to focus beyond the development of
soft skills like organising programmes, communication strategies, and
presentation of papers, reports and, so on. As an ongoing training activity,
the Manipal University conducts weekly skill development sessions for
students. Students are given opportunities to work in teams, take part in
participatory training programmes with structured modules and resource
materials. The sessions are supported and supervised by the faculty
“One thing I learnt from these sessions is managing time efficiently” – 2nd Year
- MSW trainee, Manipal University (January 2011).
These sessions enable them to practice group work interventions in
a systematic and organised fashion. In turn, it also makes the fieldwork
practice more meaningful and relevant.
Role of a Social Work Educator / Trainer
Social Work educators have a significant contribution to make in
strengthening the fieldwork training. Therefore, the social work trainers
themselves need to be equipped with adequate potentials to render quality
fieldwork guidance and supervision. As some fieldwork agencies are busy
with their regular work, they may consider the trainees as a burden or
additional responsibility. In order that such trainees get optimal learning
opportunities in fieldwork training, the social work trainer’s role in this
context could include:
• Social work educators need to act as ‘role models’ for trainees when
practicing social work values and ethics. The trainees can internalise these
values through observation. Congress (no date) expressed in her paper that
the teachers should also serve as role models for professional practice.
• Faculty members should function as ‘field trainers’. The faculty
supervisors need to accompany trainees to the field at least once a
fortnight or once a month to integrate theory and practice.
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Exploring Ways of Strengthening Fieldwork Training in Social Work 373
• Academicians need to be ‘practitioners’. Besides being academicians,
they need to practice social work methods and intervention techniques.
This can be achieved by association with nongovernmental organisations
or through community extension activities.
• Social work trainers also need to be active ‘researchers’ and study
social phenomena. Various interventions carried out should be tested
for feasibility, acceptability and overall effectiveness. The data gathered
should be published for public dissemination of knowledge.
• Social Work educators are also ‘innovators’ in terms of building
knowledge and skills of trainees by developing IEC / BCC materials
and documenting specific social work interventions.
It is high time that Social Work institutions looked towards redefining
fieldwork training. Perhaps, all the factors that are highlighted in this paper
may be relevant to certain institutions. However, it is important that Social
Work trainers maximise field based learning opportunities for students.
One significant area that the Social Work educators need to seriously
consider is the identification, evaluation and documentation of the various
training components.
Boyer, T.
: The Art of Teaching Social Work: Reflections on my Journey in
Higher Education. Paper presented at the National Convention
of North American Association of Christians in Social Work,
Chui, E.W.T.,
: Critical Reflection in Community Work Education: A Social
Wong, D.K.P.,
Work Curriculum Addressing Social Deprivation and Poverty.
Wong, Y.C.,
In D. Kember, B.H. Lam, L. Yan, J.C.K. Yum and S.B. Liu
Chan, C.L.W.,
(Eds.), Case Studies of Improving Teaching and Learning
Law, C.K. and
from the Action Learning Project, Hong Kong: Hong Kong
Tam, V.
Polytechnic University, 49–56.
Institute for
: Partnerships to Integrate Evidence-Based Mental Health
the Advancement of
Practices into Social Work Education and Research,
Social Work Research
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374 Teddy Andrews
: Social Work Education and the Practice Environment in
University Centre for
Europe and Eurasia, Washington: United States Agency for
International Social
International Development (USAID).
Wilson, G. and
: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Social Work Education:
Kelly, B.
Preparing Students for Practice Learning, British Journal of
Social Work, 40(8), 2431–2449.
Wrenn, J. and
: Enhancing Learning by Integrating Theory and Practice,
Wrenn B.
International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher
Education, 21(2), 258–265.
IJSW, 75 (3), 365–374, July, 2014