June 15, 2021

Field education prepares students for a successful social work career. Field education placements with community organizations and agencies help students translate classroom theory and research into real-world practice. 

But when the pandemic struck in spring 2020, social work students, community agencies and field education programs had to transition quickly to a virtual setting—for most, uncharted territory. Curricula and infrastructure had to be quickly redesigned, relying on as yet untested practices such as agency-supported remote practice settings, School-supported alternative trainings, and learning activities presented virtually.

Rachel Wrenn, assistant dean for field education at the School of Social Work; Associate Teaching Professor Jennifer Brower and Assistant Teaching Professor Stacey De Fries, both with the School’s Office of Field Education; and Julie Kates of Portland State University, detailed the challenges faced and the lessons learned in an article published in the May issue of Field Educator

The authors discussed several lessons they learned in the past year, including:

  • Transitioning to virtual programming and operations can be effective.
  •  Future field placement curricula and infrastructure must be flexible to meet unforeseen challenges.
  •  A collaborative approach from regional and state stakeholders can lead to innovative remote field placements that are responsive to both community and student needs.

“All these lessons will be integrated into the practice of field education moving forward,” said De Fries. “Although the pandemic changed field education forever, these changes will have positive effects for years to come.”