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  • 1. Using online technology to assist isolated social work students in rural practicum to undertake critically reflective practice Fran Waugh and Deborah Hart, Social Work and Policy Studies Programs, Faculty of Education and Social Work, The University of Sydney, Australia
  • 2. Presentation Outline
    • The use of online technology as a tool to educate and support students in rural and remote communities
    • Processes of developing critically reflective practices in the online learning environment
    • Moving from processing experience to deep learning
    • in the context of diverse and complex educational challenges
    • Challenges and opportunities for future online rural social
    • work education
  • 3. Our rural education sites at a glance…
    • Size does matter:
    • Australia has 100 times the land mass of Scotland
    • New South Wales is 10 times the size of Scotland
    • Examples of distances between our rural students and the university…
    • Sydney to Lismore: 735 kms (9 hours by road)‏
    • Sydney to Armidale : 496 kms (6 hours by road)‏
    • Sydney to Bourke : 775 kms north-west (10 hours by road)‏
    • Sydney to Wagga Wagga 453 kms (6 hours by road)‏
    • Sydney to Alice Springs (2008): 2,796 kms (32 hours by road) 
  • 4. Images of some of our placement sites…
    • Alice Springs - Northern Territory (2008 students)‏
    • Drought in Tamworth ….
    • Floods in Lismore …
  • 5. A context for rural social work education…
    • The distinction between ‘rural’, ‘regional’ and ‘remote’ communities in New South Wales
    • Vinson (2007): charts the geographic distribution of economic and social disadvantage in Australia
    • Australia is highly urbanised: around 86% of the population lives in urban and coastal communities
    • Persistent drought - impact on rural communities
  • 6. University of Sydney Social Work Field Education Program
    • 140 days of supervised practicum:
      • 3rd year (60 days - 4 days a week)‏
      • 4th year (80 days - 5 days a week)‏
    • Concurrent placement classes
    • Peer Support and Accountability Groups
    • The educational framework for the concurrent placement classes
  • 7. Rationale and challenges…
    • City students ‘ go bush’ - why is a metropolitan university offering rural social work placements?
    • Challenges for the students who choose to engage in this program
      • cost
      • isolation
      • a clash of cultures
    • Challenges for field educators (practice teachers)
      • no financial support
      • isolation from mostly metropolitan based universities
  • 8. Our Rural Social Work Field Education Program
    • History
    • Rationale
    • Introduction of online technology (WebCT platform)‏
    • Summary of program:
      • Numbers = 33 students so far
      • location of students
      • types of agencies
  • 9. Our online field education program
    • Aims to
    • capture on-site field education experience
    • capture peer support and accountability groups
    • replicate the educational experience and support functions of on-site classes
    • requirements of students
    • engagement in an asynchronous (not at the same time) threaded (thematically linked) discussion with their online class colleagues.
    • Waugh and Hart (2003)‏
  • 10. Educating students for multiple layers of complexity
    • Effective human service workers have an ability to negotiate multiple layers of complexity in their practice…
    • Including:
      • historical, structural and political factors;
      • organisational factors;
      • intrapersonal factors;
      • interpersonal factors;
      • considerations of theories for practice;
      • considerations of codified values and ethics
      • considerations of the exercise of power
    • … all in the context of limited resources, statutory obligations, tight time frames and managerial imperatives - and so on and so on!!
  • 11. Challenges exacerbated in the online environment
    • A potentially sterile text based environment
    • absence of face to face presence of their peers and teachers
    • can reduce feelings of isolation but limited social presence
    • text based communication
    • asynchronous classes
    • technology becoming out of date compared with technologies regularly used by students
  • 12. What goes on in social work field education placements?
      • daily novelty
      • acute anxiety when confronting challenging or new situations
      • complexity of human service work
      • ambiguity of continuous assessment
      • centrality of interpersonal interactions at all levels
      • power dynamics
      • these experiences can be exacerbated
  • 13. What we’ve learned over six years…
    • Educational principles
      • need for sound pedagogy in the online environment: cognitive presence; social presence; teaching presence
      • developing a community of learners: Garrison and Anderson (2003)
      • importance of being aware of social and emotional components of learning
      • efforts to engage field educators/practice teachers
    • Our challenges in maintaining the course:
      • importance of not getting carried away with the technology
      • ICT challenges in some rural and remote areas;
      • varying field educator familiarity with technology
      • resourcing
      • justifying small class and visits in the context of cost-cutting
      • time demands, etc.
  • 14. Online field education class program (examples)‏
    • Interview your field educator about the issues s/he faces as a practitioner in a rural setting in relation to three key issues in the prescribed reading
    • Drawing on a reading about asset based community development and
    • discussions with your field educator and/or other colleagues, why do you
    • think it is important for a social worker to be aware of the capacities and assets that exist within the community in which you are working?
    • Students required to conduct a ‘community ‘capacity inventory exercise’ in their particular agency locality (guidelines provided)‏
    • Reflecting back on your field education placement in a rural setting, how has your experience contributed to your capacity for creative and innovative social work practice?
  • 15. Introducing rural students to a critical reflection framework
    • Rationale:
    • An effort to go beyond description of practice and processing of experience to use a critical reflection framework to work towards deep learning in the context of diverse and complex practice situations
    • Garrison and Anderson (2003):
      • collaborative meaning making and learning
      • what are we striving to achieve with this online site: development of critical thinking and self-directed learning capacities
      • collaborative constructionist learning
      • transactional nature of learning
      • attempting to encourage what Garrison and Anderson call ‘collaborative asynchronous learning’
      • learning as constructing and sharing meaning
  • 16. Introducing rural students to a critical reflection framework
    • Jan Fook (2002) offers a conceptual framework for:
      • ‘ deconstructing’,
      • ‘ resisting’,
      • ‘ challenging’ and
      • ‘ reconstructing’ CRITICAL INCIDENTS in human service practice
    • The reason we might follow this approach is to ‘know what to do with’ critical practice incidents and ‘how to transfer our learning across contexts in order to generate new models and theories’ (Fook, 2002 pp 98-101)‏
    • Fook argues that this process can help us to understand our own position within ‘disempowering’ and ‘taken for granted’ ideas (Fook, 2002 p. 92)‏
    • We also develop new understandings from standing outside of these constructs to explore alternative ways of thinking and acting that are more in line with our espoused values and hoped for practice outcomes (Fook, 2002 p. 101).
  • 17. Critical reflection - a quick definition
    • ‘ A process of reflection specifically used for developing professional practice through the surfacing and examination of hidden assumptions about the social world. At the same time this process functions to help individuals to derive broader meanings of their experience and may allow them to integrate personal and social spheres…The critical reflection framework provides an opportunity for dialogue between collegiate learning professionals’ [added emphasis] .
    • Fook and Gardner (2007)‏
  • 18. What do we mean by ‘critical reflection’ in social work education?
    • Brookfield 1995: Critical reflection is directed to hunting out assumptions and uncovering the ways in which, in specific incidents of practice we:
      • make meaning of people and situations
      • how we pursue particular perspectives
      • how we frame our actions through particular language
    • Importantly, critical reflection explores how we make assumptions about POWER when we do these things (Napier, 2005).
    • Dimensions of critical reflection
    • Critical reflection aims to…..
  • 19. The ‘Critical Incident’ Framework… (Jan Fook)‏
    • Begins from artefacts of student’s own practice
    • Specific incidents that seem significant to their learning about social work or about themselves as social workers
    • Often stem from a pressing reality (Napier, 2005): ‘ something has occurred and we are strongly motivated to make sense of our reactions and actions’
    • Students focus on:
      • memories of the event
      • perceptions of what happened
      • their actions
      • the incident may seem quite banal or mundane to others
  • 20. The role of emotion in deep learning
    • the role of EMOTION in deep learning and critical reflection (Fook).
    • Deep learning comes from a sense of discomfort… from practice experiences that UNSETTLE students and make them think deeply…
    • Emotion can propel students in one of two ways (or sometimes both ways at different times…)‏
      • In a negative sense…..
      • In a more empowering sense…..
  • 21. The online critical reflection exercise
    • This exercise ran over a period of 6 weeks
      • reflect systematically
    • Exercise completed in three parts:
      • Describing
      • Working with a 'critical friend'
      • Analysing
    • Readings and lecture notes provided (online)‏
    • Discussions with their agency based field
    • educator/practice teacher throughout
    • Discussion with their university
    • educator at mid-placement face to face visit
  • 22. A few examples of student postings of critical incidents
    • Student working with a 9 year old child who was living with foster carers because of child protection concerns. Critical incident involved conflict between birth parents, foster parents and statutory child protection agency workers while child was dying in hospital from cancer. Issue for student involved balancing the child’s wishes with those of the various adults involved.
    • Student was given a ‘life story work’ project [in the context of out of home care]. When the young woman she was working with chose to terminate the project the student was disappointed, believing she had failed to engage her and that she had failed at social work.
    • Student was working with a young woman in an oncology unit in a rural hospital. The young woman committed suicide in the hospital ward. The student struggled with the response of hospital staff around the issue of end of life choices.
  • 23. Example of critical incident analysis
    • Critical incident : Student was working with young man who had experienced psychosis on and off for 3 years. His mother had reluctantly told him to leave home because his illness was causing harm to other members of the family.The young man was living in unstable and short-term crisis accommodation which was making his condition worse. The student was given the task of locating appropriate subsidised public housing for the young man. The student’s critical incident involved receiving a bunch of flowers and a hug from the young man’s mother.
    • In her analysis of this critical incident, the student wrote about:
      • ambiguity of gifts as a social action
      • the power of the gift
      • the emotional impact of a gift
      • the student’s ambivalent emotional response
      • the ethics of the gift’
      • analysis of the welfare state and constructions of ‘recipient rights and obligations’,
      • what it means to be ‘a giver’ and ‘a receiver’
      • summary of student’s new understandings of this incident in relation to ethics, practice relationships, supervision and what she values in social work practice
  • 24. Outcomes of this online critical reflection exercise…
    • What did students say about they learned from this exercise?
      • “ I learned that the more I reflect on my practice, the more different angles I can understand it from, the more effective I become. Through discussion with my critical friend and after doing the readings, I have come to interpret the critical practice incident differently than when I first wrote about it. This has given me a deeper understanding of the factors involved in the situation and my response to it and a more open view of social work practice”.
  • 25. Outcomes of this online critical reflection exercise…
    • What did students say about they learned from this exercise?
      • “ From reading the postings of my peers, it would seem that we have all encountered situations where we have struggled with deciding how to use our professional power effectively, in a way that is in the best interests of the client but also along the lines of social justice. We seem to have all understood that the deeper we reflect on our practice, the more alternatives and possibilities are revealed to us. While this can be most beneficial in assisting us to understand the situation from multiple perspectives, such analysis can, at times, be overwhelming and render it difficult to be able to identity a clear course of action. This exercise has helped me to understand that often our professional reactions may see ill-thought-out or uninformed but they are founded on a lot of implicit knowledge, theory and wisdom”.
  • 26. Outcomes of this online critical reflection exercise…
    • What did students say about they learned from this exercise?
      • “ [Through this critical reflection exercise] I have become conscious of how comfortable I had become with practice that contains a level of certainty and procedure. As I was discussing the reconstruction process with my ‘critical friend’ she commented on how intent I seemed to be on creating a theory that would be able to cover a multitude of situations and contingencies, thereby replicating the highly proceduralised social work that I have just deconstructed. [I have learned] that social workers must reject the need for clear-cut practice solutions in favour of having an ability to sit with tensions and to engage with the complexities and uncertainties of human beings and their interactions. This represents a significant learning goal for me in my future practice”.
  • 27. Some additional observations/opportunities about this online exercise
    • Students get to read about colleague’s critical incidents and how they analysed them - peer education, opportunity to read the work of other students (a rare experience in school and university education)‏
    • No grades: benefits and disadvantages
    • Discipline to take into practice and into supervision as a new graduate
    • Not clear whether students involved field educator: some of the critical incidents related to challenges in relationships with the field educator/practice teacher
  • 28. Challenges of incorporating critical reflection into the online program
    • students not introduced to this analytical framework in detail before this online exercise
    • field educators not necessarily familiar with this model of analysis so could not assist in the process
    • supervision is generally focused on ‘practice reflection’ rather than ‘critical reflection’ - did I do the right thing?… what could I have done better”?… what did I learn from that experience?
    • complexity of this exercise - allowing students to take risks with learning within a supportive online environment
    • need for close engagement with online placement class teacher because of challenging and sensitive nature of this exercise
    • balancing peer collaboration and teacher input in this exercise
  • 29. Potential risks in taking the critical reflection approach…
    • Past experiences of student supervision
    • inevitable power dynamics
    • risk
    • availability of critical friend/supervisor or a group facilitator
    • possible consequences of a critical gaze
    • potential for negative labelling
    • potential conflicts
  • 30. Presentation References
    • Garrison, D.R. and Anderson, T. (2003) E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice
    • Fook, J. (2002) Social Work: Critical Theory and Practice. London: Sage Publications
    • Fook, J. and Gardner, F. (2007 ) Practising Critical Reflection: A Resource Handbook. New York: Open University Press
    • Vinson, T. (2007) Dropping off the edge: the distribution of disadvantage in Australia . Jesuit Social Services and Catholic Social Services Australia.
    • Waugh, F. and Hart, D. (2003) ‘ City Students go Bush: The Process of Virtual Community Building in Rural Social Work Field Education’ Women in Welfare Education, No. 6, September