Abstract: The Importance of Feedback in Preparing Social Work Students for Field Education (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

The Importance of Feedback in Preparing Social Work Students for Field Education

Friday, January 18, 2019: 5:15 PM
Union Square 15 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Marion Bogo, O.C., MSW, AdvDipl SW, Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Toula Kourgiantakis, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Karen Sewell, PhD(c), RSW, Doctoral Student, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background and purpose: Social work education aims to prepare effective and competent practitioners through academic courses and field education. Research demonstrates the importance of specific educational processes in field education. Within the context of a supportive instructor-student relationship, these processes include: providing students with opportunities to observe and demonstrate practice; teaching students to use knowledge to conceptualize client dynamics for planning and intervention; guiding student reflections that examine use of self; and providing students with formative and summative focused and timely feedback on performance. Literature on feedback across helping professions generally focuses on techniques for providing feedback, yet there is scant research to illuminate the dynamics inherent in feedback that shape learning. This study addressed this gap by examining the impact of feedback on student learning in a simulation-based learning activity.

We examined feedback within a voluntary enhancement for foundation year MSW students known as Practice Fridays, designed to facilitate the development of holistic competence in the classroom to prepare students for field learning. This exploratory qualitative study examined the following research questions: 1) How did students describe how their learning was impacted by feedback? 2) What key elements of feedback did students perceive as impacting their learning?

Methods: Fifty-seven students (representing 41% of the cohort) in the foundation year of an MSW program volunteered for both the Practice Friday activity and consented to participate in the study. After each simulated interview, students completed feedback forms on their observations of peers’ performance, and they rated the degree to which the interviewer demonstrated identified competencies. The interviewer provided an oral reflection of his/her performance and was given feedback by designated peers, a field instructor, a faculty member, and the actor.  Students then completed an electronic reflection questionnaire at the end of the activity, with 14 open-ended questions about their experience and learning.

Thematic analysis was used to identify themes within the data. We followed Braun and Clarke’s (2006) steps of thematic analysis: 1) familiarization; 2) coding; 3) identifying patterns and themes; 4) reviewing themes; 5) defining/naming themes; and 6) interpreting and reporting. Credibility, confirmability, and trustworthiness were established using an independent coder and multiple rounds of coder comparisons, peer debriefing, the maintenance of an audit trail documenting research decisions, use of memos, and use of thick description.

Results: Four themes emerged from student reflections on the impact of feedback on their learning: 1) feedback enhanced knowledge, 2) feedback improved skills, 3) feedback improved professional judgment, and 4) feedback increased self-reflection. Three key processes influenced how feedback impacted student learning: 1) who was providing the feedback, 2) what type of feedback was given, and 3) how was the feedback delivered.

Conclusions and implications: Our findings identify the dynamics and processes that support the importance of observation and feedback in student learning.  Based on observation of practice, focused feedback activates and guides self-reflection and self-awareness, contributing to goal identification and the continued development of holistic competence.  Field instructors should be encouraged to incorporate these processes when preparing students for practice.