Abstract: Interpersonal Influences on Group Practice Learning: A Mixed Methods Study (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

333P Interpersonal Influences on Group Practice Learning: A Mixed Methods Study

Friday, January 18, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Mark Cameron, PhD, Professor, Southern Connecticut State University
Kathy Pjura, MSW, LCSW, Research Associate, Southern Connecticut State University, CT
Background and Purpose

There is little in the social work literature that specifically addresses how social work students learn practice. More specifically, little is known about how the social, interactional contexts of practice learning, perhaps best exemplified by field education, influence the process and outcomes of practice skill development. Given the research and theory that suggest that interpersonal processes exert powerful, reciprocal processes on interactants’ behaviors, this area of study appears to offer potential insights into the challenges of practice learning given the impact of these dynamics.

This paper intends to address this question by studying graduate social work students’ role play practice in a video assignment required by a group practice class and also interviewing them about their experiences and perceptions of factors influencing their practice decision making.


This exploratory, mixed-methods study employed a variety of methods intended to provide opportunities for observational ratings, in-depth qualitative investigation, and triangulation of methods and data sources. Seven students who participated in the co-presenter’s group practice course volunteered to participate.  The sample included four females, two African American women, ages 58 and 59, and two white women, ages 26 and 30; and three white males, ages 24, 26, and 31. Participants were recruited via email after the course concluded. Students’ video recordings of their practice in a  group exercise were observed by the researchers using two measures, one rating the dominance and affiliative qualities of the students’ practice actions (employing a validated instrument), and a simple tally of the use of skills discussed in the course (performed by the faculty member research partner who had taught the course). Following these measures participants were interviewed in order to determine the extent to which the practice behaviors were responsive to interpersonal influences and to obtain students’ perceptions about their practice decision making. Interviews were recorded and transcribed and data were analyzed using a grounded theory approach.


Analysis of the quantitative and qualitative data show that students act in response to and feel strongly influenced by peer behaviors in the group practice learning exercise. The quantitative analysis demonstrates that 58% of the time students are acting in a complementary way, evoked by immediately prior group members’ behaviors. Participants qualitative interviews confirmed this finding. Additionally students’ practice actions are rated by the researchers as being quite consistently dominant (84% of practice actions) and at least mildly hostile (67% of practice actions), again, apparently partly determined by peer behaviors. Rating of skill use reveals that students only rarely or do not employ some key group practice skills in the exercise, a finding also supported by the follow-up qualitative interviews. Students report a high level of anxiety, a strong performance orientation, and a determining concern for offending groupmates, all of which substantially constrain their actions during the exercise.

Conclusions and Implications

Findings suggest the power of the interpersonal contexts of practice learning and indicate a need to help students to manage these influences in order to fully exercise and develop skills presented in practice methods coursework.