Is social media “creeping” into field education?

Social and digital media are creeping into social work practice. This is how Mishna and her colleagues (2012) describe the development of online communication technologies in social work practice (including the use of email, texting and social networking sites such as Facebook).  In their qualitative study, they interviewed 15 licensed social work practitioners about their use of online communication tools with clients and discovered that social and digital media tools appear to be changing how social workers interact with clients, for better or worse.  One of the more significant themes they reported was that digital communication is being driven by client need/demand and that ethical boundaries may be crossed before a social worker even realizes what happened.

If social media and other online communication tools are creeping into social work practice at the agency and community levels, then it must also be creeping into social work field education. How? And more importantly, how are we as a profession managing it in field education? I don’t teach social work field education, but I am always interested in how my courses inform and help students transition to field education during their last semester of BSW education. Specifically, I want to understand how social and digital media are becoming a part of field education and how are students, field educators and field agencies using these tools.

For the past few semesters, I have incorporated a Twitter assignment into my macro practice course which students in our program take the semester before their field placement.  Every semester I observe how they carry their newfound knowledge and skills with social media into their field agencies.  I recently wrote an article for the Field Educator about these observations, which range from deleting their Twitter account to creating and managing a Twitter account for their field placement agency. While I am a sample size of one, I talk with field educators every chance I get, asking what they are doing with social media.  Recently, one field director told me she had her students ask their field instructors about the agency’s social media policy (a statement about who can post what on social media related to the agency) on the first day.  If the agency doesn’t have a social media policy, then the students were required write a  social media policy for the agency and present it to senior management as part of their learning contract.  She said it has been a very successful task for both the students and their field agency partners. We also talked about the possibility of students writing their own social media policies, a statement that looks a lot like informed consent where a student articulates when, how, where and why they will or will not interact with clients or communities via social media.  This step helps the students articulate their ethical boundaries in advance, before they find themselves in the middle of an ethical dilemma with a client or agency and not sure how they got there.

As the professional conversations around digital and social media grow in social work, I hope field educators and agency instructors will share their experience and knowledge.  If you are a field educator, I would be very interested in your comments, experiences or thoughts about how you are managing social media in field education courses.  Please post a comment or contact me with your favorite online communication tool!

References:

Mishna, F., Bogo, M., Root, J., Sawyer, J.-L., & Khoury-Kassabri, M. (2012). “It just crept in”: The Digital Age and Implications for Social Work Practice. Clinical Social Work Journal40, 277–286.

Hitchcock, L. I. (2014). It All Started with a Tweet…Thoughts on Incorporating Twitter into Field Education. Field Educator4.2. Retrieved from: http://fieldeducator.simmons.edu/article/it-all-started-with-a-tweetthoughts-on-incorporating-twitter-into-field-education/

Author: Laurel Hitchcock

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