Inventory of Promising Practices


Innovations in practicum placements and field education are needed to address existing issues and gaps. Innovative practices are already being implemented across the country but have yet to be fully understood or scrutinized. Here, we take a deeper look at some of the innovative practices that have the potential to transform field education.

Practice 1:

Developing placements with multiple agencies

This innovative practice provides an opportunity for students to experience first-hand how it feels for a client to navigate through various systems and agencies. It provides students with multiple perspectives as they work through different systems. For example, the student may be involved with the same person moving from an inpatient hospital to an outpatient setting and then to a community setting.

  • “I think that makes a big difference. I mean, it gives them a little bit more of a generalist perspective, which is really needed because you can get fixated in one area. […] To ensure that when the students were in each of their respective areas that the supports were in place, so it was a team model in both locations. But there were champions in both program areas that were supporting all the logistics, the communication with the students, the evaluation components, and supporting the social workers or team members.” (Interview Participant, Atlantic region)
  • One of the best practices that we have at my university is a program that one of the hospitals set up about 10 or 12 years ago. It is a rotational field placement, where we take a group of students between five and 10, and they go to one of the local hospitals and they’re on a rotational system. So, rather than going and having one supervisor for the whole length of the practice with that one supervisor, what they do is they’ll have different supervisors depending on where their place is, for example, one of the students may be in an acute care unit for two weeks and the social worker on that unit would be their supervisor and then they move to an elder care unit, and then they move to an outpatient unit, and then they move to a mental health unit. So they’re getting exposed to a wide range of experiences within the particular healthcare setting. They have a supervisor in each at the same time, the project has an overall supervisor so there’s one person who’s tracking the students, as they go from placement and meeting with them regularly. So, there’s that level of supervision on the more macro level and then very specific supervision by each rotational supervisor” (Interview Participant, BC region)

Practice 2:

Identifying new field placement sites and working with non-traditional social work agencies

Exploring non-traditional social work and practicum settings that offer unique insights into community issues. Examples include a school male basketball team or a library working with marginalized library users.

  • “Establishing new practicums in previously unexplored areas of the community where social work values could be integrated.” (Interview Participant, Prairie Region)
  • “It’s absolutely devastating to see the lack of resources in our community at all governmental levels. Lack of resources means lack of positions, so we do encourage and support students to find their own practicums in non-traditional agencies. In agencies that don’t employ social workers, we’re saying this is a social work field experience, but you’re on site we call them an onsite field instructor, who is not a social worker. We do bring in what we call an external field instructor who does meet the accreditation requirements, so it’s all within accreditation, but it is very much outside of the box. We do see some very good learning in those non-traditional placements.” (Interview Participant, Prairie Region)
  • “Students need very little guidance because we’ve ignited their passion and that’s what I see part of our role is not to stop that passion but to ignite it. So, if you want to do a trauma informed yoga practicum, let’s talk about that. What’s the population? What do you need to do to have the credentials? What are the credentials? What are the skills? Let’s figure all that out. As opposed to no, that’s not within the scope of practice of social work. And the question is, why not? I think there are many missed opportunities that social work students have had because of some preconceived box that we’ve placed them into.” (Interview Participant, Prairie Region)
  • “I always say to the students: if you have an environment that interests you, all its appeal to me. It’s that every year I have students who talk to me about interesting cases. I’ll meet them. So, we have to be vigilant, to do the canvassing, but to be attentive if the students ask us with internship environments, which are not partners. Then sometimes the students present us with some really interesting partners there. Strangely interesting.” (Interview Participant, Quebec region)
  • “Two years ago, I developed a magnificent internship at the {Name of library} in Quebec. The library is huge, it is a library which has four floors. I opened a work placement there. Because in the big libraries of the world, there are social workers. Why? Well, I’ll give you an example. In Quebec, uh… two years ago, 50 police interventions for assaults at the library. They found 1,500 syringes in the toilet. So, it’s a library in a poor neighborhood. It’s a living environment. So, the student who was doing an internship there…trained in how to intervene in management… in a crisis situation. She changed the practice. Instead of someone who… who has behavioral problems… Instead of throwing him out, she developed a partnership with… I think 12 or 13 community organizations around. These are alternative practices. (Interview Participant, Quebec region)

Practice 3:

Expanding virtual practicums to allow for greater accessibility and reaching remote areas

Virtual practicums have helped create more diversity in practicum structure. They offer greater accessibility for students outside major urban centres in accessing practicum placements. The COVID-19 pandemic has expedited the transition to virtual care and emphasized the need for online counselling skills in offering increased access to care for (some) clients.

  • “It’s potentially made some practicums and some learning opportunities more accessible, geographically, in particular, and potentially, maybe even opened up the doors. If an organization continues to offer virtual practicums even in a post-COVID world, if that exists…We could potentially continue to take students from across the province in a way that we would maybe not have considered prior to learning that we were even capable and have the capacity to provide a meaningful learning experience for students, or even a mixed model, if that’s possible. So, I would definitely say the virtual practicums for me, on the whole, feels like a promising practice in particular for our practicums which tend to be more leadership and policy focused” (Interview Participant, Ontario Region)
  • “Are there more opportunities to do outreach with more rural northern remote or southern remote communities in practicum opportunities because we have this venue now through Zoom or Microsoft Teams, that might be something maybe our field teams already looking into that, I don’t know? But, are there virtual opportunities? Support organizations in Fort Mac or further North? Have we looked at those? If we have, are there other areas in other provinces?” (Interview Participant, Prairie Region)
  • “So, this year, as the second time that [colleague] did offer, she went on to the research ethics board and applied and got a research ethics approval. The first time we didn’t have that opportunity. So, we didn’t tell our students to interview the clients directly. So, this is really, really innovative and very appropriate. And our students also worked with Indigenous organizations. They took consent and followed the protocols. Actually, they came up with learning products, such as a website and newsletters, and another set of students worked with, let’s say, one student is in [location], the other student is in [location]. They worked with the senior homes. Again, you know, they’re there in their homes, contacted these people, read about these agencies, read about the senior citizens, activities, and policies. So, they met all those standards, but not in a conventional agency based nine to five kind of situation. So, there’s a little bit of research, a lot of collaborative learning. All eight students met on their own and talked about their problems and good things and they give feedback to each other.” (Interview Participant, BC region)

Practice 4:

Exploring self-directed placements to expose students to a diverse range of learning opportunities

Designing and implementing self-directed placements to maximize student learning and interests.

  • “For the summer course, I did a human ethics review for classroom content, and I got immediate approval, so they could talk to all sorts of people as long as everything was monitored. So, working with the ethics department, working with the research department, then the research department turned me on to the IT program designer who started coming to our seminars and she created a weekly meeting with students about WordPress and gave them all accounts, so, they had free accounts for their websites. And then another program designer heard of us and asked if she could help and come in and brought more of a creative piece, and my initial degree is in fine arts, so, the creative and the visual creative pieces, is an area that I was pretty well versed in, but not like, the technological pieces. So, then the research department also gave us one of their student researchers to meet with students and I had her engaging in dialogical discourse from a student lens, so, that was a pretty neat thing because that was like a peer-to-peer piece. And then the students started, they developed their own group, where they met one day a week, and all did more collaborative practice work. So, I think the quality of the websites and the podcasts, and all the other pieces really got knocked up a notch because the research department took a real interest in what we were doing. And then we had all these brilliant IT people that knew what they were talking about.” (Interview Participant, BC region)
  • “One of the things that we put in there is that students could work to create like a neighborhood pod. One of the things that taught us is, if you can’t do what you usually do or get resources, how you usually get them, you know how could you manage them? All kinds of creativity at the local and larger level. So, getting students to figure out what it would be like to do a process of community engagement, to get people around self-help, and peer helping. That an interesting option that some of the students chose. The other students were able to create their own agency, right, so you’ve been given a grant, and you need to identify a population to provide service to, and how even to do all of that and build an agency, what kind of principles are you going to use to inform how your agency functions? But it’s all make believe. It is only a pale imitation of what real practice is like and I don’t know how those students are going to, what it’s going to be like for them when they actually graduate and get into practice and realize that you know you can’t really create your own agency, you’re stuck with the one you got. So how can you shape shift it and what are the barriers to doing that?” (Interview Participant, BC region)

Practice 5:

Interprofessional field placements for social work students to collaborate and learn with other disciplines

Looking to find innovative ways to incorporate interdisciplinary learning into field education and practicum placements.

  • “I think it’s useful when students go into field if possible as a cohort. Sometimes students go in there by themselves […], but when there can be multiple students and maybe from other disciplines, this is also evidenced at the {Name of Organization} with each year there’s approximately four or five social work students, maybe four psychology students, maybe a nursing student, psychiatric residents, and so there’s a student cohort that helps them develop an identity and supports one with the other. They kind of have a community, and I think if that’s possible, that’s better than just sending an individual student in solo.” (Interview Participant, Prairie Region)
  • “…For many years now, social work has been involved in interprofessional education, especially at [school]. It’s not a common experience in a lot of the other [schools]. It came about initially because other professions, including social work, decided that we needed to initiate this kind of partnership and prominence. It didn’t come from the initiative or encouragement or support, initially at all of the larger universities, but it certainly has been growing in prominence. I think that what it’s meant for social work students, for all students in health care, but certainly for social work students, is the recognition that you have to be a team player, and what does that mean, and how do you show respect and relationship building, not just for your clients, but also for your interprofessional peers.” (Interview Participant, Ontario Region)

Practice 6:

Green social work field placements that integrate environmental justice and sustainability

Reconciling the need for a more sustainable and green approach to social work by exploring pertinent issues and evaluating potential solutions.

  • Certainly, I also would say that our environment and climate is something that social work, I mean we have some leaders from social work and others, but I do believe that that’s become even more critical now as a profession that we see that as being part of our paradigm of practice being very, very important. (Interview Participant, BC region)
  • “I think the Western societies are changing, the social context is changing, and there are more disasters. So, we need to prepare our students for disaster social work, and climate change. We need to prepare our students for green social work. I mean, there’s a lot of changes, ideas coming, but I think there’s no better way to create more field work models and opportunities for our students.” (Interview Participant, BC region)

Practice 7:

Increase the availability of Northern and Rural field placements

Providing students with a dynamic and varied experience across a broader context of social work in terms of geographic and practice areas.

  • “I mean, most of my people have never been on a snowmobile in their lives or have never driven one for that matter. There are no roads in the winter. The food is extraordinarily expensive. It’s unbelievable. How do you … how do you get food? What do you need to wear? What clothing do you need to bring with you? I think part of it is being a decent human being to these people, knowing that they’re coming to a place that is very foreign to them. And they may think they know what’s happening, they may think okay, this is an adventure, and this is what I’m going to do, but we’re doing difficult work in a difficult community in which people are … They’re [the students are] not Indigenous for the most part. I mean, I’ve never had an Indigenous student yet. They’re not Indigenous. This is a new culture. There’s a new language. There is a new set of norms and values” (Interview Participant, Atlantic region)
  • “…Two years ago, I started to develop new collaborations with Indigenous communities in the far north. I had internships in communities on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, going as far as the lower North Shore and I started to develop internships outside as in the Yukon, BC …I have internships every year, like this winter, I have two students who go there to James Bay with the aboriginal communities. It’s my management giving me free rein to develop these partnerships.” (Interview Participant, Quebec region)

The use of unique practices for field supervision is a promising practice. This practice invites practitioners to consider creative field supervision strategies in field education.

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