Spurred by the global pandemic, the School of Social Work at the Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics has piloted virtual field experiences for Masters of Social Work (MSW) students. Tracy Walker, Director of Field Education, says, “The amount of field experience has dropped significantly, so we had students who needed a field placement and not enough sites that would even consider to take them. »
This posed a real challenge, as the field placement is an essential part of the social work program. “Social workers engage with some of the most vulnerable people in our society, such as people who experience trauma or health issues,” she added. “Our students cannot simply cognitively understand the concepts learned in class; they must know how to make professional judgments and apply those concepts they learn in the classroom in order to be effective and ethical in their practice.
Walker is a vibrant presence at the School of Social Work, maintaining relationships with field sites both close to the Syracuse University campus and in remote locations. She says the school needed to quickly find a way for students to have these critical fieldwork opportunities during the pandemic, and leaders believed technology could provide an answer.
Building on an existing relationship with 2U, the School of Social Work and Falk College have been invited by 2U partners to pilot a Virtual Field Experience (VFX) program, which provides a platform for students to s Engage with standardized patients to gain clinical skills.
Medical schools have long used standardized exercises for patients to learn clinical skills. By meeting someone trained to act like a real patient with symptoms and diagnosis, students learn the nuances of seeking information and building relationships with the people they will serve in their careers. Until recently, these experiences were hard to find outside of academic medical centers.
“The live actors simulate what that customer interaction will look like in the real world, when you have butterflies in your stomach and you’re like, ‘How am I going to be able to help this person?’ Walker says, “The ability to manage your own anxiety as a social worker is essential to meeting the challenges our profession presents.”
Students and professors have found that VFX is a safe space to make mistakes in the moment and hear real-time feedback from classmates and professors. Students can watch themselves on the video playback, get a glimpse of their strengths and potential areas for improvement before interacting with an actual customer in the real world. “It allows MSW students to hone their skills before going out and working with vulnerable clients,” says Walker. “It also helps students get to a place where we’re confident they’re willing to engage with customers, and they’ll be more effective in their jobs through the experience.”
The platform also enables more social work students to train and serve in their hometown by easing the cost or burden of traveling to a placement site.
The School of Social Work plans to continue to offer visual effects as a way to support high-quality student outcomes on campus. Additionally, the online MSW program will begin using VFX later this year.