The University of Newcastle, Australia

Solving social work student placement challenges during COVID-19

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

The Gender, Leadership and Social Sustainability research centre (GLASS) in the School of Humanities and Social Science has assisted in providing an innovative way for social work students to complete their work integrated learning (WIL) placements despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Margaret Alston
Prof Margaret Alston

Placements are a mandatory requirement for social work students and UON’s third-year social work honours students were mid-way through their requisite Field Education placements when lockdowns occurred. The shutdown of many of the social work agencies where students were placed resulted in the majority of students experiencing disruption in placements and some organisations withdrew their teaching activities altogether resulting in a large cohort of students potentially being stranded.

In the space of three weeks the social work field education team, headed by Julie Steffner, with the full cooperation of social work staff and our professional AASW accreditation body, developed alternative placements for these students.

The result was that 17 students were placed with GLASS during semester one. GLASS is led by Professor Margaret Alston whose aim is to create a research space where academics can work together to bring about greater gender equity for women and girls through research, advocacy and sound policy advice.

“Our researchers have extensive expertise in gender analysis, social research and pursue a broad research agenda including gender and climate change, violence against women, women and leadership and social sustainability,” Margaret said. “We welcomed the students into our team for their placements.”

Students were actively supervised by Professor Alston and Associate Professors Wendy Foote and Penny Buykx.

“The students worked on various projects, producing literature reviews, taking part in team teleconferences, helping to build on-line surveys, adding elements to our website and generally being very helpful,” she said.

Each week students were assigned to present on a particular gender issue of their choice. These ranged widely across topics such as superannuation, violence, homelessness, contraception and a number of other issues that provided such inspiring discussions each week.

“Students were also required to present on other gender units from across the world, and this also led to some terrific presentations on centres in Australia, the United States, UK, Europe and beyond.”

Social work student Lydia Taylor says that undertaking placement with the GLASS research team has broadened her understanding of the scope of a social worker’s role and the significant impact research has on empowering marginalised groups.

“I have been able to take part in a wide array of activities with GLASS, including conducting a literature review, engaging in group zoom meetings, creating promotional material for the centre and presenting on a research topic surrounding the stigmas associated with menstruation,” she said.

“Despite struggling with working from home and adapting to a new placement I have felt incredibly supported by Margaret and her team throughout my time with GLASS. I have found a new respect for the importance of research and its role in the life of a Social Worker in strengthening practice.”

Another student, Olivia Boglev, said the GLASS placement provided an eye-opening immersion into the diverse field of social work practice.

“Throughout my time at GLASS, my participation in researching climate change gender action plans, as part of the VAN-KIRAP project, has broadened my understanding of various cultures, and the significance of the inherent knowledge women possess during climate crises. GLASS has facilitated the development of my research skills, in addition to the continued development of my social work skills; particularly advocacy, professionalism, and integrity. GLASS has demonstrated how social work research holds the ability to advocate on a macro level for gender equality and social justice.”

Head of the School of Humanities and Social ScienceProfessor Catharine Coleborne says there is no doubt these placements were successful.

“Prior to their placement at GLASS many of the students had not thought about research as a career option. Through their time at GLASS the students learnt not only the critical value of research, but also the process of research. The staff of GLASS are now inspired to seek more students into the future. Well done to GLASS, and well done to these students!” Cathy said.


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