Shirley Ledger started her working life as an enrolled nurse in a small hospital in rural Queensland. Realising that nursing was not for her she became involved in youth work and domestic violence services. Years later ironically, she found herself back at the same rural hospital as a social work student on placement.
But the focus of our interview was on social work field education.
For some years Shirley has been a university field education co-ordinator. In this role, she was heavily involved in training, curriculum development, supervision liaison, and placement breakdown.
She became deeply interested in academic claims that field education ought to be the “signature pedagogy” of social work. This then has become the work of her PhD in progress.
Lee Shulman, the academic who popularised the term “signature pedagogy”, held that in professional training it comprises the central form of instruction that prepares students for future professional practice.
Consequently, Shirley’s research questions are,
- How does the current model of field education connect with the three dimensions (surface, implicit and deep structure) of signature pedagogy?
- How does the current model of field education connect with the temporal patterns of signature pedagogy (initial pedagogy, capstone apprenticeships and the sequenced and balanced portfolio)?
- How and where are social work programs incorporating the pedagogies of formation, engagement and uncertainty into curriculum design?
This led to a fascinating discussion on a range of issues, including the lack of evidence for the efficacy of current fieldwork practices, questions about the sustainability of current arrangements, and questions about the social justice implications of mandating 1000 hours of unpaid placement, plunging students into poverty and hardship.
And so we dreamt about how necessary changes might be achieved.