Field Education as the Signature Pedagogy of Social Work

Rhetoric or Reality?


  • Amy Skeen Simmons University



Signature pedagogy, field education, bi-directional integration, transformational leadership


As the social work profession emerged, the primary method for training social workers was the apprentice model, now referred to as field education. In 2008, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) declared field education the signature pedagogy of social work education in the Educational Policies and Standards (EPAS), thus connecting it to accreditation. Despite this prioritization over other areas of social work education, debate continues as to whether field education meets the criteria of signature pedagogy. This study applied a contextual analysis to determine the extent to which a sample of 16 undergraduate social work programs demonstrate alignment with the signature pedagogy designation. The tool for analysis was the EPAS self-study, a primary document required in the CSWE accreditation process. The selected criteria for examination were two defining features of signature pedagogy: evidence of widespread recognition and routine inclusion across the curriculum. Findings revealed significant variation in both criteria areas among the sample group, likely influenced by ambiguity regarding signature pedagogy found within the EPAS. While data within the EPAS self-studies substantiates the important role of field education, additional themes revealed an opportunity to re-define and expand the signature pedagogy of the profession that could benefit both social work education and the practice community.


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