The MSW Field Experience at UNE Online

Online Master of Science in Social Work Fieldwork Field experience is at the heart of any social work education. The field of social work is one of interaction, and the field experience is where students apply what they’ve learned in the classroom in order to tackle challenges they’ll only encounter outside of the classroom. 

Field experience enables students to explore different settings, issues, and communities to better identify their strengths. And it fosters collaboration with a diverse group of social work professionals.

Finding a field placement

Field placements are required to complete the UNE Online Master of Social Work (MSW) program. It’s up to each student individually to find a placement, but each student takes a field planning orientation in preparation for the placement process. Each student also has a dedicated Field Practicum Coordinator, and they work closely with their Field Practicum Coordinator to explore their interests and skills. Coordinators may also provide tips and support for how to reach out to agencies, help students to prepare for interviews, and help determine which agencies will best meet their learning objectives.

Students are strongly encouraged to seek placements outside of their comfort zone. Whether they are completing two field placements under the Traditional Track or one field placement under the Advanced Standing Track, the experience helps them determine how they can best contribute to the field of social work after earning their degree.


Building the field experience into a new online program

In 2007, the UNE MSW was a traditional in-person program primarily populated by Maine residents — until a new director of social work was brought on with the intent to embrace online learning. The entire profession questioned the idea of moving social work — the field of interaction — behind a screen. UNE faculty were no exception. UNE hired technology consultants to help transition the program’s classes to an online format, and faculty and staff’s concerns quickly faded. The on-ground field team was given full license to outline their vision for a collaborative program and the consultants brought it to life online.

Bridging the gap between on-ground and online

First and foremost, the team determined that students would need weekly “live” interactions to discuss their fieldwork experiences and to advise each other about everything from ethics to workplace issues. The online solution?

Every week, online students share a five-minute video about their field experience with their classmates. The team found that having the students discuss their key learnings with each other not only encouraged the students in the field to reflect on their progress but also deepened the personal connections that online programs strive to foster.

Personal connections with other students

The second piece to bridging the gap between on-ground and online was to provide a supportive place for students to talk about everything else: stress, family, relationships — similar to a virtual water cooler. The online solution manifested into a self-care corner, where students discuss everything from their dogs to their colds — also via video.

Wanda Anderson, Coordinator of Online Field Education for the MSW, says, “It’s where students say they’ve really gotten to know each other. By the end of the course, they say seeing each other every week was the best part.”

Online students – highly engaged

Unlike a typical on-ground course structure where students attend class once a week for two hours, UNE Online’s learning platform is there for students to engage with, 24/7. Rather than waiting a week until the next class to engage an idea — then forgetting what it was — students can tap into the course platform whenever they’re compelled.

What’s more, online learning requires participation from all students, not just the outspoken students. “In my on-ground classroom, students who were more extroverted tended to dominate our class conversations,” Anderson says. “But now, in an online setting, students who were more hesitant in a face-to-face environment are now comfortable answering questions, sharing opinions, and challenging others.” And because students can’t fly under the radar in a virtual classroom, there’s more incentive for students to more thoroughly prepare for their courses – thereby deepening their learning.

And as any pedagogy expert will tell you, when a learning environment includes input from a variety of backgrounds, students gain a broader perspective, in turn enhancing their ability to make positive changes in the lives of their future clients.


(This article was originally published on November 9, 2017.)

If you are interested in pursuing your Master’s in Social Work, or even if you’re simply interested in discussing the program, please reach out to an Enrollment Counselor at (207) 221-4143 or via email at


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