Facilitating Shadowing in Blended Learning Environments

Concurrent Session 1

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Brief Abstract

Shadowing, or observing and participating in the activities of an experienced professional, is an established method of learning in settings such as medicine, social work, and public safety. The focus of this conversation will be the ways specific learning activities included in shadowing might be achieved through blended learning. 


Valerie Leyva, PhD, LCSW, is Professor and Program Director of the Master of Social Work Program at CSU Stanislaus. She has recently completed an MSc in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh.

Extended Abstract

          Shadowing, or observing and participating in the activities of an experienced professional, is a well-established method of learning in settings as disparate as medicine, social work, teaching, and public safety. Usually preceded by academic preparation regarding the knowledge and skills required for this practical learning experience, shadowing is a series complex learning activities. Learners are required to engage in considerable exploration and analysis of these activities to integrate them with prior learning. This reflection on one’s learning and co-creation of knowledge with peers also contributes to skills acquired through shadowing.

            Shadowing has been used as an identified learning pedagogy in social work education since the early 20th century (LeRich, 2006). It was a required part of social work education particularly in the areas of psychotherapy and child welfare, and continues to hold a prominent place in the social work internship experience (LeRich, 2006). While many other aspects of practical learning experiences have been adapted for the burgeoning development of online and blended learning in social work education, there is little conversation about adapting the practice of shadowing for such learning environments. While some voices in the academy reject blended learning innovations in professional education and call for a return to embodied social work practice (Mason & Broadhurst, 2014), there is an emerging body of research evaluating virtual practical learning experiences (Davis & Goodman, 2014). However, shadowing has yet to be addressed in this literature.

            Shadowing, as defined for this proposal, includes more that accompanying a skilled worker and observing their activities. Shadowing in social work education and other professions includes three discreet set of activities that contribute to knowledge and skill acquisition. First, shadowing enables learners to begin applying theory to practice and reflecting on the knowledge they built in academic courses (Bogo, 2006). Second, shadowing engages learners in developing the soft skills or informal curriculum of the profession (Itawa & Gill, 2013). These might include learning the standard practices regarding professional relationships with clients and coworkers, verbal and written communication skills, professional or agency-based cultural norms, agency procedures and paperwork, and orientation to the specific role they will fill as professionals (Jones, Willis, McArdle, & O'Neill. 2006). Finally, shadowing in the context of practical learning experiences and internships, provide the opportunity to develop a professional identity (Iwata & Gill).

            The primary question for this proposal is how can the practice of shadowing be modified for a blended learning environment? Additional questions for conversation participants include:

  • How is shadowing currently used in your profession or learning environment?
  • Which of the three learning activities that comprises shadowing, as defined above, is most conducive to facilitation in a blended learning environment?
  • What current networks or systems (human or technological) currently exist in your profession or learning environment that can be used to enable a shift of this learning activity to a blended learning environment?
  • How might you need to revise your conceptualization of shadowing in order to successfully modify it for a blended learning environment?
  • How will you need to articulate this revision to learners to increase the likelihood of their success in completing this activity in a blended learning environment?

            Depending on the direction taken in this Conversation that Works, learning objectives for participants might include (a) increased knowledge of the skills acquired in shadowing, (b) how some of these skill sets might be adapted to acquisition in a blended learning environment, (c) what current resources might be used to facilitate this adaptation, and (d) how the re-conceptualization of a traditionally embodied learning approach influences learning skill acquisition. Participants will be provided with a link to the presenter’s web page that will include a bibliography and a discussion forum for this topic.

Bogo, M. (2006). Field instruction in social work: A review of the research literature. The Clinical Supervisor 24(1-2), 163-193.

Davis, C. , & Goodman, H. (2014). Virtual communities of practice in social group work education. Social Work with Groups, 37(1), 85-95.

Iwata, K., & Gill, D. (2013). Learning through work: Clinical shadowing of junior doctors by first year medical students. Medical Teacher, 35(8), 633-638. doi:10.3109/0142159X.2013.801552

Jones, A., Willis, S. C., McArdle, P. J., & O'Neill, P. A. (2006). Learning the house officer role: Reflections on the value of shadowing a PRHO. Medical Teacher, 28(3), 291-293.

Le Riche, P. (2006). Practicing observation in shadowing: Curriculum innovation and learning outcomes in the BA social work. Social Work Education, 25(8), 771-784. doi:10.1080/02615470600915829

Mason, C. , & Broadhurst, K. (2014). Social work beyond the vdu: Foregrounding co-presence in situated practice - why face-to-face practice matters. British Journal of Social Work, 44(3), 578-595.