Direct Observation.

Observation of student's practice on placement may usefully be considered on two levels -

1. On-going "naturalistic" direct observation of the student with service users and colleagues by the practice teacher and colleagues.

2. Systematic planned direct observation of the student with service users by the practice teacher i.e. the practice teacher and student set up particular pieces of practice with service users and these are directly observed in relation to the six core competences by the practice teacher/link worker with a clear purpose and method.

According to the Rules and Requirements for the DipSW, Revised 1995, Part Three, Section 4.4

4.4.1 Direct observation of practice must take place a minimum of three times in each assessed practice experience.
4.4.2 One piece of direct observation may be carried out by a link supervisor, or be in the form of a video recording, but on at least two occasions in each assessed practice experience, the practice teacher must directly observe the student working with service users.
4.4.3 One direct observation of practice should normally take place before the mid-point of each placement in order to inform judgements about student progress at that stage.

Direct observation sessions should be identified as evidence in both Interim and Final Reports.

All placement settings provide a range of opportunities from naturalistic to planned systematic direct observation by the practice teacher. As an assessment tool direct observation should necessarily form part of a range of assessment methods. As part of formulating a Working Agreement, the role of naturalistic and planned systematic observations in terms of the student's learning and the assessment process should be negotiated.

In order for planned, systematic, direct observation to be used as a constructive method and to be less anxiety provoking, the student and practice teacher should discuss, plan and record the process for the direct observation session and post-direct observation detailing -

1. the specific purpose of the direct observation session i.e. the skills and competences being observed by the practice teacher with respect to the student's practice (dependent on the student's learning needs and stage)

2. where, when and with whom the session will take place

3. the methods to be used ensuring that the dignity and confidentiality of service users will be safeguarded and that service users are aware that they can reject the involvement of the practice teacher

4. how the practice teacher will be introduced to the service users, and whether or not, and under what conditions the practice teacher will actively participate

5. the roles and responsibilities of the student and practice teacher in the session and with respect to the recording of it

6. the method and criteria for assessment of practice competence which has been directly observed and the use and weighting it is to be given in the overall assessment

In DP1, direct observation is primarily viewed as a learning and support tool in addition to an opportunity for the practice teacher and student to provide evidence of practice competence. In DP1 the purpose of direct observation is likely to emphasise developmental aspects of the student's practice connected to early stage competences that require to be evidenced by the end of Part 1 e.g. a direct observation session may (a) provide positive evidence of a student's ability to present and clarify information or may (b) reflect a lack of skill in negotiating a specific plan of action with detailed goals.

While (a) would legitimately provide a source of evidence for formal evaluation, (b) would be used more as an opportunity for learning and development. Should a student fail to evidence skills such as (a) in direct observation, the practice teacher would be required to take into account the student's practice elsewhere as compensation.

It is unlikely that a student who has been consistently unable to practise at a satisfactory level will be able to demonstrate competence in direct observation. However, direct observations in both DP1 and DP2 should be viewed as one aspect of a range of sources of evidence available to the practice teacher and not as a predominant source. Should a student fail to demonstrate a satisfactory level of practice in direct observations and external factors beyond the student's control appear to have significantly contributed to the poor performance, the practice teacher would require to evidence clearly the student's competence from other sources.

By the end of Part 2 of the DipSW, a competent student should be able to demonstrate through direct observation a satisfactory level of practice which would be consistent with a range of other evidence of competence available to the practice teacher.

©West of Scotland Consortium for Education and Training in Social Work 2001.