Appraising the Qualities of Social Work Students’ Theoretical Knowledge: A Qualitative Exploration

Marijke Van Bommel, Els Boshuizen, Kitty Kwakman

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    Higher professional education aims to prepare students for entering practice with an adequate theoretical body of knowledge. In constructivist programmes, authentic learning contexts and self-directed learning are assumed to support knowledge learning and the transition from education to practice. Through an in-depth exploration, this case study aimed at defining and assessing the qualities of social work students’ theoretical knowledge at initial qualification. Participants were final-year bachelor’s students (n=18) in a constructivist professional programme of social work. Students’ knowledge concerning a real-life practical case was elicited through an interview and a form of concept mapping. A six-step procedure was used for a qualitative appraisal of students’ knowledge with the assistance of seven expert teachers. During this procedure an instrument for analysing knowledge qualities was developed, comprising 13 aspects representing four features of expert knowledge: extent, depth, structure, and critical control. Results showed that 13 students received high appraisals for their knowledge extent and depth. Only 4 students received high appraisals for knowledge structure and critical control. 5 Students who received overall lower appraisals seemed inhibited to show their knowledge qualities by preoccupations with self-concerns about their own professional role. Conclusion is that the majority of students needs more learning support for knowledge structure and critical control than offered by their constructivist programme. Further research is needed into the personal factors that influence students’ theoretical knowledge learning and which knowledge qualities can be reached by young adults in a four year educational programme.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)277-295
    Number of pages19
    JournalVocations and Learning
    Issue number3
    Early online date2 Jun 2012
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012


    • Theoretical knowledge
    • Higher professional education
    • Social work
    • Qualitative research
    • Constructivist education


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