Improving the quality of social work field education: The efficacy of an analysis using Cultural-Historical Activity Theory


  • Dominic Chilvers A social work lecturer and coordinator of the field education programme at the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology. Previously the Executive Officer of ANZASW.



social work education, field education, cultural-historical activity theory,


Field education is recognised as a critical element in the preparation of social workers for competent practice. It is also acknowledged as a major pressure point in the provision of social work education in Aotearoa New Zealand. The pressures appear to be related to concerns about quality, consistent standards and the preparation of field educators who often lack the confidence or specialised knowledge and pedagogical skills required to facilitate student learning in the field. Attempts to address these concerns have generally focused on either local or national training programmes based on traditional learning theories. This article proposes that Cultural-Historical Activity Theory offers an alternative approach to the challenge of quality in field education and provides a basic description of the model. In particular, the analytical tools developed by Yrjö Engeström, which focus on the exploitation of tensions and contradictions in activity systems, are discussed as a useful strategy to bring about transformation. The article suggests that Cultural-Historical Activity Theory has been underutilised in social work research, but has the potential to open up rich veins of enquiry related to a range of concerns. 


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How to Cite

Chilvers, D. (2016). Improving the quality of social work field education: The efficacy of an analysis using Cultural-Historical Activity Theory. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 23(4), 76–86.