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FIFSW Frequently asked questions

March 25 FAQs [PDF]
April 14 FAQs [PDF]
May 13 FAQs [PDF]


Below is a combined list of frequently asked questions that FIFSW students have asked during the Student Community Meetings. Topics include:

For general question related to U of T students, faculty, and staff, visit U of T’s COVID-19 information page.


MSW Courses

Will the format or length of intensive summer courses change?
We are moving forward with the schedule as planned. We will utilize available resources to help plan summer intensive courses and will do our best to deliver them in a way that is as manageable as possible.

Since the practicum will no longer be occurring in May, can we take an extra summer course?
We have increased the enrolment for your summer course load, and are hoping this will provide you with some flexibility with the scope of courses you are able to take. We are also offering more courses than usual for you to take in the fall. The timing of the additional course offerings will not interfere with the Wednesday to Friday practicum times.

(Please note that for PhD students, the course requirements are different.)

If classes must continue remotely in September, will they remain online for both Fall and Winter semesters?
We are anticipating that fall courses will be online. It is uncertain if winter courses would be in person, online or a combination of both. There is still a lot of uncertainty. We are in constant communication with U of T’s central administrators, and we are committed to providing you with updates as soon as we receive them. It is hard to know about the winter yet. What happens at U of T will not be unique. It is important that when things open up, it is done so in a way that supports public health and the public good.

If fall courses are online, would students who live outside Toronto need to be in Toronto for the fall 2020 semester or could we complete the semester in our hometown and move if/when campus opens in Winter 2021?
If classes are online (which we are preparing for), you don’t need to be physically present in Toronto. We will know for certain whether classes will be online in June or July and will share this information as soon as it is available.

Is it possible to let us know in advance the format that will be used for individual online courses?
The delivery method of each course is determined by the instructor. Some set formal class times when students are required to attend. Others take a hybrid approach, which includes both live class time and asynchronous learning content. Select courses will be offered completely asynchronously in that there will be not set class time. The approach that they take may depend on the content that they must deliver. Our professors are receiving ongoing training to help them best plan their course, enhance student experience and address learning needs.

We have asked the instructors to provide us with information on their course delivery method so that we can list this in the timetable in advance of June 8th, when students may start signing up for courses.

Is there an option for students entering 2nd year to defer their second year until fall 2021?
Once you are a student, you have the opportunity to take a leave of absence for up to three terms, so this would be possible. When you are on leave, you do not pay any fees.

If you decide to take a leave of absence and you are a current student, you will need to notify us by August 1. We advise you consult with your advisor so they can walk you through the implications of this decision.

How can students who prefer or require in-person teaching and communication to maximize learning and retention be supported?
Unfortunately, given that we are in the midst of a global pandemic, no schools of social work across North America or elsewhere are providing in-person learning at this time. The directive that we hold no in-person classes comes from the federal and provincial governments. We are committed to providing students with a quality online educational experience and continue to train and support our faculty on best practices that lead to high student learning and satisfaction.

How will online classes and practicum accommodate for students with access needs with regard to screens/technology?If a student is experiencing disability related limitations, we encourage students to register with U of T’s Accessibility Services.


PhD Students

How will PhD students planning to defend their final thesis in the summer be affected?
All defences will be presented virtually, online. Please consult with your advisor. Anyone who wants to do it in-person defense will have to put on hold until a later date.

What is happening with REB applications and reviews for studies with in-person components?
During this crisis, the University is prioritizing certain types of research to happen on campus. The studies must be COVID related and approved by the U of T’s Incident Management Team.

Off campus research can continue if there is no direct contact with participants. If this requires a change to an approved protocol or consent procedures, you must file an amendment. If you have a project that is currently approved for off campus and non-direct participant contact that now will involve an amendment that is COVID related, please inform the REB at ethics.review@utoronto.ca when you submit the amendment (so they can prioritize it).

On March 25, we were informed by Rachel Zand of the Office of Research Ethics that they have reviewers and will now take on new protocols that are off-campus and do not involve direct contact with participants. However, these will be relegated to secondary level of importance at this time.

Finally, if there is any change in your study procedures related to personally identifiable information (such as moving data in a way that was not approved in your protocol), this will require an amendment. (Please see the REB webpage for information on what is considered personally identifiable.) However, if you are moving data that is not personally identifiable, please just include this in your annual report.

For other details and updates, please visit the Office of VP of Research and Innovation website.

I am a 6th year PhD student who must complete and defend my thesis by the end of August. Unfortunately, I find am less efficient due to the COVID-19 situation, and am very worried that I may not be done by the end of the summer. Will I have to pay tuition if I defend in September/October 2020. Is there any way to waive the tuition in case I need it?

SGS sets up the enrollment deadline and the pay schedule. In a recent communication from SGS, the procedures for students to receive a tuition fee exemption were specified:

Students who were making good research progress prior to COVID-19, who demonstrate that their academic progress was significantly impeded due to pandemic-related disruption and require additional time beyond the program length to complete their program requirements, may apply for extended registration with an exemption from tuition for up to one academic session. This duration may be re-assessed as the situation evolves.

Criteria for Providing a Tuition Fee Exemption

    1. Students were making good progress with their thesis/dissertation prior to COVID-19 and data collection or access to necessary sources has been significantly impeded due to pandemic-related impacts (e.g., labs closed, fieldwork cancelled, access to materials, archives or library sources has been impeded, personal circumstances).
    2. Additional work is needed before the thesis/dissertation can be defended (e.g., insufficient data or material).
    • All feasible alternative academic activities (e.g., writing of sections of thesis/dissertation or publications, coursework, professional development) have been completed.
    1. The revised research plan will require additional time.
    2. Supervisory committee agrees that conditions (i) through (iv) have been met.
    3. Departmental/SGS approval.

Please contact Faculty Registrar, Sharon Bewell, and PhD Program Director, Lin Fang, if you have other questions.


Graduation

What is happening with graduation?
Students who complete their degree requirements will still graduate and receive their degrees. Unfortunately, the latest guidance indicates that the need for physical distancing to limit or slow the spread of the virus will continue for some time. It is for this reason that U of T has made the difficult decision to cancel in-person Convocation ceremonies for the Spring 2020 season, previously scheduled to take place from June 2-19.

Visit U of T’s Convocation Hub for more information on U of T’s virtual ceremony.

Will all these changes this will affect our ability to obtain good job options after we graduate?
This is a world-wide phenomenon, and the reality is that once it is over, workforces will be deployed very differently. Many will be looking for individuals who can provide services remotely. We will be teaching you how to acquire these valuable online clinical skills.

You will not be disadvantaged because everyone is experiencing the same thing. When you look at the growth of the sector, the need for social workers continues to grow. The need for social workers will grow even more in light of COVID-19. Our prediction is that there will be more opportunities and that employers will be looking for social workers who can function on online service platforms.


Finances

Is there emergency financial help for students experiencing hardship? Could you explain the process of applying for SGS Emergency Grants and Loans?
SGS Emergency Grants and Loans are available for students who may be experiencing unexpected financial hardship.

The SGS Emergency Grant program aims to assist currently registered, full-time graduate students who encounter an unanticipated serious financial emergency. Information on eligibility and the application process can be found here.

The SGS Emergency Loan alleviates temporary cash flow problems for students who are expecting the release of funds in the near future (i.e., 30 to 120 days) from employment, a major award instalment, OSAP (Ontario Students’ Assistance Program), teaching assistantship, or research assistantship payment, etc. Information on eligibility and how to apply can be found here.

Are there any other funds available to students at this time?Knowing that many students will now be out of summer work opportunities, is it possible that tuition might be made more accessible to students next year?
In light of the financial uncertainties brought on by the COVID-19 global public health pandemic, we are writing to announce that we have established an FIFSW COVID-19 Emergency Grant for students. There are also University and government supports that are available. More information on  the FIFSW COVID-19 Emergency Grant and other University and Government resources can be found here.

Will our 2020-2021 tuition be affected?
The fees for next year are not available at this time. The detailed fee schedules that list the tuition, ancillary and incidental fees for students for the Fall-Winter sessions are posted on the U of T Student Accounts website by mid-July.

When will Ontario Graduate Scholarship application decisions be made?
The School of Graduate Studies, which administers the award, will contact the recipients of the award around the end of June or beginning of July.

Can scholarship applications be released earlier on to help us prepare for finances for the year?
Yes. It is possible for Internal Social Work award decisions for registered students to be made earlier. However, recipients of awards would not receive funding until after registration in the Fall session, and funding would go towards tuition.

Will fees be modified given the move to remote lectures?
There is currently no discussion of changing fees at U of T.

A few things are worth noting. In some cases, online education can be more expensive, and other Canadian universities are looking at the possibility of tuition increases. Our primary goal at the Faculty is to provide students with the highest possible quality of online education. We continue to provide training and support to our faculty on how to best maximize the online environment and promote student satisfaction.

Will students who were awarded an Ontario Graduate Scholarship sill receive funding?
Students who are recipients of an Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS) will be issued the award as long as they are enrolled for 2 or 3 consecutive academic terms as full-time students during that 2020-21 Academic session.


Practicum

Future semesters

How might second year practicum be affected? Will there be any modifications for the second-year placement starting in September?
We are continuing to recruit field instructors for the fall. CASWE has permitted reduced hours required for accreditation until April 2021.

We are required to take direction from the University with regards to whether we can permit in-person placements. At present, U of T has paused on-site activities until July 6. As soon as we know whether in-person placements are permitted, we will let our students know. At present, we are planning for remote placements.

What if the location of our summer placement was deemed an essential service?
The expectation is that you would still complete your practicum remotely. This is the directive we have received from the University.

How will students in the COPAS specialization, who will need a practicum in addictions in order to fulfill the requirements, be affected by requirements for remote learning?
As with the other practicums, the intention is that students would receive remote supervision.

Is it possible that we would start with remote placements in the fall but transition to in-person placements later in the semester if it is deemed safe to do so?
Yes, this is possible, subject to guidelines from the University and the Field Instructor.

Is it possible for us to defer our practicums?
We are working diligently to ensure that practicum experiences in the fall are as high quality as possible. The reality is that this virus has changed how we all live and operate – including those providing service as social workers. Please note that our accrediting body has reduced the number of hours required to 337.5 to allow for increased flexibility in terms of when the practicums can start. As a result, even if you aren’t able to start your practicum until November, it will be possible to complete all the hours required by April.

Regardless, we understand that there may be exceptional circumstances that compel you to seek deferring your practicum to a later semester, and there will be an application process to do this if there is good reason to do so.

If can secure a practicum placement in own community can I stay in my community in the winter?
This is reasonable and we are completely flexible with regards to this request. If courses would also be offered remotely, there would be no need for you to be in Toronto. An unknown at this point is when the university will approve in-person practicums.


New placement opportunities

Can practicum time be used for volunteering if this is approved by our field instructor? For example, mental health helplines, such as Kids Helpline, have seen a significant increase in calls. Do we have the option of supporting organizations like these for the remainder of our practicum hours and could the University help match us with a placement like this?
It is commendable that our students would offer support. Accreditation standards require practicums to be supervised and evaluated by a social worker. The OCSWSSW Code of Ethics requires social workers to self-determine their competencies. A field Instructor must therefore determine whether they are competent and available to supervise and evaluate a student in the proposed activity. If you know of a social worker who would be willing to be a Field Instructor, please let us know.

For those considering volunteer opportunities independent of practicum, please refer to the University’s guidelines.

Have any of our instructors and professors with private practices been asked if they are able to supervise students for Practicum?
We did put out an appeal to faculty. They are most welcome to provide a field experience in their private practice. Some are also involving students in their research as part of practicum.

Given FIFSW’s history of providing practicum opportunities at U of T’s Health and Wellness Centre and Accessibility Services, are these potential venues that the Practicum Office is exploring for summer practicum students?
This is absolutely being explored. We have been in discussion with Student Health and Wellness and the Vice Provost of Student Experience, and are working very hard to open up avenues of potential practicum experiences. There seem to be possibilities. We are continuing these conversations.

If we are continuing remote learning in the fall, could we pursue practicum opportunities outside Toronto since there wouldn’t be a need to live near campus?
We are very open to that as long as there is a Field Instructor who meets our accreditation standards.


Practicum hours

Because our practicum hours have been reduced this year, will we be required to complete more hours than usual next year?
No. Both FIFSW and CASWE will recognize the revised practicum hours that have been set.

When in-person practicum starts again, will 2-year MSW students be able to increase their attendance to 5 days per week (rather than 4)?
In the fall and winter semesters, Practicum II occurs three days a week. Monday and Tuesday are protected for classes. When classes cease on Mondays and Tuesdays, there is flexibility regarding the number of days per week of practicum. All modifications to the schedule must have approval of the supervisor (and Education Coordinator if there is one.) The Faculty-Field Liaison and the Practicum Office must receive a copy of the revised schedule so that customized adjustments can be made to accessing the online evaluation tool.

Will the revised hours during this period be recognized elsewhere? Will they affect our eligibility to work in other countries?
While it is important for students to be aware of the specific licencing requirements in jurisdictions where they may have future employment, it is important to note that once you receive your transcript and graduate, your degree is valid. No one is going to question that. Remember that social work students are being similarly affected everywhere.

Is it possible to extend practicum hours back to the original 525 hours if we find a practicum where this would make sense?
This is something to negotiate with your Field Instructor. The minimum requirement is now 337.5 hours. However, some field instructors may have capacity to maintain a practicum for up to 525 hours. Please keep your FFL and the Practicum Office advised, as the schedules are now customized and need to reflect this.


Remote learning vs. in-person experience

Could first year students who are doing a summer or winter practicum participate in direct practice at a later time?
The Practicum Office and FIFSW must follow the remote learning directives of the University. FIFSW and U of T are committed to moving students through the program with as little disruption as possible. Completing summer or winter practicum hours in a future semester would not allow for this.

How is the Faculty addressing the fact that we will not be getting the in-person experience we need to develop competencies as social workers?
As you know, given the current situation, we have no choice but to employ remote learning opportunities. This is the new normal everywhere. We hope you can take heart in the fact that social work learning is an ongoing, life-long process. Even if you receive the best two-year education possible, you will continue to learn more through new opportunities as you move into the workforce.


Remote learning

Where do we find remote tasks to fulfill the required hours? We have suggested resources for remote learning on the COVID-19 Impact on Practicum Courses page, which can be found here.

When are we expected to submit our remote learning plans to our Field Instructors?
Please send it to them as soon as possible. If your Field Instructor is not available contact you Faculty Field Liaison.

Would it still be reasonable for summer Practicum students to get some form of direct or mixed experiences online?
We are committed to maintaining quality practicum placements for our students going forward. Whenever possible, we are trying to match students with Field Instructors who are offering some sort of services, counselling or otherwise. For example, we have met with U of T Student Wellness to discuss how our students could be involved in online counselling sessions.

It still depends on what is available and what a Field Instructor can offer. Experiences can take many different forms. This is an opportunity to be creative. If you have contacts with an agency, we encourage you to let us know.

Can the online activities/training sessions that the practicum office has shared be counted towards the fall practicum if the Field Instructor approves?
If your Field Instructor approves this, then yes.

If there are external online training/webinars that have associated fees, can we advocate for grants or funding from FIFSW to participate in them? Could part of our tuition be redirected towards these remote learning activities?
The way that tuition is guided is outside of our control. This is not something we can commit to at this time. We would encourage you to focus on external training that doesn’t have a cost.

If fall practicums are required to be done remotely, when will this announcement be made?
As soon as we have an indication of this, we will let you know. It is hard to predict at present.


Field instructors

What should I do if my Field Instructor is unavailable or has limited availability to supervise?
Faculty Field Liaisons have been asked to identify situations where a Field Instructor cannot follow through with supervision or evaluations. Notify your Faculty Field Liaison and work with them to determine your Field Instructor’s availability. Your Faculty Field Liaison will notify the Practicum Office, which will work to find a new Field Instructor to advise you. Developing a remote learning plan is to be done on practicum time.

Would it be possible to stay with the new re-assigned supervisors some of us have been given for Year 2 Practicum?
We are very open to this and willing to negotiate.


Practicum choices

Will you be able to ensure that students are placed in practicums according to their top three interests that will be indicated in their practicum applications?
Unfortunately, there is less availability now then there was previous to the pandemic. The option of selecting your top three choices may not be in place for September practicums. The protocol has yet to be determined, but we will let you know when we have more information.

For Year 2 Practicums, will there be practicums at the hospitals or is it likely that they will continue to not be able to supervise students?
We are still in negotiations and advocating for our students. Some Field Instructors want to continue supervising their students (remotely) but have been instructed not to due to capacity restrictions. As soon as we are advised of a change, we will let you know.

Since there is no conclusive date as to when the pandemic will be contained or resolved, is the option of practicum continuation available for UHN students as well?
UHN Field Instructors have been given clear instruction that they cannot engage in student supervision at this time. It is likely that a return to some “new normal” will be gradual and that the resolution of this pandemic will not be immediate. Given such uncertainty, it is advisable that students think of flexible options and preferences for completing their field placements.

For those of us in the Children and Families Field of Study, it is very hard to guarantee direct practice (online) with children. How will this be navigated in regards to 2nd year practicum?
We are looking for Field Instructors who can provide that kind of experience. We will have a better idea of this closer to September. We are in contact with service providers who have moved to online services and exploring how they might accommodate more of our students.

Why are students being asked to consider completing their practicum II at hospitals with paused student placements statuses (for example UHN) and where in-person attendance is mandatory and remote supervision is not available? Could these students have the opportunity to participate in the PAS matching in order to see all available options and make a more informed decision before being asked to take the risk of being placed somewhere that will not be available if COVID-19 is still occurring in the fall?
The intent of this option is to complete as many student-field instructor matches as possible before recruitment begins.  If the commitment is not made before then, the practicum offer must be available for all students to access.