Friday, October 1, 2010

Problem based learning

A couple of years ago at the Problem-Oriented Policing Conference in Bellevue, WA, I attended a breakout session on PTO programs: Police Training Officer.  PTO is a model of experiential training that differs from the widespread Field Training Officer (FTO) programs, in that it incorporates the principals of something called problem-based learning (PBL). 

Without naming it, I have been an amateur dabbler in problem-based learning all along.  I used this approach quite successfully during the years I taught Criminal Justice 403, Criminal Justice Organization and Administration, at the University of Nebraska—although I was missing one key element.  In the LPD academy, I have used bits of this approach for the most significant class I personally teach, Information Resources

As I’ve learned more about PBL, however, I have improved.  This year, I strongarmed the training staff into providing me a second full day, which is devoted to problem-oriented policing using a format that leans on problem-based learning principles:  problem solving by students working collaboratively on challenging and somewhat open-ended problems.  The second day really builds on the first day’s focus on using the information resource tools.

After a short primer on problem-oriented policing and the SARA model, the bulk of the day was active and student-centered.  Six students worked on formulating approaches to crime and disorder problems I posed as the facilitator.  I asked them these questions about each problem:

  1. What more do you need to know about this problem?
  2. Where can you find that information?
  3. What strategies did you consider, which did you select, and why?
  4. How will you determine if it is working?

Not only was I pleased with the students work, I also got the strong sense that the level of learning had jumped up to a new plateau.  This seemed to me to be a huge improvement over “death by PowerPoint,” and I was impressed with our recruits’ performance.  I will get better at using this approach next time.  I think the principles of PBL can be incorporated into almost everything we do in training new recruits.  I am convinced that students learn more and that the training is more engaging for everyone involved—student and instructor—when it is based on principals of adult learning.

Here are the problems the students worked on:

  • Daytime residential burglaries seem to be increasing on your beat.
  • Several indecent exposures have occurred in parking lots of apartment complexes on your team area.
  • There have been a number of construction site thefts on your beat.
  • A series of cases have been investigated in which iPods have been stolen from school lockers.
  • A small group home for the developmentally disabled on your beat has been the site of a large number of police dispatches this year.
  • Three businesses on your beat have been the site of 5 or more false burglary alarms so far this year.
  • There has been a large increase in graffiti vandalism citywide


Anonymous said...

It's my belief that while we used to do a decent job of teaching and developing critical thinking skills at the secondary (high school) level, we now we kick that can down the road and delay that training until the post-secondary level.

Anonymous said...

Chief-In several ways I use an adult learning model, student-centered approach or PBL on a daily basis in my business and personal life. I know that the training in the academy is only a starting point.

I'd be interested in hearing what training your folks get when they hit the street initially after the academy, and about how you train the Field Training Officers. How about ongoing training for more veteran officers? Just some thoughts for a future post.


Steve said...

I like the questions you pose to your students, and I'm sure many people could improve their ability to solve problems using some of these techniques. However, I think to a large degree, problem solving is pretty much an inherent ability. You either have it, or you don't.

Joshua said...

Problem-Based Learning is a well that never seems to have a bottom. We just keep going deeper and deeper. Some are calling for us as police educators to teach life skills. With the number of veteran officers we are losing to emotional management issues that may be a good idea. Lord knows cops are not allowed to talk about what concerns them in the breifing room.

Anonymous said...


Rules, morals, laws, values, common sense or whatever you want to call them, must be a part of any problem solving process. Does that make sense? However unless everyone is starting from a common base there will be no common solution.

Gun Nut

Brandon said...

Chief Casady,

What you said about traditional field training versus problem based learning, reminds me a lot of the difference between a business administration bachelor's degree, and an MBA (Master of Business Administration). Usually MBA degrees involve much more team-work related course work, solving business problems together, eventually a master's thesis, etc.

I applaud you for looking for new and innovative ways to improve law enforcement! If there was a Police PHD, you would be Dr. Tom Casady! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Dr. Tom Casady? Thanks Brandon. Now we'll have to widen the doorways to get his even bigger head through.

jim said...

chief, got a question for you...

i was in a local business last friday for dinner, i over hear the next table of 2 guys talking.. one guy, named "levi" appearantly was pulled over late weds night, possible thursday am... on the west O street bridge for accelerating too fast.. well evidently he was dui of weed and had a pipe in his jeep... according to his story he spoke so proud of at the restaurant... he was given a field test, failed.. asked what he did for a living when he state ex marine and ran a childrens home, the officer then parked his car on the side of the road and offered the man a ride home... with no citation, and a free ride home, so? wondering..

what is the policy on dui of weed and posession of a weed pipe and are police really just giving rides home to ex military and children home managers???? any idea if there is trueth to this or was i just hearing a story of b.s. in the restaurant..



Anonymous said...

the difference between a business administration bachelor's degree, and an MBA (Master of Business Administration).

The difference is BA 80,000.00 debt
MBA 120,000.00 debt.
I am glad I did not go to college to create debt and have those monies in savings...smiles

Anonymous said...

Well, having a "Dr." before their name is something that 6:03 will never have to endure.

Anonymous said...

Jim's comments in 7:41 got me curious about testing for impaired driving while using Marijuana. Is there a test that can determine the level of impairment from Marijuana? I know MJ will show up for several weeks in a UA but is there a standard like the .08 number for Alcohol that can be determined in MJ usage? Or is ANY level of MJ grounds for a DUI?

Gun Nut

Steve said...

The difference between a master's or bachelor's degree in business administration: none, when it comes to looking for a job around here. I have both, and it hasn't helped a bit. If there is any truth in the world, it's the old adage that it's not what you know, but who you know, that gets you a job.

BTW, I got my employer to pay for all my college expenses. Now, instead of promoting me to something in management, they're laying me off along with all the other blue-collar workers.

Anonymous said...

Anything is possible 7:42. Just ask Dr. John.

Mr. Campbell said...

I am currently teaching Sociology at the high school level and our theme is Crime. PBL has recently been gaining adherents in many educational circles and since it is still relatively new to me I was hoping to gain from your experience. I would love to hear your suggestions on how a high school class might tackle this in our community. My goal is to provide relevance while engaging the students in a project that may positively impact their community.

I hope you have a few moments to share your ideas.