Computer courses sharpen police officers' skillsBY MERRY MAYER
| SPECIAL TO GCN
When technology-challenged employees sit down at a computer to learn something new, the last thing they want is to have to take time to learn the system first.
Knocking down that barrier was one reason California's Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) switched from analog laser disk to CD-ROM for teaching police officers and those who instruct them.
POST began putting out instructional CD-ROMs a year ago. One of the first titles, Learners First, helps police instructors improve their teaching skills. Other titles explain how police should handle hazardous materials and conduct domestic violence investigations.
A big advantage to CD-ROMs as a teaching aid is that officers 'don't have to learn something different. They are already comfortable with CD-ROMs,' said Graham Breck, senior instructional systems engineer and supervisor of the Learning Technology Resource Center.
POST is now developing a sophisticated CD-ROM about handling sexual assault investigations.
That effort will provide students with a 360-degree simulation of a room in which they can collect evidence, interview victims and do whatever else is appropriate to the situation.
'Ease of use has been our biggest challenge,' Breck said. Although the 360-degree monitor provides additional instructional information, it also has proven to be a distraction from the subject, he said.
'While officers are used to looking at a computer screen or video, they are not used to moving that screen 360 degrees,' Breck said.
The Learners First CD-ROM cost about $180,000 for an unlimited license and took about a year to develop. Its high front-end cost will be spread out over the life of the program, Breck said. POST expects the CD-ROMs to have a useful life of three to 10 years depending on content changes and technological advances.
All the titles supply students with factual content and guidance on making critical judgments in the field.
For instance, in the CD-ROM on sexual assault investigations, if students ask an indelicate question during an interview and the person becomes angry, they must be able to recover from that mistake. If they do not, or if they fail to collect a piece of evidence, they fail and have to start over.
With Learners First, instructors must make judgments about various classroom scenarios and decide how to react. But 'it doesn't replace field experience,' Breck said.
Computer-based learning holds several advantages over traditional classroom experience, including convenience. In California, small law enforcement agencies reap the most benefits.
Eighty percent of the state's agencies have 50 officers or fewer. In the past, getting training for the officers in small, rural agencies has meant extensive travel and days or weeks away from work. Now training is available continually via computer.
Both Learners First and the sexual assault investigation CD-ROMs were developed by GlobalLearningSystems of McLean, Va. POST also has used other vendors, Breck said.
GLS created the titles exclusively for POST, which owns the copyrights.
POST manages many CD-ROM titles and student records easily with Managers Edge, data management software leased from Mentergy Inc. of Atlanta.Double-check homework
In the bigger law enforcement agencies, the software can be installed on a network, so instructors can pull up a particular student's coursework on all CD-ROM titles from any computer on the network. For smaller agencies, the software can be installed on one computer to help track coursework.
The CD-ROMs run on a 400-MHz Pentium II with a 17-inch color monitor. Also necessary is a QuickTime VR plug-in with video card and 8M of video RAM.
'We tell the vendors they have to run on this platform'it is a mandate,' Breck said. The 400-plus California law enforcement agencies that buy the hardware are reimbursed out of the Peace Officer Training Fund, which is replenished from fines and court fees.
Two applications were used to create the CD-ROMs: Authorware Attain and Director from Macromedia Inc. of San Francisco. The install program was custom-written using a shell called Professional 5.5 from Install Shield Software Corp. of Schaumburg, Ill. The code is in Visual Basic.
Standard graphics apps were used such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Video was produced using MPEG-1 and QuickTime standards.