Candidate: Gregory P. Vander Kooi
Degree of: Doctor of Philosophy
Committee: Dr. Louann Bierlein-Palmer
Policing strategies have gravitated toward a consensus paradigm model, commonly referred to as “community policing.” This is a significant paradigm shift, yet most police academies continue to use traditional lecture-based pedagogical methods to train police officers. One possible alternative to passive lecture-based teaching is more active problem-based learning. Problem-based methodologies consist of presenting ill-structured problems whereby an instructor facilitates and directs the students in active inquiry toward possible solutions for a specific problem.
Faculty at Ferris State University, in Big Rapids Michigan, designed a police academy that uses problem-based learning as its core teaching strategy. This study explored how these police academy students perceived problem-based teaching methods influencing their learning as compared to students attending other academies still using the traditional lecture-based pedagogy. Students' preferred learning styles were also examined to determine any impact on those perceptions.
This study used a quasi-experimental approach including a treatment group of forty-one students from Ferris State University's 2005/06 police academy and a control group of fifty-three students drawn from three other police academies in Michigan.
All students completed an end-of-course survey examining their perceptions on acquired problem solving skills, acquired critical thinking skills, satisfaction, or beliefs that the training prepared them well to perform as a policy officer. In almost all cases, the average scores from the group taught via problem-based learning were more successful, but the results revealed only statistically significant differences for one of four teaching modules. However, the open-ended questions revealed that the recruits who attended the problem-based academy had a deeper understanding of problem solving and critical thinking skills.
Overall, this study parallels much of the literature discovered in the analysis of problem-based learning-teaching methodologies in the medical field. Students as a whole enjoy the experience more and indicate they learn more, but not to a greater level of statistical significance than students in the traditional program. Yet the open-ended responses revealed that thought processes were created in the problem-based group that are more in line with community policing strategies. Additional study on this topic, including cost implications, is clearly necessary.
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