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On the Case

Forensic center uses technology to stretch the reach of its training for members of the nation's justice community.

posted December 31, 2009  |  Appears in the August 2007 issue of FedTech Magazine.

Can training be provided for all of the forensic service providers in America? Is there a standardized, cost-effective solution? Will it be convenient for the learner?

To address these questions, the Office of Justice Programs’ National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC) lever-age learning technologies and an experienced development team to design and deploy technology-based training (TBT).

But the training questions that the NFSTC must face apply to almost any learning program undertaken by agencies across the government: Can we do more? Can we do it better? Can we do it cheaper? It is possible. The center has focused its efforts on extending the use of technology, matching the training to the right technology by offering “blended learning” across multiple platforms, standardizing content where possible and basing it on the most current knowledge in the field, and partnering with industry to keep tools up to date.

Leveraging Technology

The NIJ produces information and related publications for the justice community, which includes more than 400 crime laboratories across the country. Under a series of cooperative agreements with the NIJ, the NFSTC provides technical assistance and develops and delivers training targeted for crime laboratories and other justice community members. It makes the services available to learners at no cost.

But the development of that specialized training can be expensive. To produce economical training for a large group of learners, agencies should take advantage of technology-based training. TBT can reduce costs significantly and eliminate some travel. The use of scalable training delivery — in formats for handheld devices and notebook systems — also meets the growing demand without increasing the deployment cost.

Using a combination of hardware and software, the NFSTC can produce online courses, mobile media, CD-ROMs and DVDs to address the rapidly expanding need for forensic science training.

Technology Mix

Although the NFSTC increasingly creates content for more and new technology platforms, it relies on an established approach. The center’s training team bases its TBT development on instructional system design models that date back to a version developed by Florida State University in the mid-1970s.

The basic steps for the model are analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation, or ADDIE. A guiding principle is that the delivery must fit the material being taught as well as the trainees’ needs. The result is blended learning — essentially a sweep of delivery mechanisms from face-to-face courses and videoconferencing to interactive CD-ROMs and podcast lessons. (To check out a detailed federal site on blended learning and the ADDIE model, go to the Office for Domestic Preparedness training Web site at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/odp/blendedlearning.)

Standards for Progress

Standardized content delivery combines individualized content, multi­media, glossaries and references that are formatted for adult learners using an uncomplicated interface. The design specifications are planned for development with this combination of learning resources to enhance and streamline the learning experience.

FACT:

11.9% of visitors spent 30 minutes to an hour on the Principles of Forensic DNA pages at DNA.gov/training.

12% spent more than 1 hour.

156 of the 3,500 people who registered to view the online course completed every module between March and December 2006.

Source: NFSTC

To address bandwidth issues encountered with rich media content, the NFSTC training team produces projects for online and CD-ROM delivery. TBT stakeholders also benefit from improvement in the learner’s computer skills and the ability to increase return on investment by using their existing IT infrastructure.

The development team works closely with subject-matter experts who are some of the most knowledgeable forensic scientists in the country. To enhance the team’s ability to present instructional topics across a variety of forensic disciplines, members participate in activities to further their understanding of the subjects. Recently, team members went to a local shooting range to receive weapons training for an online “Firearms Academy.” On other projects, the team simulated crime scenes using spattered cow blood and created animations of a polymerase chain reaction to illustrate DNA analysis.

The development team also communicates frequently with the program managers at the NIJ to plan and script TBT deliverables.

Partners in Learning

Partnering with vendors also helps improve training by keeping the tools relevant. The latest TBT initiative at the NFSTC involves a partnership with Apple to produce forensic training podcasts accessed through RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds.

The center has worked closely with NIJ to identify content that is appropriate for this format. It loads Apple iPods and other mobile media devices with up to 80 gigabytes of content that users can download for later viewing. Specific levels of content deliverables — including text, audio, images and video — are based on device capabilities. The NFSTC team formats the content in several ways to address bandwidth demands and learning objectives.

One new application being evaluated for instructional usefulness is Apple iQuiz. Originally introduced as a game on iTunes, it has authoring tools that can be used to create quizzes for the iPod.

The National Forensic Science Technology Center “recently produced a series of podcasts for NIJ’s Expert Systems Testbed Project in a very short period of time,” says NIJ Program Manager John Paul Jones. “We were able to capture the presentations in a digital format and produce draft versions during the two days of scheduled video production. The NFSTC also worked closely with the subject-matter expert during the video capture to incorporate new content and computer screen shots that were critical for the final version.”

 

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