Teaching is a crucial aspect of the development of both personal traits and professional skills necessary for future occupations. The selection of proper teaching methods depends both on the professor and the educational organization, and largely influences students’ final performance. However, police training institutions, characterized by a mostly conservative nature and known for their strict discipline and rigorous physical training, have traditionally fallen behind in the introduction of advanced educational technologies. Failing to apply new interactive and learner-based teaching strategies has adversely affected graduates of various academies. Therefore, the wide implementation of the learner-oriented discussion method in police academy training is a pressing issue, the solution of which will be beneficial for all the police systems.
Overview of primary teaching methods: their development and principal features
The lecture method is a traditional instruction concept
The traditional strategy that was the most commonly used in the past and still occupies an important place in many educational institutions is the silo or lecture teaching method. Its roots go deep into history when lectures given by prominent philosophers and scientists were the only way of knowledge transferred to the younger generations. However, according to the current research, lecturing still occupies up to 50 percent of the time teachers spend with their students (Mohan, 2019). During a lecture, a teacher presents new material to the students, gives a summary of various ideas, and shows connections between theory and practice. This method views learning as a one-sided process, in which students play a passive role in receiving new information. It places increased emphasis on the teacher, who is entirely in charge of planning the lecture, determining its purpose, organization, the way it should be conducted, and the visual and technical aids suitable for it.
Although the lecture method has historically proven to be a straightforward way to transmit knowledge and views of professors to their students, it has several significant disadvantages. They are mostly based on the role of learners being just silent spectators. Since they do not participate in compiling or constructing the knowledge they get, students depend on others in this regard and fail to develop the skills of acquiring information through their independent efforts (Mangal & Mangal, 2019). Besides, they commonly get bored and even drowsy, unable to absorb the information provided to them, especially when its amounts are excessive. Another problem with the lecture method is that it does not involve any practical actions of the students, and the best way to learn something is often by doing it. Finally, lectures are inherently based on memorizing the received facts. Without a full understanding of their practical application, an individual can quickly forget such points, and recalling them can become troublesome. Thus, learning through the method of information transfer and reception usually becomes futile and leads to an undesired outcome.
Main features and components of the discussion method
The evident drawbacks of the lecture method led to the increased interest in new, learner-oriented ways, the most common of which is the discussion method. Unlike the traditional teacher-centered approach, the discussion method followers view knowledge construction as a joint act requiring the learner’s active participation. Therefore, the student turns into a key figure in determining the learning goals and the methods of generating the required knowledge. The mission of the professor is to guide the student, help in understanding and assessing various information sources, and foster further thinking and research. Discussions are commonly used before the main presentation of a new topic with the intent to determine the background knowledge of the learners and attract attention to the new material. They can also be an excellent way, to sum up, the information provided by the teacher and present students with an option to review some cases using the previously acquired knowledge. So, the discussion method has turned into an efficient alternative to the traditional lecture method.
Even though the discussion method emphasizes learners’ role in generating their knowledge, the processes involved in it are quite complex and require full understanding by the professor. The researchers attempt to divide the process of knowledge construction into its constituents named experiential learning, social mediation, and situated learning among the most useful ways of teaching (Mangal & Mangal, 2019). Experiential learning is based on using personal and group experience to get new data, draw conclusions, and integrate theoretical provisions with practical implementations. This ensures the complete involvement of learners, who are attracted both intellectually and emotionally. Social mediation adds the benefit of vivid interaction between group members through the use of different mediation tools. Ultimately, situated learning helps students fully understand the purpose of the knowledge they acquire by tying it to real-life situations. When all these tools are combined, they enable the professor to conduct classes at a high professional level using all the opportunities provided by the discussion method.
Factors defining the selected teaching method
The two teaching methods briefly discussed above are opposite to each other in some respects, and the choice of the most suitable one can be quite complicated for a teacher. It depends on a large number of factors, the most remarkable of which are the specific goals of the audience, the subject being taught, the available resources and time, and the teacher’s knowledge level (Briggs, 2019). In addition, one of the critical factors determining the teaching method is the way how students’ academic performance is evaluated. The use of standardized tests with textbook answers does not promote the generation of problem-solving skills and abilities to conduct their research. Instead, it increases the value of memorizing data, tempting professors to use more lecture-oriented methods. On the other hand, using open discussion and assessing the individual’s problem-solving skills as a way to evaluate students’ performance can lead to extensive use of discussion methods. Finally, the choice of the suitable method depends a lot on the students as their increasing level of knowledge demands scaling up the use of learner-oriented techniques.
Although the selection of teaching methods is a complex task requiring the review of numerous aspects, police academies have traditionally failed to pay proper attention to this cause. The most commonly used approach is the one that is based on a 920-hour curriculum divided into modular blocks consisting of large amounts of classroom training and lectures (Donohue, 2019). This manner of arranging classes has been largely criticized for the excessive role of the teacher resulting in often superficial learning and restricting the ability of students to enhance critical thinking. This leads to future police officers having “limited opportunities to develop the problem-solving and independent learning skills they require in their daily duties and the context of operational decision-making” (Shipton, 2019, p. 96). Finally, some police academies have turned their attention to the issue. One example of introducing the new teaching concept took place in Massachusetts municipal police academies in 2017 and showed its capability to increase the graduates’ overall competence (Donohue, 2019). That opened the door for the widespread implementation of learner-based discussion methods in various police academies.
Main reasons for choosing discussion method in police training
Being inherently a more sophisticated and up-to-date concept, the discussion method could bring numerous advantages to the training of police members. One of the fundamental principles of effective learning is “assuming responsibility for one’s learning and recognition of meaning or usefulness of information to be learned” (Bradshaw et al., 2019, p. 9). This is an especially important part of professional education provided to career-oriented students, and future police officers are certainly among them. For the training to be successful, such students need to be sure the knowledge they get is going to be beneficial for their future job. This concept limits the amount of general information that should be provided to the students and urges professors to pay specific attention to its practical application. For police, such teaching should be mostly focused on the development of problem-solving skills allowing a person to find the right solution under pressing circumstances within a limited time. These are precisely the skills fostered by learning through discussion, which involves using personal experience and real-life scenarios.
Another valuable improvement introduced by the discussion method is that it has proven to produce an increased level of situational awareness. This skill, which involves understanding the elements of the surrounding environment and projecting their changes shortly, is critical for making time-sensitive decisions. A recent study was conducted to identify the most effective method for developing situational awareness based on the survey of its participants. It demonstrated that simulation-based training, which is part of the discussion method, is superior to the traditional forms of teacher-centered training based on lectures (Chang et al., 2017). This was explained by the increased level of perception obtained by trainees thanks to their involvement in the training process and active role in knowledge generation. Since situational awareness constitutes a crucial factor for police officers’ safety and the success of their actions, this advantage substantively contributes to promoting the discussion method.
In addition, discussion-based methods of teaching assistants in the development of cognitive skills are critical for the mentally challenging work of the police. According to one recent survey, most students confirmed the efficiency of communication techniques in enhancing their cognitive capabilities. They explained this point of view by an increased ability to “distinguish between different opinions in discussion” and “compare ideas with others’ ideas” (Abdulbaki et al., 2018, p. 124). Because minimum education requirements for new hires vary significantly among law enforcement agencies, the value of cognitive skills training is hard to overestimate. To reach this goal, academies need to increase the level of autonomous decision-making by their students. This should include dividing the trainees into small groups and giving them time to argue on the advantages and setbacks of various actions without intervention from their training officers (Blumberg et al., 2019). These are also the techniques forming part of the discussion-based method and increasing its efficiency.
Finally, discussion-based teaching is beneficial for the personal growth of students. It encourages them not to hesitate while expressing their own opinions and try to defend themselves against opponents. It also teaches a responsible attitude towards developing one’s ideas and urges to check the arguments students use for their feasibility and credibility. Many students admit that their self-confidence level increases substantially thanks to the discussions and the fact that professors express interest in their opinions and willingness to take them into account (Abdulbaki et al., 2018). This is entirely in line with the efforts to increase the level of professionalism and responsibility among the police and encourage broader collaboration with the local community.
A critical review of arguments against the discussion method
Regardless of the apparent advantages of the discussion teaching method, its opponents also state some arguments in favor of the traditional approach. These arguments deserve careful consideration as they reveal some of the possible pitfalls that need to be avoided. The most common argument is that lecture-based teaching is the most efficient way of transferring knowledge. It allows to reach solutions generated by highly knowledgeable people and avoid wasting time during the discussion. Moreover, the teacher, whose professional experience highly exceeds that of the students, gets the opportunity to transfer it without any restrictions. However, although seemingly strong, this argument only shows the possible aspects requiring attention from the teacher. In the discussion method, the teacher does not play a passive role of an observer. On the contrary, the instructor’s goal is to facilitate the discussion and guide it towards the right answers already known to him. By doing this, the teacher can still reasonably quickly provide the necessary information. Yet, since it will be generated together with the students, the level of its applicability and usefulness will be a lot higher for them.
Another argument against the increased application of the discussion method deals with its improper implementation. Some teachers tend to confuse the appropriate scenarios with “war stories”, which are often “in direct contrast to the style of policing being taught in the curriculum” (Belur et al., 2019, p. 81). These stories provide an incorrect picture of the working conditions and purpose of the police nowadays. Still, this point only emphasizes the need for thorough training being provided to the teachers themselves. Understanding the role of an instructor in the discussion, the correct ways to guide it, and choosing proper scenarios for real-life cases requires in-depth knowledge of both the subject matter and the pedagogical aspects. Although this puts some additional burden on the educational system, teachers’ increased proficiency will undoubtedly be reflected in their students’ results.
The foregoing review of the critical advantages and drawbacks of the two primary teaching concepts available for police academies shows the significant benefits of implementing the discussion method on a larger scale. This method provides increased opportunities for the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills required for police duties. It also fosters self-confidence and enhances students’ maturity, encouraging them to take responsibility for their actions and career development. The integration of theoretical provisions with their practical application and increased use of scenario-based training contributes to improving the perception of the occurring events, therefore increasing the overall level of situational awareness. All these merits of the new method outweigh its possible drawbacks, which can be easily overcome by improved instructors’ training, including the particularities of the latest techniques and processes. Thus, the implementation of the discussion teaching method will constitute a step forward in the improvement of police training and the enhancement of its efficiency.
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