The Associate Degree in Policing Practice is a program delivered by CSU in partnership with the NSW Police to prepare police recruits for their operational role. When the most recent version of this program was implemented several years ago, there was some concern about the overuse of traditional examinations to assess student learning. Whilst examinations using multiple choice and short answer questions are certainly an effective way of assessing student knowledge of a substantive and detailed curriculum, there is also a need to develop and assess important critical thinking skills that cannot always be captured in traditional exams.

What were you trying to achieve?

As an incoming Assessment Officer at the NSW Police Academy two years ago, I was faced with this challenge in relation to PPP151 (Communications & Police Professional Standards, Conduct & Values). Whilst being required to conform to a broad written examination format, I had the option of designing a more creative means of assessment more suited to testing higher level thinking skills and importantly, drive student learning aligned with operational practice.

Whilst we are often aware of the importance of valid assessment in higher education, people often overlook or minimise how assessment truly drives student learning.

With traditional exams in police education, there can be an overemphasis on surface learning, so there is a need to consider assessments that also ensure appropriate depth or critical thinking and provide balance within a program.

What did it look like?

The Police Incident Analysis (PIA) looks like a traditional exam in many ways. Students undertake the assessment under supervised exam conditions and answer six structured medium length questions over a two and half hour period. However, the answers are in response to their evaluation of police actions in a 5-minute video. In the video, police undertake a typical task but demonstrate a range of poor practices. This provides students with an opportunity to analyse communications and ethical standards.

In addition to asking students to apply their content knowledge in a new context, the PIA also drives the development of skills relevant to policing practice. In preparation for answering their exam questions, students are required to take contemporaneous notes from several viewings of the video in the early stage of the exam. This skill is particularly important for police, who rely on note-taking regarding incidents for reporting and court purposes.

Essentially, the PIA provides an authentic policing situation that allows for the application of abstract knowledge whilst developing critical thinking skills that underpin good policing.

How can I make this happen?

  • The design of valid questions is the first step. They need to reflect learning outcomes in terms of appropriate content and level of thinking in relation to a taxonomy such as Bloom’s.
  • Next comes the design and development of a video as an assessment tool. This needs to be scripted and directed to include appropriate actions and triggers required to address the exam questions.
  • Because the PIA is a unique assessment in the program, time is taken to explicitly brief students in relation to study preparation. The briefing includes an abbreviated ‘dummy run’, using an alternate video and sample questions from the assessment to ensure fairness and awareness of the standards required. The main focus of the briefing is to highlight effective note-taking, analysis of the scenario and expectations around questions.
  • Ongoing evaluation and moderation of the assessment task is vital to refine questions and ensure validity and reliability in the question.