Image of a Police CSI examining a car for fingerprints

Using Microsoft Teams as a platform for training CSIs

I am Mark Davey, one of 12 trainers who work within Investigative Training at the Avon and Somerset Police Training School. I have 35 years of experience in policing, working within Investigations, Intelligence and Serious Organised Crime Operations. I retired as a DS in 2015 but was subsequently reemployed as a member of Police Staff within Investigative Training. While most of us have been required to work from home over the past four months we’ve endeavoured to keep training running, dealing with the force’s training needs. This has required us to use Skype for Business and then Microsoft Teams and other online resources to deliver training. While I can talk about the Investigative Training group, I’m aware that much of what I say also relates to training colleagues within Leadership Training, ICT Training, Learning Support, Operations Training and Core Policing Training.

Mark Davey

Before the COVID 19 pandemic we worked hard to go paperless within training, setting tasks, emailing them and getting students to use One Note or Word to record individual and group tasks and outcomes. These could be emailed back to the trainer and displayed in the classroom on a presentation screen. We had also engaged in ‘flipped learning’, that is providing learners with pre-read material by email and by the time that the students arrive in the classroom setting we are in a position to discuss what they’ve learnt, to assess whether they need more explanation and to spend more time on practical tasks and problem solving. We had used Adobe Connect to carry out some limited online training and, while we found it functional, we were limited with the number of licences available.

The pandemic forced us to look at new ways of working as trainers and very quickly, with the use of personal issue laptops around the force, like other police forces, we realised that we just needed to adapt our training material and delivery to enable us to engage with learners using Skype for Business. While most of us were familiar with Skype for Business, we hadn’t really explored what it was capable of delivering. Watching a few Microsoft video guides very quickly transformed our understanding of the system, gave us more confidence and allowed us to develop some one-day courses which we called ‘bitesize learning’ (I think that the BBC may have coined the phrase first). We produced 20 practical bite-sized training courses for staff across the force dealing with immediate needs and CPD and rolled out the training via Pocketbook, our intranet, setting course dates when enough students had booked the course.  

Because many staff were working from home it provided the ideal opportunity for us to engage them online and produce online materials. This culminated in us extending training to one week and then three week courses. At this time we discovered that we could set up smaller meetings within meetings to allow small ‘breakout rooms’ to enable students to complete tasks. I won’t go into detail here about the training methods, because they are largely mirrored and enhanced by use of Microsoft Teams.

On 22 June 2020, we went live with Microsoft Teams. While we still had some training booked on Skype for Business it gave us an opportunity to look at the functionality. I was in the process of delivering training to South West Forensics staff (CSIs) at the time, so I decided to put all the training on Teams. I was able to see up to nine students on the screen at a time and although the class size was usually larger, it didn’t present an issue as anyone talking would be in view. The flexibility for staff cannot be underestimated. During this training, while I initially designed it for Avon and Somerset staff, at the request of the client, I was able to include other regional Wiltshire and Devon and Cornwall staff in the training.  

Staff have converted their homes and work office environments to enable them to stay online all day in the ‘virtual classroom’ uninterrupted, and once the basic functionality is discussed and demonstrated everyone has a go. All the trainer needs to do is set up a Teams meeting with the list of students, provide some ground rules and guidance in the text of the meeting request and upload any pre-read documents. By having separate meetings (virtual classrooms) per day, it was possible to add additional students or guest speakers by sending them the link for the day. It’s straightforward to share a presentation, or a Word document as a host or a guest and students can be invited to type or draw on the Word document. We didn’t seem to have the full functionality of use with the whiteboard as we did on Skype, particularly ‘board blasting’ and typing student responses, but our work around, sharing a Word document produced the same results. Within the virtual classroom we could ask questions and get students to type answers using the ‘Chat’. We could also upload documents and tasks to the chat for them to open and download. We uploaded links to videos on YouTube or other media for the students to view during sessions. Unlike Skype, it was possible to ‘share’ a video clip with the students with sound, albeit the video is sometimes out of sync. I was surprised at how interactive our sessions became online once the students had confidence in using the system.  

By far the best aspect of using Teams was the setting up of separate meetings for the students, breaking them up into smaller groups for tasks and the trainer going into the ‘breakout room’ to monitor how they were progressing. When they entered their allotted group room through their Outlook invitation, the Virtual Classroom remained ‘on hold’, with the trainer sat in it to deal with questions. However, since I had set up the meetings in the first place as a host, I found that all the students had to do was type something into the chat of the breakout room and I could read it and see if they had an issue. The tasks and any supporting material could also be uploaded to the chat in the breakout room in advance of the lesson. Once the task had been completed they simply ‘re-joined’ the virtual classroom. On a practical note I wouldn’t send out the breakout room meeting requests until I had started the main virtual classroom, to ensure that the students landed in the right place that day. I would create them in advance and save them but would not send the invite until I had explained the use of the breakout room. For ongoing tasks, as we had during our one week intelligence training, you can make the breakout meeting last over a number of days or just move the breakout room on the Outlook calendar into the next day (simply click and drag), thus keeping all the work and chat in one place. The fact that everything placed in the chat remains there was a bonus. I found it easier to find the right room, for example’ Group 1’ or’ Group 2’ by colour coding the meeting request. Students would create documents, collaborate on the documents and presentations in the breakout room and then present them in the virtual classroom. I’m told that ‘channels’ when added to the Teams functionality, will have a similar option, but we have been happy with our current format for group work.

Because of our current ways of working, in line with government advice, we’re planning for physical classroom settings from 1 September, when we are rolling out training to 75 new Police Staff Investigator employees.  We’ve used Teams to enable us to work collaboratively, while working from home, in producing new training material for this course. We have been careful to ensure that the majority of the training can still be delivered online in case measures change at short notice preventing socially distanced classrooms. There are certain aspects that require face to face interaction, for example, dealing with a crime scene, searching a property, or packaging exhibits. Some of this we have attempted to achieve by producing ‘how to’ videos but there is no substitute for the students practicing and demonstrating practical skills in the workplace.  

The reduced numbers of students to class size, which ensure social distancing, has limited the number of courses that we can deliver at any one time due to a lack of training accommodation. Because of this I have sought to deliver a number of courses purely online over the coming weeks, so that we can continue to provide necessary training. One such course for new Detective Sergeants, is a two-week course which incorporates a simulated investigation using ‘Hydra in the cloud’. I’m working with our Hydra Technician, Tim Schofield together with David Wilson from IS, about how this can be achieved. We’ll be using the same breakout room format for syndicate tasks and be able to monitor this. We’re looking to adapt the communication between syndicate and ‘control’, for setting actions and access to investigation material, using a Teams Chat and accessing Hydra in the cloud via the student laptops. Teams will allow them to work collaboratively and all participate in plenary sessions to discuss progress and view recorded decisions. We’ve discussed using a table ‘within the virtual classroom and embedding links to the breakout rooms in titles, for example, “Syndicate Room 1’. We’ve tested the functionality and it works but I have yet to test it on some students.  

Online training inaction

As expected, Teams has allowed us to work far more collaboratively, despite the fact that we don’t yet have access to its full functionality. At this time I’m collaborating with our human resources leads, producing new electronic workplace assessment portfolios. Being able to share my screen and show the functionality of the portfolio has helped in making changes and editing the format of the electronic portfolios to make them fit for purpose. I’ve also conducted a number of advice sessions for Investigations staff, and although we would normally telephone each other and discuss investigation plans, or advice about the law and follow up by emailing documents, we can do this instantly now by sharing our screens. We now hold far more team meetings than we used to for welfare and work task reasons and due to the flexible online nature, they are far more inclusive. I can honestly say that working with Teams has made my day to day tasks more productive and effective.

Going forward with teams I intend to experiment with recording training sessions and recording step by step guides to assist with providing training material which can be accessed at any time. Its use is only limited by your imagination.

Student feedback

“Although unusual, I thought that doing the course on Teams worked very well. The only down side was not actually meeting anyone else on the course in person and possibly being able to build a better working rapport with them. I would be more than happy to do another course via Teams as this would mean with the current situation we are in, my learning and development within the role would not be put on hold. "

"Thank you very much to both of you for making this happen. In the constraints of Teams, you still made the course enjoyable and interesting.”

“I have enjoyed using Microsoft Teams for this course and the sharing tool was useful for visual aid, videos, audio and presentations. I tried my best to participate in discussions. I also liked the break out rooms for group work. "

"I have not been working from home during the Covid-19 period, so I have not got a proper set up at home with multiple screens and comfy chairs. I did also have some technical issues – day 1 my webcam was not working, and my internet did disconnect at least twice during the week”.

“I thought the use of teams to carry out a taught based lesson actually worked really well, there was no obvious obstacles and the course ran very smoothly."

"I think the use of presentations via teams also work really well and I feel that doing the intelligence foundation course via teams was considerably less intimidating that the thought of being in a classroom and doing a presentation face to face.”  

“I think doing this course via teams allowed everyone to be and feel more included to what was going on. Having around 10 people on a team’s call made for a more personalised environment as opposed to an informal, base and empty classroom.”

“Using Microsoft Teams was at first only slightly challenging but once you get used to moving between different rooms whilst having other rooms on hold it become fairly self-explanatory. Sometimes you can forget to turn on your mic but that can get better with time. "

"I will need to look to improving the lighting in my office so as not to become too silhouetted through my webcam.”

“It was conducted really well and I am surprised at how easy it was to complete this course online. The breakout rooms worked nicely too..”

"I think that running the course on Teams must have been incredibly challenging. It was very successful though. Loved the quizzes although we tanked massively!"

It was great to feel in safe hands this week. I have been on many training courses – only a few in the police- and this course was really well pitched.”

“Worked really well in general. The only difficulty is staying engaged in long sessions. Usually there were enough breaks to stop this, but in some of the more content heavy areas more breaks might be needed.”

“I really enjoyed being able to do this course from the comfort of my home, I found Mark, Tony and all the guest speakers very engaging despite the virtual meeting. I also appreciated the morning quizzes for a bit of fun to start the day and get us going before jumping straight into the presentations.”

“I thought it worked really well on Teams as it was easy for people to share screens or send out content to the group. It also made group tasks much easier as you can just hop into another meeting rather than having to physically relocate to another room. The downside is that there is far less interaction within the group and the presenters couldn’t get any immediate response from the group to show they were engaged with the content. Mark and Anthony were brilliant instructors and managed to keep the atmosphere energised and are clearly experts in their subject.”

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