Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Lessons Learned as a PI Instructor

I did something last week that I've never done in my professional life. I fired myself from a job -- not just any job but the one that pays me back on a reciprocal level that is far more nurturing than my average pay day. I resigned from my five year-long gig as an adjunct in Boston University's Center of Professional Education. That's the school within BU that awards certificates to mid-career adults looking to cut a new career path. My students were aspiring PIs. Unlike them I was never into CSI or apprehending alleged perps. Maybe I see too much good in the bad guy and visa versa to carry that moral clarity which captivates crusaders of all stripes (and many capes).

But the one thing that justice seekers and knowledge planners share in spades is an insatiable appetite for evidence. Not just smoking guns in the firing lines of law enforcement but any shred that could piece together the mysteries surrounding how people act on what they know, a.k.a. "why people do what they do" -- especially of an unspeakable vintage that only deepens both the mystery of the case and the resolve of the investigator.

If I shy away from moral judgements I'm certainly not on the fence about my participation in this worthy program. The students taught me more than I could ever learn in someone else's classroom about the tenacious and painstaking business of assembling a reliable accounting. Their case work tested by the slippery sequencing of tangled outcomes from competing versions of self-selecting interpretations. Now that's a complexity that only Mother Research could love and take under her watchful spyglass. But that's the education I got from teaching these budding detectives how to tackle the web as a research medium.

If my role was restricted only to this thrill of the hunt, such gratitude would have sustained my participation for years to come. But over time the experience began to shift, particularly in the online version of the course. A vocal and growing minority of students lacked both the personal confidence and institutional support to put their fears aside and reconnect with the same bold exploratory spirit that led them to sign up in the first place.

Too often my teaching (or facilitation as it's called in the distance learning segment) consisted of talking time-starved students down from their isolated towers of despair. It's trying hard enough that they juggle family and work schedules with their online education. But when the curriculum's too hard to grasp? That's when the sinking ship comes to anchor on the feeling that everyone else "gets it." The rest of one's virtual classmates are all on the same page.

The inconsolable student is in need of an immediate emotional rescue. It's 2 am. There's no life line. They are catastrophizing, big time. All sympathy aside, this routine sapped me dry. It consumed the energy I had been able to invest through the luxury of eye contact and 1:1 consults with my classroom students.

In addition to the lack of real-time human interaction, the course materials for the Internet Research section were treated the same as the other program components. This is not a minor omission. The world of surveillance, fingerprinting and case management doesn't require new readings, war stories or legal updates just because the program is cycling through a new class of students. I might not know my way around a crime scene barricade but I do know I could do a whole class on FaceBook -- a phenomenon that wasn't even a glimmer on horizon when our course materials went to press.

Internet Research not only warrants but demands a blanket refresh to stay in step with changing capabilities, rewritten interfaces, and expired resources. The course text predates social media. Even the online materials were produced three years ago, further alienating the virtual classes that call online their home, not just their subject matter.

I believe with a little more attentiveness the program can provide the stewardship that comes with a commitment to continuous improvement. Either way it's been an affirming, valuable experience and I thank CPE Director Ruth Ann Murray, Program Director Tom Shamshak, and curriculum manager Nancy Ahern for the opportunity to have helped pour the original foundation. That grounding will continue to establish BU's Certificate in Professional Investigations as a nesting bed for what Brendon Perrone calls the truth seekers among us -- the "modern day dragon slayers" with the courage to carry a questioning nature into the lines of battle.

To my former students thanks ... so much for inspiring me in your PI quest and your determination to engage a distracted, confusing, and often uncooperative set of circumstances that will ultimately answer to the justice you seek.

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attentionSpin is a consulting practice formed in 1990 to create, automate and apply a universal scoring system (“The Biggest Picture”) to brands, celebrities, events and policy issues in the public eye. In the Biggest Picture, attentionSpin applies the principles of market research to the process of media analytics to score the volume and nature of media coverage. The explanatory power of this research model: 1. Allows practitioners to understand the requirements for managing the quality of attention they receive 2. Shows influencers the level of authority they hold in forums where companies, office-seekers, celebrities and experts sell their visions, opinions and skills 3. Creates meaningful standards for measuring the success and failure of campaigns and their connection to marketable assets.