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Training Update - FBI Virtual Academy Issues and Update, Forensic Science Communications, April 2003

Training Update (Forensic Science Communications, April 2003)

April 2003 - Volume 5 - Number 2

Training Update

FBI Virtual Academy Issues and Update

Virginia W. Field
Instructional Systems Specialist
Training Unit
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Quantico, Virginia

Introduction | Issues and Processes | Agency Application | From Application to Access | Course Catalog  | Creating an Infrastructure for High Quality Courses | Course Registration | Tracking, Transcripts, and the Login ID | Technical Difficulties | Inability to Access the Agency Application | Inability to Find the Login Page/Site | Problems with the Automatic E-mails and Attachments | Login and/or Password Not Allowing Access | Other Error Messages | Currently Available Resources | Teaming Center—An Information Sharing Tool | Library’s Link to DialogSelectSM | Conclusion


The FBI opened the doors to the FBI Virtual Academy (FBIVA), a computer-based learning system, in early December 2002 to an overwhelming response, both good and bad. People are excited about using the Virtual Academy and its resources, but differ in their expectations. To help alleviate the frustration some people have been experiencing, this update addresses some of the issues concerning the FBI Virtual Academy and its currently available resources.

Issues and Processes

When the FBI purchased the learning management system, now called the FBI Virtual Academy, and started its customization, many initial decisions had to be made without the benefit of feedback from potential users. Regrettably, some of these decisions have affected the user-friendliness of the Virtual Academy. Policy and other issues have arisen from the need to accommodate a diverse audience while still offering the best possible resource in the FBIVA.

Agency Application

Several issues involve the confusion agency heads experience when completing and submitting applications: What constitutes an agency? Should employees self-register or register by Training Manager?

What constitutes an agency? Agency heads must make two decisions regarding how they want their agency to appear in the FBI Virtual Academy: agency type and the Training Mangager.

Agency Type—Agency heads must decide which one, or more, of the four Virtual Academy agency (agency) types most closely defines the agency’s mission or primary function:

  • Law enforcement
  • Forensic laboratory
  • Judicial system
  • Other public service (specifically emergency response services)

The Virtual Academy agency type affects the courses and other resources made available to the employees who register from that agency. Thus, agency heads must register carefully by choosing from the following options:

  • Register the agency only once under the type most compatible with the agency’s primary mission.
  • Split the agency into several FBI Virtual Academy agencies based on functions within the agency. For example, a local police agency with a forensic laboratory division should apply twice—once as a law enforcement agency and once as a forensic laboratory agency.
  • Register a geographically diverse agency by location as well as type. For example, a state police or federal agency having many locations and functions will apply under all locations and functions. This may seem time consuming, but the agency application occurs only once but benefits all employees of that agency.
  • Break a large agency into smaller division- or department-sized agencies based on function and/or geographical location. For example, major city police departments may actually apply as separate agencies based on their divisions, departments, or even mission-oriented squads.

Training Manager—Each agency applying to the Virtual Academy must assign a point of contact, called the Training Manager. This person has complete control over which employees from that agency will be allowed access to the Virtual Academy and what training, if any, they will be allowed to take. Thus, the choice of a responsible Training Manager is very important for FBI Virtual Academy security as well as for agency control of employee training. The Training Manager must have an e-mail address and must be able to inform agency employees when they can register, then validate each employee who does. The Training Manager must also have the authority to assess each candidate’s qualifications for enrollment in the courses offered through the Course Catalog, then approve or deny the request.

Agency heads must decide what constitutes their agency based on their understanding of both agency type and the role of the agency’s Training Manager.

Should employees self-register or register by Training Manager? This question on the agency application has caused confusion because of the use of the term “register” to mean “request enrollment in a course.” The wording cannot be changed on the application at this point because of the implications to the database structure.

The agency’s Training Manager controls whether or not employees take the training offered through the Course Catalog, no matter which choice the agency head makes on the application. The difference between the two becomes apparent on the user’s end.

Self-register—This means that employees from an agency are able to view courses in the Course Catalog and see the words “Request Enrollment” at the end of the course description. Clicking “Request Enrollment” triggers an automatic e-mail to the agency’s Training Manager, who must then go into the FBIVA to approve or deny that employee’s request. This option also allows Training Managers to take the initiative to enroll any employee in their agency in any of the courses.

Register by Training Manager—This means that employees from an agency are able to view courses in the Course Catalog, but are not offered a way to enroll. They must ask their agency’s Training Manager to enroll them. This option requires the Training Manager to take a few more steps in the FBIVA than the Self-register option.

Thus, the choice to self-register or register by Training Manager makes no difference in the agency’s control over who takes what training through the FBI Virtual Academy; it just makes a difference in how the employees gain access to the courses and what steps the Training Manager must take.

From Application to Access

What happens to an application once “Submit” is clicked? If an error message does not appear, the application is put on the Virtual Academy’s agencies pending list. Before an agency’s employees can gain access to the FBIVA, the FBI must approve the agency by taking two steps:

First, FBI personnel must validate the agency and verify the information on the application. This validation ensures protection for all users. currently, only one representative is available to make the required phone calls to:

  • The head of each agency to verify the information on the application. (The FBI representative must speak to the head of the agency only).
  • The FBI field division assigned as the agency’s point of contact to ensure the existence of the agency and its standing in the community.

Second, the agency is assigned to an FBI field division or Legal Attaché.

Agency approval triggers an e-mail to the Training Manager. This e-mail contains his or her user ID and password, the Virtual Academy site address, and two attachments: instructions for the Training Manager and instructions that can be forwarded to employees to help them register. The agency’s approval ensures automatic registration for the Training Manager. Thus, Training Managers do not need to register themselves with the Virtual Academy. However, they do need to inform agency employees when and how to register with the FBI Virtual Academy.

Course Catalog

Some users of the Virtual Academy have gone to the Course Catalog in the Learning Center with high expectations, only to be disappointed with seeing the usual classroom-based courses (now distinguished as TCI, or traditional classroom instruction) and few, if any, virtual courses (distance learning courses called IMI, or interactive multimedia instruction) in the list. In the future, a full and diversified Course Catalog, with a multitude of high-quality TCI and IMI courses will be available through the FBI Virtual Academy. Now, however, the Laboratory Division’s Training Unit is creating the necessary infrastructure for developing the consistently high-quality, educationally reliable courses that will populate the Course Catalog.

Creating an Infrastructure for High Quality Courses

The FBI’s goal of high quality and consistency for the user community means establishing an infrastructure within both the FBI Virtual Academy and the forensic science community:

Virtual Academy—The infrastructure involves developing

  • Processes and style guides to follow.
  • Templates for use during each stage of course development.
  • Programmed templates for physically building the course.
  • Instruction for all members of the course development teams.

Forensic Science Community—The infrastructure involves a group of Training Partners pooling resources for course development who agree to and use:

  • Standard, consistent training taxonomy.
  • Comprehensive modular curriculum for examiners.
  • Comprehensive modular curriculum for technicians.

This infrastructure will benefit the community by saving time in course development and ensuring consistency across the community.

Course Registration

Registration for all traditional classroom instruction (formerly referred to as specialized training) courses occurs through the FBI Virtual Academy. The FBI Laboratory no longer publishes a listing of these courses, nor assigns a specific number of enrollment slots to agencies and laboratories. Anyone from an approved agency can request enrollment in any open section of the courses listed in the Course Catalog. For TCI courses, the enrollment request moves through three levels of approval:

  • Agency Training Manager—Clicking “Request Enrollment” in a course triggers an e-mail to the agency’s Training Manager, who must enter the Virtual Academy to approve or deny the request. Denial stops the process and prompts notification to the applicant. Approval allows the process to continue to step 2.
  • Review Administrator—Training Manager approval triggers the system to send a qualification survey to the applicant. The applicant faxes or otherwise sends the completed survey to the agency’s assigned FBI field division training technician, the FBIVA’s Review Administrator. The administrator reviews the applicant’s qualifications. Again, denial at this point stops the process and notifies the applicant. Approval allows the process to continue to step 3.
  • Instructor (Selector)—Within the system, the course instructor selects the now ranked applicants. Those selected are notified by e-mail. Any qualified applicants not selected are moved to a wait list until the course starts. If a selected student cancels, the student ranked number one on the wait list will be notified of his or her selection to the course.

Once a course has started, the wait list is deleted and the enrollment process begins again.

Tracking, Transcripts, and the Login ID

The registration process, during which a login ID is assigned, associates a user to both an agency (the registrant’s employer) and the agency’s Training Manager. Every move a user makes in the FBIVA, including all courses requested, started, or completed, is tracked through the login ID, and transcripts are created by this tracking mechanism. Using someone else’s login ID to request enrollment in and take a course means that the other person’s transcript will show the course, not the transcript of the person who actually took the course. Thus, it is imperative that each user of the FBIVA have only one login ID and that they use only that ID.

Technical Difficulties

Occasionally potential users, agency applicants, and registered Virtual Academy users experience technical difficulties. If a problem occurs, contact the Training Coordinator at the FBI Virtual Academy (trainingcoordinator@fbiacademy.edu). Include the following information in the e-mail:

  • Registered user’s full name
  • Agency’s name, city, and state
  • User’s e-mail address (which is not always apparent in the “From” line of the e-mail)
  • User’s telephone number

Recently a few common patterns have appeared in the high volume of requests for assistance. These involve the following situations.

Inability to Access the Agency Application

It is not clear why certain users cannot access the agency application (found on the top tool bar of the login page at https://fbiva.fbiacademy.edu). If this happens, contact the Training Coordinator to request a fax of the application. The returned application will be added to those pending validation.

Inability to Find the Login Page/Site

The Virtual Academy is housed on a secure server, which means that an http address, used for many websites, will not work. Generally, secure servers use https (be sure to include the “s”).

Also as a security measure, javascript used in the Virtual Academy’s server requires that the user’s browser version be Internet Explorer® 5.0 (or higher) or Netscape Communicator® 4.75 (or higher). Lower-version browsers cannot get through this security programming.

Problems with the Automatic E-mails and Attachments

Many of the automatic e-mails sent by the Virtual Academy’s system contain either dynamically added information (such as an individual’s login ID and password) or Microsoft Word® documents as attachments (which may contain minor programming, such as a link to the Virtual Academy’s web site). Browser programming or firewalls on receiving servers may strip either the dynamic e-mail text, the attachments, or both. If this happens, e-mail the Training Coordinator at trainingcoordinator@fbiacademy.edu. The missing information can be faxed.

Login and/or Password Not Allowing Access

Both the login ID and the password are case- and alpha/numeric-sensitive. If the system does not recognize a login ID, before contacting the Training Coordinator, try the following:

  • Type both login ID and password in all uppercase (capitals) or all lowercase.
  • Switch the login ID and password—type what you remember as the password in the login ID field and what you remember as the login ID in the password field.
  • Ensure that numbers are typed as numbers and letters are typed as letters where appropriate (i.e., the number 0 verses the letter O, or the number 1 verses the letter l).

The login page has system links that can help if either the login ID or password has been forgotten, but if both have been forgotten or are incorrect, the Training Coordinator must reset them. Use the “Contact Us” link on the top tool bar of the login page to ask for the Training Coordinator’s assistance.

Other Error Messages

Most other technical problems have occurred because of the migration of the FBIVA functions and data from the initial server to the secure server behind a firewall. Necessary information or functionality may not have transferred as expected. If an error message appears while using the Virtual Academy, contact the Training Coordinator. Problems are addressed as soon as possible.

Currently Available Resources

Though the Training Unit and Training Partners continue to create the infrastructure and develop the courses that support the FBI Virtual Academy and forensic science community, FBIVA is already a valuable tool. Registered users can set up a team in the Teaming Center or search databases of respected publications through the Library.

Teaming Center—An Information Sharing Tool

Registered users can set up a private team room for small groups to correspond, coordinate meetings, hold a threaded discussion, chat, or share presentations, documentations, and appropriate web links.

Teams can be public (viewable by all) or private (viewable by only team members). They consist of members, contributors, and owners, all of whom have varying degrees of functionality within the team room. A team can comprise two people to all users in the FBIVA, and one user in the FBIVA can be a member of many teams.

Team owners and contributors can share information or PowerPoint® presentations with others in their team without giving them the ability to download or edit the material. Team members can share a calendar for meetings and events. They can collaborate with other team members, inform them of an upcoming event or a new web site, share the knowledge of experts on the team, or troubleshoot problems by asking their experts for assistance. Team rooms allow users to share stories, examples, best practices, and lessons learned with only the people they believe should be privy to such information.

The collaborative possibilties of the Teaming Center will continue to improve as its functions are customized and expanded.

Library’s Link to DialogSelectSM

Through the Web Links function in the Library building, FBI Virtual Academy users have access to the DialogSelectSM Open Access information service. This service combines Dialog’s vast database collection and searching capabilities with the accessibility of the Web through a user-friendly interface. The easy-to-use point-and-click interface guides users to over 50,000 of the most objective and respected online publications and resources in the following eight categories:

  • General forensic science (including medical, scientific, technical, social, and behavioral science information)
  • Forensic science journals
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Medicine and pharmaceuticals
  • Computers and engineering (including international research and software directories)
  • Government (including research reports and regulations)
  • International and business news

Users can be assured they are accessing a comprehensive and authoritative collection of documents written by scientists, journalists, analysts, auditors, and industry experts. Both bibliographic and full-text records are available. Searching is free and includes a sample record and links to database descriptions.


At this writing, the FBI Virtual Academy has been open officially for one month, but not without problems. As the developers learn and grow through experience, as the databases are customized for more functionality, as the users understand more of the processes and infrastructure supporting the Virtual Academy, and as technical difficulties are resolved, the resources, capabilities, and benefits of tracking training and sharing resources through this collaboration and learning portal will become increasingly apparent.