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The series of resources developed are called the "Forensic Fact Files". The material is available online and is designed to help teachers to deliver a science program that helps to engage the students and meets the curriculum requirements for secondary schools in Victoria. The resources are also set up to be printable from the online material to limit problems with the technology; an issue identified by those teachers trialing the material.
It was not an objective of the project to set delivery methods for the resources or to limit the teacher to using these in the trials. The way the material is used in the classroom will form part of the analysis of its value.
In 2001 I had the opportunity to participate in the Teachers Release to Industry Program, with a work placement to the National Institute of Forensic Science. This presented the opportunity to explore the resources available for teaching forensic science and to gather and develop useful resources for schools.
A summary of the CSF strands and outcomes for Science is given on the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority website. Information on the different curriculum standards across Australia can be found on the James Cook University Library website.
The preliminary survey was a broadcast style with no particular focus in terms of demographics except the incidental one of schools with an interest in forensic science either from a career or a science teaching viewpoint. Where appropriate it requested teachers to list what types of resources they felt they needed to help them teach forensic science.
Initially three schools were chosen to trial the online resources. One was a school with a long established forensic science program at year 10 level. Another was a school in the process of developing a series of forensic science programs at year 8 level and year 10 level, and the third was a school with no history of teaching forensic science. It was felt that this would give a broad perspective on how the online resources would be viewed by students and teachers with different experiences.
Given that the preliminary survey was sent out as part of school inquiries into an event on forensic science careers, there was a certain amount of speculation upon the level of response that I would receive. In total approximately 60 surveys were distributed. While some returns were prompt, most were slow in being returned or not returned at all with only a 30% return rate achieved. This was despite a number of reminders by mail, fax and email. Interestingly, the email reminders were the most effective.
Similarly, due to various issues, only two of the three trial schools were able to supply feed back on their use of the online resources. This has limited the analysis of findings.
Due to the timelines involved and to ease pressure upon both the teachers and myself, much of the early communication was conducted by email or phone. While in some cases this was effective, in the long term direct contact was required to get the trials off the ground. My experience was that teachers tended to be overcommitted and while indirect communication such as email and phone messages meant replies could come as time allowed it also meant replies were often long delayed or forgotten. In retrospect the ideal approach for each of the selected schools would have been to visit each early in the process, before the trials, during the trials and also after the trials.
Under the "Other" types of material were listed, videos (3 requests), Internet links and guest speakers. One reply also indicated that any information need to be linked back the CSF. These results reflected my own experience with the perceived needed for resources when I was teaching forensic science. A number of schools indicated they already had resources for teaching forensic science with eight schools indicating they felt they had resources they would be willing to share. Only one school did not indicate a need for any resources however they were not running a forensic science program.
The survey of online resources suggested that a large amount of material is available but not in a form that is easily accessible or useable for classroom teachers. Material tended to be too broad or too specific. Some good educational material did exist for specific topics and for these links were included in the resources. Some of these sources are listed in the reference list. What I was hoping to develop was an overall curriculum source for a thematic classroom approach to forensic science. A design requirement was also set by NIFS that the resources should be able to be used as an information source by a broader community including the legal profession and police.
Based on these requirements, using various design guidelines (Department of Education, Victoria 1999) and my own experience the online resources, "Forensic Fact Files", were developed for the five chosen areas of fingerprints, DNA profiling, hair and fibres, anthropology (skeletons) and odontology (dentistry). These can be found at http://www.nifs.com.au/FactFiles/fact_files.html
For each topic area a section was developed covering;
The unit for her year 9 classes was planned to be a stand alone unit within the science area lasting 3 to 4 weeks based on practical activities and case studies. The online resources, "Forensic Fact Files", were used as reference material with the main source of information being a Year 9 class text and some reference texts in the school.
Sally used the online resources with her year 12 VCE Biology class as a starting reference for their research into the application of DNA technology. This formed one of their assessed tasks and required the students to produce a report or short presentation covering techniques, applications and ethical issues. As such the students found the online resource to be useful in giving background information on one use of DNA technology, DNA profiling, and to suggest links to other reference sources on the Internet.
For the online resources no technical problems were noted, with the students finding the online material easy to follow and navigate through. The language did seem appropriate to the year level but the depth/length of information presented seemed too wordy for year 9 students. Sally noted her better students and strong readers in the year 9 classes found the online resources accessible, but ESL student and poorer readers needed help. She felt that the pages needed more visual information and/or interactivity with links to expanded information to keep the students involved. The detail and depth of information presented on each page was seen as acceptable for year 12 students.
Sally viewed the online resources as a good supplement to the class and reference texts she had available.
The forensic science unit is taught as a stand alone unit within the science area. It is based on a video series called "Indelible Evidence" originally screened by Quantum on the ABC. Class work is based on responses to the videos, practical work and assignments. In addition the college has a collection of resources gathered by staff over time and a number of reference texts. It was planned to use the online resources, "Forensic Fact Files", as the basis of research work and an introduction to DNA as well as reinforcement for concepts presented in the videos. The concepts to be covered were addressed through investigation and application of techniques including DNA, fibres, fingerprints, ballistics, chromatography and casts. The DNA topic was the one he used which specifically looked at the online resources.
In terms of the online resources, he felt that the resources presented were useful to himself and his class. His observations of the students using the material were that the language was appropriate and navigation was easy. He suspected that the text might have been a bit wordy for most year 10 students. Again the suggestion was made that some animation, video clips or other visual representations might have improved the presentation. Overall the issues identified are not dissimilar to those in others reviews of online resources (Affleck & Smith, 1999; Franklin & Peat, 2001).
In terms of the online resources, "Forensic Fact Files", the overall analysis of their value was positive, even though both teachers used them mainly as a supplement to existing material. They were seen as a worthwhile resource and with some refinement would be useful both as a teaching reference and a classroom tool. The resources were seen as easy to navigate through and the language level appropriate for the year levels that had accessed it. To improve their suitability for the junior and middle years of secondary schooling, consideration needed to be given to making the pages less wordy and to add visual impact. This may be possible through the use of pictures or animations to replace text or the use of expanded information links.
My interpretation of this feedback would suggest that the resources as they exist are more useful as a reference source rather than for direct classroom use. Whether this is as a reference for teachers or as a research tool for students would depend upon the structure of the program within which they are used. It was noted that the student engagement with the online resources was high in line with other studies such as Churach & Fisher (1999).
The survey of schools suggested a need for information on the hows and whys of forensic science. NIFS also required that the resources be suitable for a range of audiences beyond the secondary schools. From this a decision was made that a degree of technical information needed to be included in the "what" and "how" sheets, and resources became wordy. It would appear from the feed back from schools, and experience would support this, that there is a limit to the information that can or will be read at first viewing by students from an Internet page. (Franklin & Peat, 2001; Churach & Fisher, 1999) Suitable pictures or animations will grab and hold their attention for longer. The current focus and style of the online resources seem to be at the edge of what will grab and hold students' attention.
In the long term whether the focus of the fact files changes or not will need to be considered. It may be that some redesign of the text structure and inclusion of images will maintain the value of the content, while making the pages more learner friendly.
In their current form the online resources, "Forensic Fact Files" are a useful reference source for teachers and students in the area of forensic science and could be classified as an "Information resource tool" (Department of Education, Victoria, 1999). To be a more effective classroom tool some redesign of the layout and presentation may be required. They do not represent, nor should they be seen to represent, a stand alone solution for engaging students. They have the potential to be one of a set of tools used by teachers in presenting a successful science curriculum based around the theme of forensic science.
In terms of the general value of tools of this sort it is important that teachers do not take for granted that a tool or a label would solve all their problems in a classroom. The teachers I have been involved with in researching this project have shown an enthusiasm for the subject which has obviously infected their classroom and the learning of their students. Enthusiastic teachers breed enthusiastic learners.
Baird, J. R. (Ed) (1993). Exploring Quality in Science Learning. Monash University Faculty of Education, Australia.
Churach, D. and Fisher, D. (1999). Science kids surf the Net: Effects on classroom environment. Proceedings Western Australian Institute for Educational Research Forum 1999. http://education.curtin.edu.au/waier/forums/1999/churach.html
Department of Education, Victoria (1999). More than a Game: Exploring Educational Multimedia for Educators and Designers. Melbourne: Department of Education & Multimedia Victoria.
Franklin, S. and Peat, M. (2001). Managing change: The use of mixed delivery modes to increase learning opportunities. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 17(1), 37-49. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet17/franklin.html
Kemmis, S. & McTaggart, R. (Eds) (1988). The Action Research Planner. Deakin University Press, Australia.
McGlynn, P. (2001). Forensic Science as a Teaching Tool. Research Report, Monash University Faculty of Education, Australia.(unpublished).
Curriculum Documents - James Cook University Library [viewed May 2002, verified 19 Aug 2002] http://www.library.jcu.edu.au/Educ/currdocs.html
Evidence the True Witness - a Thinkquest project [viewed May 2002, verified 19 Aug 2002] http://library.thinkquest.org/17049/gather/
Forensic Science Center - a Thinkquest project [viewed May 2002, verified 19 Aug 2002] http://library.thinkquest.org/17133/forindex.html
Forensic Science Webpages [viewed May 2002, verified 19 Aug 2002] http://home.earthlink.net/~thekeither/Forensic/forsone.htm
National Institute Of Forensic Science [viewed May 2002, verified 19 Aug 2002] http://www.nifs.com.au/
VECCI - The Teacher Release to Industry Program [viewed May 2002, verified 19 Aug 2002] http://www.aeec.org.au/trip_wha.htm
|Author: Paul McGlynn is currently working as a Project Officer with the National Institute of Forensic Science while on leave from the teaching profession. He has over 13 years of experience as a mathematics and science teacher in secondary schools and has evolved into an IT teacher. For lack of better-qualified individuals he took on the role of Coordinator of Learning Technologies and reluctant web guru for 4 years in his last school. In a previous life he was a Mechanical Design Engineer at the Government Aircraft Factories in Melbourne Australia. Paul can be contacted by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), phone (+61 3 9459 4299) or post (Suite 1, R & D Park Centre, 2 Research Avenue, Bundoora, Vic 3083) if you wish to discuss his project.
Please cite as: McGlynn, P. F. (2002). Forensic Fact Files: Development of an online resource for teachers of forensic science? In S. McNamara and E. Stacey (Eds), Untangling the Web: Establishing Learning Links. Proceedings ASET Conference 2002. Melbourne, 7-10 July. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/2002/mcglynn2.html