ASET 2002 conf logo
[ ASET ] [ Proceedings Contents ]

Forensic Fact Files: Development of an online resource for teachers of forensic science?

Paul Francis McGlynn
National Institute of Forensic Science


This paper focuses on the development and trialing of online resources to aid the teaching of forensic science in secondary schools and is part of a Masters of Education research project investigating how teachers can incorporate forensic science into the science curriculum to motivate students' interest in science.

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.



As a secondary school teacher with 13 years experience in teaching science, mathematics and information technology I have taught science classes from Years 7 to 12. In 1999, I taught an elective subject entitled "Science and the Law" which used forensic science to cover various topics in the science curriculum. In delivering the program I found it hard to access up to date and relevant resources that allowed me to effectively link forensic science to curriculum outcomes.

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.

Curriculum framework

At the time of developing these resources I was employed by the Victorian Department of Education, Employment and Training, so the curriculum focus reflects those of the Victorian school system. Education in Victoria is currently conducted within the guidelines of the Victorian Curriculum Standards Framework (CSF). This is very similar in structure and content to the curriculum standards set by other states in Australia having been developed out of the National Curriculum profile developed in the mid 1990s. The CSF describes what students should know and be able to do in eight key learning areas, or KLAs, of which Science is one. The main focus group for this project is science classes in the compulsory years of secondary schooling.

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 Teacher Release to Industry Program

The Teacher Release to Industry Program (TRIP) places selected teachers in industry settings for forty weeks. Whilst placed in industry, teachers remain the employees of the Department of Education, Employment and Training (Victoria). This program appears to be unique in Australia. Details of the program can be found on the AEEC website.

The National Institute of Forensic Science

The National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS) was established as a National Common Police Service under an agreement signed by the Australasian Police Ministers' Council and commenced operations in Melbourne in February 1992. In its inception, the NIFS mission was 'to be an integral part of and a support base for the forensic science community, by working in partnership with all the elements of that community for the advancement of forensic science.' As part of its revised corporate plan in 2001, NIFS is looking to promote the awareness of the forensic sciences in the wider community, through partnerships and education.

Project Methodology

Project steps

In developing the resources the following process was undertaken:
  1. Survey available online resources.
  2. Conduct preliminary survey of schools to see what resources are required.
  3. Select forensic science topics suitable for research in the development of the online resources.
  4. Design online resource. The presentation was designed to allow easy navigation as well as room for expansion when more topics are developed. The design was also required to address a need to delivering information to other audiences.
  5. Research forensic science topics. Factual information and resources were gathered from a variety of sources including the Internet, school text books, contacts in schools where forensic science was being taught, forensic science reference books, journals and contacts from my work placement within the forensic community.
  6. Produce resources (ie information sheets and activities) for "Forensic Fact Files".
  7. Proof draft sheets with teachers and industry experts.
  8. Refine the content and presentation of resources and expanded the resources based upon feedback from teachers and experts.
  9. Trial with teachers.
  10. Gather feedback from teachers.
This methodology reflects the design process suggested in a number of sources including "More than a Game" (1999). As development of the resources formed a part of my Masters' project the appropriate information for developing the resources was extracted from various surveys and interviews forming part of my project.

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.


Communicating with teachers and schools was the major problem encountered in this project both with the preliminary survey and the trials.

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.


Results from preliminary survey

Of the approximately 60 schools who received surveys, twenty-one responses were returned, eleven of which reported they were offering a forensic science unit in their school. The survey asked what resources teachers would find useful in teaching forensic science as a means to help guide the development of the online resources. In general the replies indicated extra resources in any and all of the areas suggested would be useful. The results for the replies were;

  • Background information
18 requests
  • Case studies
  • Worksheets
  • Activities/experiments
  • Reference lists

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

For each topic area a section was developed covering;

There are also reference links on each page and a collection of further resources for teachers. Once developed and proofed by forensic science practitioners, this resource area was presented to the teachers concerned for trialing with their classes.

Feedback from College 1

Sally teaches science at Wheelers Hill Secondary College and has fourteen years experience teaching science. She trialed the resources with her year 12 and two year 9 classes. Her year 9 classes were a standard class and a laptop class. In the latter all students have a laptop computer, which they are required to use for school and for which lessons are modified to make use of this tool. Her year 12 class was in VCE Biology.

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.

Feedback from College 2

Tom has been teaching at Maroondah Secondary College for about 10 years, during which time he has been involved in the initiation and development of a forensic science unit as a means of teaching science to the year 10 students at the college. At year 10 level science is taught as a half-year unit. One term worth of the unit is taught around the theme of forensic science, mainly aimed at covering chemistry with some biology and physics topics.

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).

Analysis of resource trials

The schools in the trial process had predominantly used their own resources and programs in teaching their forensic science unit. Either by using an existing program in one case or taking advantage of a chapter from a new textbook in the other as the core for the unit supplemented by other material. While both schools used the online material as a reference source it did not form the core of their unit. One reason presented for this was lack of reliable access to computers and the Internet. Overall in planning the unit of work, both teachers used a wide range of resource material for an effective curriculum, (Baird, 1993).

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.


While the teachers used the online resource materials and generally found them to be useful, these seemed only to be a catalyst to review or expand teaching practice. Structured materials such as the "Forensic Fact Files" engage students in learning help but at the end of the day, it is the choices that teachers make in content and delivery that will have an impact on whether students engage. Stand alone material does not engage learners - it is the interaction of the teacher and the learner, the strategies that teachers use and a diverse set of content resources that does this.

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.


Affleck, G. & Smith, T. (1999). Identifying a need for web-based course support. In Proceedings ASCILITE '99 Conference, Brisbane. Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education.

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.

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.

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).

Web links

CSF II Overview - CSF - Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Australia [viewed May 2002, verified 19 Aug 2002]

Curriculum Documents - James Cook University Library [viewed May 2002, verified 19 Aug 2002]

Evidence the True Witness - a Thinkquest project [viewed May 2002, verified 19 Aug 2002]

Forensic Science Center - a Thinkquest project [viewed May 2002, verified 19 Aug 2002]

Forensic Science Webpages [viewed May 2002, verified 19 Aug 2002]

National Institute Of Forensic Science [viewed May 2002, verified 19 Aug 2002]

VECCI - The Teacher Release to Industry Program [viewed May 2002, verified 19 Aug 2002]

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 (, 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.

[ ASET ] [ Proceedings Contents ]
This URL:
Created 18 Aug 2002. Last revision: 18 Aug 2002.
© Australian Society for Educational Technology