Forensic science is the application of scientific principles to the legal process and the importance of such evidence in crime investigation has been known for centuries. While training in this field was and still is, primarily acquired on the job, the role of academia in providing education in forensic science began to be realized in the early 20th Century. In the 1970’s there were still only a limited number of quality academic forensic science programs worldwide, but these began to increase in number as the discipline became more reliant on the basic sciences and gained acceptance as a bona fide university degree. More recently, thanks in part to the popularity of TV shows such as CSI and the Forensic Files, there has been a significant increase in students wishing to study this field. Forensic science courses are now being offered in grade school and there has been a proliferation of undergraduate and graduate programs offered at higher education institutions in the United States and overseas. Forensic science covers a wide range of technical disciplines including many techniques in molecular biology and analytical chemistry. It is also associated with a very visual, “hands-on” laboratory component. This requirement for laboratory-based training has limited the development of online forensic education. However by primarily targeting students who already have the necessary laboratory skills, and incorporating case studies, animations and visual images, we have developed a successful model for graduate level education in this field.
Distance education is a rapidly growing area of academia with almost all institutions of higher education now offering some form of distance education in the United States (Saba, 2005). When structured correctly, distance education can allow the delivery of quality educational materials to students anywhere in the world 24-hours a day, seven days a week, providing students with an educational experience that equals or even surpasses that of a classroom taught curriculum. Through the development of internet taught courses and e-learning technologies, working professionals now have the opportunity to improve their qualifications without having to leave their jobs, relocate, and disrupt their family life. There is also a benefit to the employer to have employees improve their academic standing, without the loss of trained personnel (Tebbett et al., 2007). Distance education also provides academic course access to those living in remote areas, including military personnel — one of the largest users in the world (Ellsworth and Lorizzo, 2001) — at home, stationed overseas, and on active duty as well as single parents who might be unable to attend a traditional classroom-based program.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Forensic Toxicology: The study of drugs and toxins in the legal process. Primarily associated with the examination of biological specimens for drugs.
E-Materials: The student resources available in electronic format such as e-journals, databases and e-books.
VISTA: The e-learning platform used in the UF online programs.
Distance Education: A field of education that focuses on the methods and pedagogy of teaching students who are not physically on site. Interaction between faculty and students in this particular program is through email, bulletin board and chat.
E-Learning: Computer enhanced learning. The forensic programs are delivered as text based modules, illustrated with digital images and animations and including case studies. This utilizes a learning management system blackboard Vista.
Forensic Drug Chemistry: The study of drugs of abuse such as cocaine, opiates and amphetamines; their synthesis, pharmacology and analysis.
Forensic Science: Science as it pertains to the law or the legal process.
Forensic DNA and Serology: Examination of biological fluids with particular reference to DNA typing, in the investigation of violent crimes.
Web-Based Learning: A form of education where the resources and student faculty and student-student interactions take place on the world wide web.
E-Learning Platform: The underlying software or hardware used to facilitate e-learning.