Forensic Science Team Recognised in Prestigious Awards

Kate Unwin
Kate Unwin, Course Lead of Forensic and Applied Biology

It was awarded second place at the HE Innovate Awards in the most innovative hybrid / blended learning project category. The Awards recognise and reward academics and higher education professionals who have developed innovative ways to teach and support their students.

Kate Unwin, the Project Lead, and Course Lead for Forensic and Applied Biology at the University of Worcester, said: “When we found out we were shortlisted for this prestigious award, which is open to all universities across the UK, we were over the moon at the recognition of our hard work.  When we came second we were thrilled that the award judges could also see the merit in what we have produced, inspiring us to continue with this work to support and motivate our students.”

The team had been making plans for an immersive and interactive crime scene simulation package for its students. But, with the onset of Covid-19 last March, these actions were accelerated so they could be used with their current cohort, allowing those students who were studying online due to the lockdown to work remotely on crime scene tasks.

The tasks mock up a particular incident that crime scene investigators might be called out to, such as a hit and run, a burglary or murder. The simulation package presented students with a range of images of the ‘scene’ from different angles, and some 360-degree images. Users are given initial information, for example, what has occurred, their role and the requirement for them at the scene. Students then have to look around the scene working out what areas are of importance. There are a number of “hot spots” which can include additional documentation, photographs, panoramic visuals, question prompts, additional information. Then participants put their knowledge and techniques into action, working through a series of questions, prompts and requirements to identify and analyse the evidence and draw conclusions.

Ms Unwin said: “The initiative allows students to have a fully supported interactive virtual experience that they can engage with to further practice and hone their skills, either as individuals or as pairs and groups. It has given the students additional support and practice in their taught modules, but also gives them expansion areas to pursue and interact with, which can inspire students to explore topics raised in more depth. The ability to interact with this resource at any time was well received with the cohort, many of whom have other commitments to work around.”

Third year student in Forensic and Applied Biology, Laura Hallett, said: “The virtual crime scene is very beneficial as you can really visualise yourself walking around the scene and analysing the evidence. As a student during the pandemic, the practical element of our course became very challenging due to social distancing and online lectures. However, the virtual crime scene allows students to engage and take part in different crime scene investigation scenarios, such as a hit and run or burglary.”

Lecturers are now in the process of developing some more in-depth examples that are more complex and less leading with regards to the information supplied.

This technology has also proved useful when doing STEM work with schools during the restrictions of Covid-19. Staff are regularly asked to set up outreach events in schools, colleges and the local community to inspire individuals to engage in science.  “The virtual crime scenes allowed us to work with such groups so they could look at materials remotely and we could go through it with them,” said Ms Unwin. “The feedback from our outreach partners and our students has been overwhelming positive and we have now generated a library of such virtual crime scenes.”