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The Pennsylvania State University

University Park

Forensic Science Program

FRNSC 100: Introduction to Forensic Science

Instructors: Wayne Moorehead 
  • Director
  • Senior Instructor/Senior Research Assistant

Jennifer Rush

*with Jenifer Smith, PhD - Director of Washington DC Crime Laboratory
Instructor-led Round Table Discussions:

Link to Roundtable Discussions

Throughout the semester there may be Instructor-led Round table discussions.  The dates and times will be announced.   Attendance is not mandatory.  These sessions are a great opportunity to ask questions and discuss current events that impact forensic science.

 

Required Textbooks:

None

Course Prerequisites:

None

Course URL: https://online.science.psu.edu/frnsc100_activewd/node/4066
Technical Requirements:

This course is delivered entirely online:

Required Hardware

  • Computer (laptop or desktop) with internet connectivity capable of maintaining a connection that can accommodate streaming audio and video (dial-up not recommended)
  • USB Headset (headphones with attached microphone) Spring and Fall only- Summer semester DOES NOT require a USB headset
Required Software

Course Description

Forensic science is the study and application of science to the processes of law and involves the collection, examination, evaluation and interpretation of evidence.  This course introduces the field of forensic science through an exploration of its applications to criminal investigation.  This field encompasses many scientific areas which, if used properly, can make invaluable contributions to the resolution of social and legal disputes.  The course will review the basic applications of selected forensic science disciplines and will explore the underlying scientific principals and methods used within each.  Using examples taken from adjudicated cases, the capabilities and limitations of the forensic sciences will be illustrated. No background in natural sciences is presumed.

After completing the course, students should be able to demonstrate the following competencies:

  1. Illustrate critical thinking that includes collecting facts and making decisions based on them, solving problems, and using methods of critical and scientific inquiry.
  2. Demonstrate quantitative literacy: the ability to solve numerical problems and perform numerical manipulations, the ability to interpret tabulated, graphical, and/or statistical data.
  3. Identify applications of the scientific method when looking at crime scene data.
  4. Recall historical developments and landmarks of forensic science.
  5. Describe the proper procedures for conducting a systematic search of crime scenes for physical evidence.
  6. Explain the significance of physical evidence to a criminal investigation.
  7. Define physical and chemical properties of matter and explain how these properties are used to identify crime scene evidence, such as glass, soil, hair, fibers, paint, abused drugs, blood, DNA, etc. 
  8. State examples of organic and inorganic analyses and cite their importance in identifying substances. 
  9. Describe the procedures for identifying evidence of arson. 
  10. List the techniques used to gather impression evidence. 
  11. Illustrate the uses of technology, including computer technology, in crime scene investigations.
  12. Summarize the effects of social, political, and economic pressures on forensic science and the importance of scientific values and ethics.
  13. Relate forensic science principles and technological advances to real-world applications.
  14. List characteristics of handwriting and document analysis. 
  15. Identify the properties of fingerprints and the methods used to analyze, visualize, and preserve them. 
  16. Describe crime scene procedures and technologies used to reveal crime scene evidence. 
  17. Summarize how the legal field influences forensic science.

Course Structure

The Debate Assignment (Spring and Fall Semesters Only... See Below for Summer Instructions)

The Debate Assignment is an opportunity for you to work as a team with fellow classmates to discuss a relevant issue in forensic science. The subject of your debate and your team's position on it will be assigned after teams have been organized. You will receive an email from your instructor with further details after you have been assigned to a team. This is a team assignment and in order for you to earn points you must demonstrate team participation by attending team meetings using the Adobe Connect room assigned specifically for your team's use, participating in team discussion boards, utilizing the team email system in ANGEL, contributing to the team Google Doc, and participating in the team debate (date and time to be announced).  Individuals will not be allowed to participate in the live debate and/or team essay if there is no evidence of contribution or participation prior to the due dates for the outlines required for those assignments. 

This assignment is worth up to 100 points toward your course total of 300 points:

  • Team Debate Outline and Team Debate- 40 points
  • Team Essay Outline and Team Essay- 40 points
  • Individual Position Paper- 20 points

You will be assigned to a team at the beginning of the second week of the semester based on your answers to the Initial Course Survey.  Each team will be assigned a specific forensic issue that will be the topic of an online debate.  Debates will be moderated by the course instructor and will include your team and another team.

The live debates will be performed in an Adobe Connect room and will be recorded. Every participant must use a USB headset. Failure to use a USB headset will result in being asked to leave the live debate and a zero will be entered into the grade book. After all of the live debates have been completed, a link to a recorded debate (not your own) will be in your team folder. You will listen to the debate of two other teams and then write an individual “position paper” indicating which team you thought “won” the debate and why.  You will be required to support your opinion with facts and details from the debate that you listened to.

Team Debate and Team Essay Outlines (2)

Each team will initially prepare two outlines. These outlines should follow the standard outline format. (For assistance in how to prepare an outline refer to the Purdue Online Writing Lab.) 

The team paper outline will be used to organize the Team EssayIt should follow the same structure of the team debate outline and it should include the names of the individuals that have contributed to the team essay. Within the outline the team will include introduction and closing portions.  Also within the body of the paper will be all of the ideas/points/cases that support your team’s side of the argument. Team members will take on “roles” for the construction of the paper and each team member must make a distinctive and unique argument in support of their team’s position on the assigned subject. Those team members that write the introduction and closing are still responsible for presenting a distinctive and unique point in support of the team’s position on the assigned topic. The roles that each person on the team assume must be indicated in the outline. An example of a team essay outline is provided in the debate project folder on ANGEL.

The team debate outline will be used to organize the Team DebateIt should follow the same structure of the team essay outline and it should include the names of the individuals who will speak during the debate. The outline must have an introduction, body and closing. Team members will take on “roles” for the performance of the debate. The names of the team members and their points must be in the outline. The teams members that are doing the introduction and closing (in addition to their distinctive and unique point) must also be indicated on the outline. The body of the outline should contain all of the members of the team. Each person will speak for 2-3 minutes on their distinctive and unique point that supports the team’s position on the topic. This debate outline will be used during the debate to ensure that the debate flows appropriately.  An example of a debate outline is provided in the debate project folder on ANGEL.

Failure to submit one or both outlines will result in a 50% deduction from the team grade for the team essay. The eligibility of the team to submit late outlines and to participate in the live debate will be reviewed by the course instructional team. Any team member that does not contribute to the creation of the live debate outline (their name is not included on the outline that is submitted to the drop box) will not be eligible to participate in the live debate and a zero will be entered in the grade book. Any team member that does not contribute to the creation of the team essay outline (their name is not included on the outline that is submitted to the drop box) will only be eligible to participate in the team essay if the participating team members allow them to. The participating team members will vote.

The Team Essay (40 points)

The team essay will cover all of the information that you believe supports your side of the debate issue.  Your team essay will be worth up to 40 points and must be no less than 2000, but no more than 3000 words in length.  The team essay does not need a cover page, an abstract or page numbers, but it will require a bibliography so as to adhere to the Academic Integrity standards of the University.  If your team does not have evidence of your participation in the development, planning, writing/editing of the paper, you will not receive points for this assignment. A portion of your grade may be determined by feedback given to the instructional staff from your team members.

Debates (40 points)

Debates will be held live via Adobe Connect.  You must have a working USB headset to participate in the online debate.  Your active participation in the creation and preparation of the team debate outline is mandatory.  All members of the team will be expected to participate in the debate. Each member of the team will speak for 2-3 minutes using facts and information gathered to support their selected and assigned point of view on the topic.  If you are also doing the opening, closing or rebuttal, you are still required to speak for approximately 2 minutes on a “point”.  The team must decide upon and approve individuals' suggested “points” to ensure that points to not overlap and do, in fact, support the team’s position on the assigned topic. Duplicated or overlapping points will result in deductions. Because this is a team project, you must participate from the beginning of the process with your teammates. This is a team assignment and in order for you to earn points you must demonstrate team participation by attending team meetings using the Adobe Connect room assigned specifically for your team's use, participating in team discussion boards, utilizing the team email system in ANGEL, contributing to the team Google Doc, and participating in the team debate (date and time to be announced). It is up to each individual student to actively participate with their teammates.   Individuals will not be allowed to participate in the live debate if there is no evidence of your contribution or participation prior to the debate.  If you do not attend the debate, you will receive 0 (zero) points for this portion of the assignment. 

HINT: Each person on a team must present a unique argument that supports the team's position on the assigned topic. Deciding upon your individual argument and posting it to the team discussion board as soon as possible is the best way to ensure that you get to use the argument you want. Waiting until most of the team has chosen a unique point may make it difficult to find an argument that does not overlap or reiterate another team member's.

Individual Essay (20 points)

In addition to your team essay and team debate, you will be required to listen to and review the debate of another set of teams. The live debates will be recorded. After all of the debates are complete, a link to the Adobe Connect debate recording will be added to your team folder on ANGEL.  The other teams will be debating a different topic than your team so you will need to listen carefully to their entire debate.  After listening to the other debate, you will be required to write an essay discussing your observations/thoughts of their debate.  You will have to decide which of the team “won” the debate and explain your opinion. You will do this by submitting an individual essay assignment.  This individual essay will be worth 20 points and must be no less than 250 words and no greater than 500 words in length.

Your written submissions for the Debate Project will be through ANGEL drop boxes. As this is a college course, please write accordingly. You will be penalized for excessive misspellings, grammatical mistakes and punctuation errors.  Additionally, you will be expected to support your thoughts, ideas, and opinions with facts. If you use someone else's thoughts or information to support your point, you must cite that person and his/her work. 

“Academic integrity includes a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation or deception. Such acts of dishonesty violate the fundamental ethical principles of the University community and compromise the worth of work completed by others.”

 

The Debate Assignment Analysis (Summer Only)

Due to the condensed nature of the summer session, the Debate Project has been modified to fit the schedule. Instead of working as a team to create and perform a live debate and subsequent team paper, each student will perform an in-depth analysis of two different forensic-based topics and prepare written "before and after" assignments. Students will be assigned topics, research their topics thoroughly and prepare opinion papers supported by facts and information from their research discussing their position on the assigned topics. Afterward, students will listen to the recorded debate of two teams from a previous semester, re-evaluate their position on the topics and prepare opinion papers supported by facts from their previous research, subsequent research and the new facts and information they have gleaned from the recorded debates.

Your written submissions for the Debate Project will be through ANGEL. As this is a college course, please write accordingly.  All assignments must be submitted to the correct drop box in either .doc, .docx, or .pdf format for grading. You will be penalized for excessive misspellings, grammatical mistakes and punctuation errors.  Additionally, you will be expected to support your thoughts, ideas, and opinions with facts. If you use someone else's thoughts or information to support your point, you must cite that person and his/her work.

This assignment is worth up to 100 points toward your course total of 300 points:

  • Position Paper 1/Debate Topic 1—25 points
  • Position Paper 2/Debate Topic 2—25 points
  • Position Paper 3/Debate Topic 1—25 points
  • Position Paper 4/Debate Topic 2- 25 points

Papers #3 and #4 will be written after listening to the recorded debates. More information on this assignment is available on ANGEL.

 

Lectures/Instructor-led Round Table Discussions

Your instructor has provided a presentation including Course Content Notes (PowerPoint slides) and Lectures (video recordings) which can be accessed at your convenience through this Course Content Websites (CCW) and on ANGEL. Notes and Lectures can be found under the Topics menu to the left on this page and in the Study Guides and Notes folder under the Lessons tab on ANGEL. Please review the Course Success link under the Orientation link here on the main page. Synchronous Instructor-led Round Table Discussions with the course instructor may be held on throughout the semester.  Dates for the sessions will be posted on ANGEL.  This will be your opportunity to ask questions about course content, course logistics, and the field of forensic science.

Quizzes and Exams

There are five (5) Quizzes and two (2) Exams in this course.  Quizzes #1-4 will be open prior to the Midterm Exam.  Quiz #5 will open after the Midterm Exam and will close prior to the Final Exam.  The opening and closing dates will be indicated on the Assignment Schedule, the ANGEL Calendar, and on the Google Calendar. Quizzes and Exams close at 11:00 pm EST on the due dates. Once an assessment closes, it will not be re-opened so, please pay close attention to the Assignment Schedule. You can access the Quizzes and Exams on ANGEL  Lessons ⇒  Quizzes and Exams. If you miss a Quiz or an Exam, you will receive a zero.  There are no make up Quizzes or Exams in this course.  Be prepared to take the entire Quiz or Exam when you begin. You will have only one chance to take the Quiz or Exam. Quizzes and Exams cannot be paused or saved. You may use the Notes (PowerPoint slides) for reference if you wish. There will be a time limit so dependency on the slides for answers is not advised. The time limit for each Quiz or Exam will be indicated in the directions.

Remember, the ANGEL CMS has regularly scheduled maintenance times during which it is unavailable. You may follow this link for more information: http://kb.its.psu.edu/cms/article/273 Starting a quiz or exam just prior to ANGEL maintenance may result in a loss of your quiz or exam answers; a make up will not be given.

*ANGEL maintenance window changes begin August 13*

Beginning on August 13, the regularly scheduled Saturday ANGEL maintenance window will be reduced from two hours to one and take place from 5 a.m. - 6 a.m. (ET).
 
In addition, the scheduled ANGEL maintenance window from 4 a.m. - 6 a.m. on Wednesdays will no longer occur beginning the week of August 21. Additional maintenance will be scheduled as needed from 5 a.m. - 7 a.m. (ET) between Monday and Friday.

For more information, please contact LMS Support at lmssupport@psu.edu.

O. J. Simpson Extra Credit

In the summer of 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were found murdered outside of Ms. Brown Simpson’s home. Her ex-husband, O.J. Simpson, was accused of her and Mr. Goldman’s murders and the ensuing criminal trial made forensic history. For this course, we offer you the opportunity to earn up to 15 extra credit points by watching the videos clips that have been reviewed and compiled specifically with the forensic “players” of the O. J. Simpson trial in mind, and then take a short quiz. There are several hours of videos to watch so, if you plan on attempting the extra credit quiz, please plan accordingly. You will have access to the videos throughout the course. The quiz will be offered at the same time as the Final examination.