Monday 24 March 2014

Course Review: Introduction to Forensic Science

Today I have author Jo Jenner as a guest to tell us about her experiences with the Introduction to Forensic Science course, offered by the University of Strathclyde via FutureLearn. FutureLearn is a part of the Open University, and offers free online courses, delivered by various universities, in many different subjects. Jo Jenner is an author who regularly blogs at or you can catch up with her on twitter @jojenner40 or on facebook!/jojennerauthor
Here's Jo...
Sitting at my desk drumming my fingers looking for inspiration, or procrastinating, as I believe the professionals call it, I stumbled across Future Learn and their plethora of on line courses or MOOCs. A MOOC is a massive open online course and is aimed at unlimited participants from anywhere in the world.
What better way to avoid writing my crime novel than spending six weeks following an introduction to forensic science. The main selling point was that the course could be completed with as little as three hours study per week. I completed the course with slightly less than that. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Did I get the most out of it? No.
The course was a mixture of videos, audio commentaries and links to articles that could be read to enhance and expand the course. Each week followed a specific topic with the first and last weeks being more of an overview. The course also had a case study which was based upon a real case. This showed how the evidence was gathered and then used to reach a conclusion as to who had committed the murder of a young woman in Scotland.
There was a week looking at fingerprints, or fingermarks as they are sometimes called, a week looking a DNA, one looking at drugs and their abuse and one looking at firearms. At the end of each week there was a pop quiz which was actually quite taxing and did mean that you had to have paid attention to the information you had been given.
I took this course from the point of view that I am writing a crime novel and I am an avid CSI fan. The overview it gave me was great and meant I now know where I am going wrong when I write something but not necessarily why. The extra reading helped to make the course accessible to people of different levels of competence. The chat rooms were very busy and it did give you a chance to understand the different laws within other countries.
I had two niggles. Firstly, two or three times there were live chats which I couldn’t attend because they were in the middle of the working day and this meant I missed out on that part of the learning experience. The second was I would have liked a little certificate to say I had sat this course, and I can get one. But first I must sit an exam and this will cost me £119. There are sixty one test centres in the UK and there is actually one within ten miles of where I live, but I am guessing I am one of the lucky ones. The other thing is I can’t see what value this certificate has. It doesn’t appear to carry any academic weight but on the basis I don’t need it, I haven’t bothered finding out it’s worth.
So, on the whole, a great little course with educated me in the facts behind the TV shows. I have already signed up for the next forensics course. Weirdly though the next course is run by Leicester University and the first was run by the University of Strathclyde. Hopefully they will not be going over old ground but I doubt they will have had time to adjust their course based upon feedback received from the introduction course.
Future Learn is a great way to access free online education but at the moment the courses seem to vary vastly in their content and enjoyability. Hopefully the great courses will quickly squeeze out the not so good and as it’s free why not pick a course that sounds fun and give it a go.
Jo Jenner regularly blogs at or catch up with her on twitter @jojenner40 or on facebook!/jojennerauthor
The FutureLearn course 'Introduction to Forensic Science' was delivered by the University of Strathclyde from 6th Jan to 16th Feb 2014, and and the lead lecturer was Professor Jim Fraser who is Director of the Centre of Forensic Science.


  1. I took this course too and loved it, especially the case study. As an espionage writer, it was relevant and gave me great insights into the liberties taken by the likes of CSI. I researched the topics of most interest beyond the course boundaries and that will feed into my writing.

    MOOCs do not carry points like university modules and some other CPD courses, but that doesn’t bother me.

    I’m now studying one on Theory of Mind and cognitive poetics – excellent so far.

    Jeff Cook

    1. Glad to hear you're enjoying cognitive poetics, Jeff, and that you got a lot out of the forensics course. With the forensics, I always think it's great to learn more and beef up the accuracy of our writing, so experts don't roll their eyes when they read. (which I'm sure they don't do when they read your books).

      I tend to think the 'points' awarded for the more formal university courses are only useful if you want it to contribute to a qualification, or as you say, to CPD. I always love to continue learning, so I'm not worried about the points.

  2. Looking forward to starting the next one on 31st March.

    1. Yes, hopefully the more advanced one will use this one as a foundation and build on it. Good luck with the course.

  3. Hmm... This does sound intriguing... Will go check it out. :-)