Today I am a Forensic Scientist…

This week, I decided to do something a little different.

It started off quite normally.

Last week, for various reasons ranging from curiosity to boredom, I started to conduct research into modern day forensic science methods. Having studied archaeology at university, I was hoping to find a cheap course to do on the subject – figuring that the two subjects would not be all that different.

What I found has completely thrown my week upside down.

I stumbled across a website called FutureLearn – a company owned by The Open University that provides free courses in conjunction with universities around the world on a variety of different subjects. One of these was an introduction to forensic science.

So I figured – why not give it a try? What do I have to lose?

And you know what? It was possibly the best decision I could have made.

The course operates on three levels:

In the first instance, as the title of the course suggests, it provides a brief overview of forensic science and how it is utilised in modern crime scene investigation. Now admittedly I am already fairly knowledgeable when it comes to the basics – you would hope that from a crime writer – but still there were some interesting nuggets of information in the first week of the course that I was not aware of. So – already – the course has improved my knowledge that little bit.

Secondly, the course also makes use of a hypothetical-practical exercise throughout its six-week duration. From the off, you are presented with a crime scene that purports to be a robbery gone wrong and you are given some of the evidence to ponder over. I suppose that you will get more and more evidence each week until you are required to provide your solution to the crime. This element of practically is brilliant because it allows you to enjoy the role of being a crime scene investigator whilst you learn – effectively putting all the skills you are developing into practice as the weeks go by.

But the third level – this is the one that has me most inspired – is by far the best bit of the course. Future Learn courses are designed with discussion in mind and – even though you are working in isolation – each module of the course allows for the participants to discuss their views and ideas at every step of the way.

As a writer, it has been fascinating to see how different people approach the problem. Some take the witness statements at their word and work from there. Some have read so many crime stories that they started work on the premise that a key witness was lying because that is what happens in crime fiction. And others have systematically gone through every scrap of evidence and tried to build the picture – regardless of whether this agrees or disagrees with the witness statements. It is also amazing to see how individuals alter their theories on the crime over the course of as little as a few minutes. Even though you can’t physically see them, you can practically feel their excitement leaping off the screen at you.

Anyway, my point is, if you want to learn a bit about forensic science for free, check out this online course. I’ve been doing it for all of twenty-four hours and – even when it is covering ground that I am already well aware of – I’m having a whale of a time!

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