Co-authored by A/Prof Scott Chadwick, Dr Marie Morelato, Dr Sebastian Moret, Prof Claude Roux and A/Prof Xanthe Spindler.

UTS colleagues in the Centre for Forensic Science were recently recognised by the Australian Awards for University Teaching, which showcase excellence in university learning and teaching. The team, which includes A/Prof Scott ChadwickDr Marie MorelatoDr Sebastian Moret, Prof Claude Roux and A/Prof Xanthe Spindler, won a citation for future-proofing our forensic science professionals

The team’s approach focussed on moving away from embedding forensic science in another discipline such as chemistry or biology, and instead making forensic science the core throughout the course. Read on to hear more about the process and its impact for students.

What has the team been recognised for with this award?

Forensic Science has increased in popularity since the early 2000’s with television shows like CSI, NCIS and continued to grow more recently with a boom in true-crime documentaries and podcasts. While the exposure and awareness of forensic science through media can help students, educating students with already pre-conceived ideas presents a unique challenge for the Forensic Science team. In 2016, the team underwent a comprehensive review of the Bachelor of Forensic Science and took a back to basics approach with the curriculum design. 

Fundamentally, Forensic Science is the study of traces; traces in this context are remnants of past activities, where an item of interest (anything from a blood stain, a fibre, mobile data) can provide information to forensic scientists to assist in the investigation of criminal activity or an event under scrutiny. Traditional education programs have focussed on providing students with the knowledge of tools and technology through the lens of anther scientific discipline such as chemistry or biology. This approach limits the students’ opportunities to develop complex interpretation, critical thinking, enterprise and evaluative skills required to adapt to the changing forensic science landscape.

What was innovative about this approach?

I like how the course features a diverse range of topics such as chemistry, biology, law and photography and does not just focus on one particular discipline. I feel this gives students a good “taste” of what they might want to focus on in their future career/studies. 

Student survey comment

Much like the traces that forensic scientists investigate, where past events are responsible for their generation, our students are influenced by their past exposure to Forensic Science through the media. Acknowledging this, we designed our course to scaffold students through a three phase progression of their professional identity as a forensic scientist.

Starting as forensic observers, the subjects have been designed to build awareness and foundational skills. Subsequent years allow for students to specialise in a major (chemistry, biology, crime scene investigation and digital forensic science). This phase allows students to develop technical competencies through specifically  designed practicals using facilities such as the crime scene simulation suites. The final year focusses on the development of forensic citizenship where students have the opportunity to work in multidisciplinary teams to solve complex problems related to investigation, intelligence and research.

What impact have these innovations had for students?

The degree has enabled me to work with individuals from diverse backgrounds and degrees to formulate ideas I wouldn’t have previously thought of. The degree promotes interdependent learning styles and places a strong emphasis on teamwork and collaboration, skills which will be intrinsic to future roles 

Student survey feedback

Forensic Science students’ learning experiences are designed to directly reflect professional practice and real-life situations. Case study approaches such as crime scene simulations, analysis of forensic traces and presentation of findings in a moot court or intelligence report can develop work-ready skills and prepare students for success in their careers.

Students are also exposed to cutting edge research and technologies throughout their program, where all academics in the course are members of the Centre for Forensic Science (the first and largest Forensic Science Research Centre in Australia). This connection gives them opportunities to work on research projects during their studies (in the subject Forensic Research Project), access to industry professionals and to learn from research leaders in the field.

A focus on realistic operational and future-focussed research experiences throughout their studies fosters an environment in which students work together as forensic scientists on forensic problems to develop a sense of professional identity and ‘forensic citizenship’ across the continuum of their learning, ultimately engaging them in a global community of forensic scientists. 

Photo of the team from the Vice-Chancellor's learning and teaching awards ceremony
L-R Distinguished Professor Claude Roux, Dr Marie Morelato, Professor James Wallman Dean of Science, A/Prof Xanthe Spindler, A/Prof Scott Chadwick.

Read more about the 2023 Australian Awards for University Teaching citation recipients and all the learning and teaching award-winners at the Vice-Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Awards Ceremony.

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