P2-05: Student Designed Data-Oriented Class Projects for a Forensic Science Course

By Elizabeth J. Malloy, Richard Bennett, and James E. Girard (American University)


Three cohorts, with an average of 40 students each, in an inquiry-based honors program at American University participated in a four credit course on forensic science and the United States justice system. Developed to be offered only three times as part of the honors program, the course covered topics on basic forensic techniques for questioned document analysis, latent fingerprint processing and matching, and chemical contamination analyses. Students were expected to have as a pre-requisite a one-semester introductory statistics course. Students came from a variety of disciplines, with majors in business, international relations, political science, communications, history, art, as well as in the sciences.

We describe hands-on chemistry and statistics laboratory sessions in which students designed individual or small group studies for addressing student-developed research questions. After lectures and on-line reading discussions on forensic science topics, students led small-group discussions in class on a given study topic to develop research questions. Individually or in small groups, students wrote a study proposal for review and feedback prior to conducting their studies using materials provided in a chemistry lab. Data were collected by the student teams during the chemistry lab time and brought to a separate statistics laboratory session, which provided a setting for data management, exploration, and analysis instruction. Statistics instruction was individualized to each study group depending on study goals, study design, and the data measurements taken. Statistical methods progressed over the semester, generally starting with methods such as t-procedures for means or two-way tables of counts and eventually covering ANOVA and regression models, depending on individual group study designs.

Several of the projects can be adapted for a more traditional introductory statistics course that does not depend upon the team teaching structure of the course. We give modifications to two of the study topics, questioned document analysis and fingerprint examination, when team teaching with a chemistry lab instructor is not possible. Readings and discussion questions used to generate student engagement in specific topics and as motivation for study designs will be presented along with examples of the student project designs and results.