A Course Portfolio for ENTM 22810

Forensic Investigation

Trevor Stamper

Purdue University


  1. Course Overview
    1. Audience and Purpose
  2. Race Context & Objectives
    1. Race Description
    2. Race Context
      1. Within Forensic Program
      2. Within Forensic Science Minor
      3. Within Insect Biology Major
      4. Within a FEPAC accredited program
      5. Within Purdue UCC
  3. Objective Race
  4. Assessment
  5. Typical Schedule
  6. Student Demographics
  7. Course Changes—Example 1: What is Science Lecture
    1. Learning Objectives
    2. Instructional Methodology
    3. Assessment and Reflection
  8. Course Changes—Example 2: Field Photography Lab
    1. Learning Objectives
    2. Instructional Methodology
    3. Assessment and Reflection
  9. Course Changes—Example 3: Documentation Manual
    1. Learning Objectives
    2. Instructional Methodology
    3. Assessment and Reflection
    1. Course Overview

Forensic Investigation (ENTM 22810) is the first forensic course that incoming freshman students are likely to encounter. Often these students are fans of the numerous "CSI" television and movie dramas that the last several decades of popular entertainment have produced. Because of this built-in interest in the topic, ENTM 22810 is designed to play off the interest of the students wanting to understand if things work the way film portrays them to (usually, the answer is no). At its heart, ENTM 22810 is a protracted discussion of what science is, and how it functions within society, across numerous disciplines as they first encounter evidence.
      1. Audience & Purpose

        The intended audience of this document falls into the following categories: 1) colleagues looking at the rationale and reasoning behind the course design of ENTM 22810, 2) colleagues looking at how I approached structuring ENTM 22810 to fit the larger picture (minor, potential major, etc.) and within the various constraints the course operates under and 3) students who are interested in understanding why ENTM 22810 functions the way it does. 


    1. Race Context & Objectives

      1. Race Description

        Introduction to forensic investigation. Includes crime scene techniques, firearms, arson and explosives, entomology, blood spatter, blood chemistry, pathology, toxicology, anthropology, botany, trace evidence, computer crime, behavioral analysis, courtroom activities and new trends in forensic investigations.

        ENTM 22810 is a 4-credit course. 3 credits are satisfied with lecture (two 75-minute timeslots) and 1 credit is satisfied with a lab (3 hours). The course is designated UCC Natural Science.

        ENTM 22810 went through the IMPACT program in spring 2016 and is currently enrolled in the STEAM First the World program. ENTM 22810 undergoes its baseline assessment fall 2017 and its transformation assessment fall 2018.


      2. ENTM 22810: Forensic Investigation Course Context

        This course forms the first of a trilogy of courses that are designed to fit within various contexts: 1) forensic program, 2) forensic minor, 3) insect biology major, 4) inside a FEPAC accredited program, and 5) inside the Purdue UCC. All of these contexts are equally important, but are not necessarily complimentary. In many ways, these contexts place ideological constraints upon the course.

        1. Place within the Forensic Program

          The Forensic Program encompasses all forensic courses taught by Purdue Entomology. The program currently has three components either built, or planned:

          1. Minor in Forensic Science

          2. Forensic Entomology Area of Concentration in Insect Biology

          3. Multi-Disciplinary Forensic Science major (planned)

          ENTM 22810: Forensic Investigation sits as the first forensic science class taken by the majority of students who travel through all these three routes.


        2. Place within the Forensic Science Minor

          The Forensic Minor is built off of three core courses:

          1. ENTM 22810: Forensic Investigation

          2. ENTM 22820: Forensic Analysis

          3. ENTM 22830: Forensic Testimony & Ethics

          These three courses form a narrative arc that takes the student from the discovery of a piece of evidence (the scene, ENTM 22810) to the analysis of that evidence (post-scene, ENTM 22820) to the testimony of that evidence (the courtroom, ENTM 22830). The three courses touch on and build off of each other intimately. The ethical practice of science is a focal point of the three courses, as is a survey of the vast array of forensic techniques that have been brought into the court of law.

          The purpose of ENTM 22810 in this framework is to present the work that begins with discovery of a potential piece of evidence. The recognition, documentation, and proper preservation of that evidence is a major focal point of the course. A lynchpin to this discussion is the exploration of the scientific method and ethical way in which these activities must take place.

          The final major component of ENTM 22810 is the exploration of how this scientific endeavor takes place across many different individuals and two levels of hypothesis (case level and trace level; figure 1). Acknowledging and highlighting the individuals involved and these different levels of hypothesis generated in the science ENTM 22810 covers is a non-traditional way of presenting the material. However, I find it provides an essential context for the discipline. For example, it highlights the need for strict quality control, documentation and evidence preservation standards. More importantly though, it highlights the scientific process when practiced by a disparate group of people who may never meet, but who rely upon their predecessor's reliability. Indeed, this process is so fundamental to the forensic endeavor that it is the narrative heart of the entire core curriculum.

          Figure 1: Interplay between operatives and evidence (here referred to as a trace) as evidence moves through the criminal justice framework. Operatives are: Subjective Investigator, Objective Investigator, Attorney and Objective Analyst. In this framework, which is unique to the forensic minor core, students learn who generates case level hypothesis (the subjective investigator), who secures traces (the objective investigator) and how traces are used to support or refute case hypothesis. Each trace is handed over to an objective analyst who generates support or refutes trace level hypothesis. Ultimately the subjective investigator presents argument to the attorney about support levels for various case hypothesis and the attorney decides whether to proceed to trial or not.


        3. Place within Insect Biology major

          ENTM 22810 does not have a formal place within the newly envisioned Insect Biology major. However, it will be integral to the Forensic Entomology Area of Concentration (AOC) scheduled to roll out fall 2019. Since that AOC is built for FEPAC accreditation and ENTM 22810 satisfies a very specific portion of that accreditation (section 4.1.1:a-g). Further, ENTM 22810 does satisfy some Entomology discipline specific outcomes in basic science.


        4. Place within a FEPAC accredited program

          ENTM 22810 is designed to function with the rest of the core (ENTM 22820 & 22830), so that the necessary context and coverage of the Forensic Education Programs Accreditation Commission topics 4.1.1:a-g are covered:

          1. Courtroom testimony

          2. Introduction to law

          3. Quality assurance

          4. Ethics

          5. Professional practice

          6. Evidence identification, collection, processing

          7. Survey of forensic science

          ENTM 22810 is integral to the development of a forensic major as outlined by the 5-year Entomology strategic plan. Beyond the strategic goals of Purdue Entomology, the course also fills this function within the Cyber Forensics Area of Concentration in Cybersecurity offered by CNIT as well.


        1. Place within Purdue UCC

          ENTM 22810 was developed to satisfy the natural science UCC standard. This was a strategic decision, because many of our social science majors use the course as their UCC natural science option. Roughly two-thirds of our students in 2016 were in the colleges of liberal arts, management and exploratory sciences (see 5: Demographics).


      1. Course Objectives

        ENTM 22810 has the following Course Objectives:

        Outcome A: Appreciate the scope of forensic science.
        Learning Objectives:  The student will:
        A-1: Develop a definition of forensic science as a whole, and for each sub-discipline reviewed.
        A-2: List the services performed by subjective and objective investigators, crime laboratories, and medical examiners.
        A-3: Discuss the role and functions of a forensic scientist.
        A-4: Evaluate the organization of a crime scene investigative unit.
        Assessment Method: examination, quiz

        Outcome B: Explain the Scientific Method and appraise how the Scientific Method fits into the context of the law.
        Learning Objectives: The student will:
        B-1: Identify the Scientific Method, including how observation, explanation and testing fit into this scheme.
        B-2: Apply sub-discipline knowledge to explain how scientific method arguments are made using evidence collection.
        B-3: Evaluate an understanding of the scope and current limits of each sub-discipline covered.
        B-4: Justify why current crime scene practices do or do not happen in a scientifically valid manner.
        B-5: Evaluate with how forensic science integrates with the criminal justice system.
        Assessment Method: examination, quiz, lecture assignments

        Outcome C: Evaluate and compare forensic science as a whole to the particulars for each forensic sub-discipline.
        Learning Objectives: The student will:
        C-1: Explain fundamental principles for the field of forensic science.
        C-2: Explain the fundamental principles for each sub-discipline.
        C-3: Evaluate methods/techniques employed by each sub-discipline.
        C-4: Identify necessary training and education for each sub-discipline.
        Assessment Method: examination, quiz, lab reports

        Outcome D: Experience the basic techniques employed by the sub-disciplines reviewed
        Learning Objectives: The student will:
        D-1: Experience the basic collection techniques of crime scene investigators.
        D-2: Explain the downstream consequences of not properly collecting crime scene evidence.
        D3: Practice the packaging of the scene evidence for different sub-disciplines.
        D4: Review the concepts of error, bias, standard operating procedures and quality assurance/ quality control.
        Assessment Method: lab reports, writing assignment


      2. Assessment

        Students in the course are assessed with the following methods:

        1. weekly quizzes

        2. quarterly exams

        3. weekly lab reports (which include documentation and writing components)

        4. in-lecture active learning assignments (ALA)

        5. major lecture assignments


        Table 1: Objectives supported by Exam questions. Exam questions are organized by lecture, so question 1.1 is the first question for that lecture, etc. 2015 Exams are used in this figure to provide reference as to how objectives are sequenced throughout the course.


        Table 2: Objectives supported by Lab Synthesis questions. Lab Synthesis questions are organized by lab, so question 1.1 is the first question for that lab, etc. Note that at the time this data was collected, some labs (and indeed, one objective[C-1] where in the process of being modified or were newly introduced (hence lab 0 or a lab 10.a).


        Labs are divided into two portions, synthesis short answer questions and documentation. Synthesis questions are designed to force the students to link their actions in the lab to broader issues dealing with the underlying theory of forensic science. Documentation tracks the students work in the lab itself, providing the student with the context of the evidence they should be recovering and the extent to which one must go to document and preserve that evidence. I track lab synthesis questions to objectives as well, but do not currently track documentation at this time.

        In summer 2017 I will be expanding this assessment tracking so that all quiz questions are also tracked by outcome and objective, and every question is identified to Bloom's taxonomic level.

        The overall tracking of the course places Outcomes A and B early into the semester (tables 1 and 2), touching back occasionally once students have been introduced to those objectives (tables 1 and 2). Outcomes C and D figure much more prominently into the bulk of the later semester efforts (tables 1 and 2).  In part, that is because the lab portion of the course emphasizes what different sub-disciplines do at the scene, but since one of the major components of FEPAC 4.1.1:g is a survey of disciplines associated with forensic science, we spend quite a bit of lecture time surveying the ways in which disciplines carry out forensic science at the scene.


      3. Typical Schedule


      1. Student Demographics

        Students who take ENTM 22810 come from almost all colleges on the West Lafayette campus, with five colleges first appearing in 2016 (Table 4). Of particular note is the sharp increase in the Polytechnic Institute, which will begin their cyber security major fall 2017.



        S 2015

        F 2015

        S 2016

        F 2016

        S 2017

        F 2017

        S 2018

        F 2018

        A - College of Agriculture







        BE - School of Biomedical Engr







        E - Engineering







        HH - College of Health & Human Sci







        LA - College of Liberal Arts









        M - School of Management







        PI - Polytechnic Institute







        PP - Pre-Pharmacy






        S - College of Science







        T - College of Technology






        US - Exploratory Studies







        Course Total









        Table 4: 2015-18 student numbers in ENTM 22810 by college. These are final attendance numbers, after the final drop date.


      2. Course Changes—Example 1: What is Science Lecture

        The "What is Science?" lecture forms the lynchpin lecture from which the rest of the semester hangs. It has to set-up students to be able to evaluate the science portion of the forensic disciplines they will be covering in following lectures.

        Traditional forensic science textbooks offer little guidance on how to approach teaching the salient features of the scientific method—observation, explanation, and investigation—as an embedded forensic endeavor. For several iterations of my ENTM 22810: Forensic Investigation course, I provided detailed examples of these activities, but failed to convince students of the connections to the forensic science pursuit. I came to realize this was because I was using non-forensic examples, or forensic examples that did not easily present all events in a single trackable process with a beginning, middle and end.

        To resolve these disconnects, I created an active learning assignment from a New York Times (NYT) article series covering a 1922 double death investigation. Not only does this actual case allow me to demonstrate the importance of observation, explanation, and investigation in a forensic science context. The assignment also allows students an approachable way to grasp the concepts of relevance, anomalous phenomena, and differences between facts, conjectures and assumptions. It further provides students with an inquiry-based structure to objectively evaluate observation events not previously presented in the forensic context. Finally, the case highlights the actions of the first Forensic Toxicologist in the United States, Alexander Gettler, and the impact of historical events such as prohibition.


          1. Learning Objectives

            The lecture needs to cover the entire scientific process, but focus specifically on observation and the evaluation of what evidence is relevant in a scene. This lecture supports Outcomes B-1, B-2, B-3, and B-4 directly, although it also supports Outcomes A-1, A-2, and A-3 in an indirect manner, by providing context.

          1. Instructional Methodology

            Interspersed amongst lecture material is the New York Times account of the death of Mr. and Mrs. Jackson, playing out from April 27- May 9th, 1922. These articles set the stage for a parallel exploration of the scientific method, especially focused on the nature of observation. They are divided into 6 handouts, with each handout directing the students to evaluate the text of the article in various ways. The students mark up the handouts as they work independently, and then can make corrections in peer-peer group discussion.

            In 1922, the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Jackson were found in their NYC apartment at the Hotel Margaret. Both were found in the bathroom, fully dressed, with no indication of suicide or foul play. This case is an example of an anomalous phenomena. In this assignment, students track the anomalous phenomena and decide what observations would clarify them. In doing so, they encounter critical terms and confront cognitive biases.

            Observations form the basis of these articles-but not all observations are equal in nature. Students differentiate observational facts, conjecture, and assumptions (F, C, or A). Further, students identify how expectation and belief obfuscate observations.

            Explanations play a large part in the NYT reporting of the Jackson case. As the case unfolds, students track multiple death explanations, and weigh those hypotheses against the facts, conjectures, and assumptions presented-allowing them to evaluate explanatory support levels. They do this by building supported argument statements:


            •Supported Argument #1 (F, C, or A)

            •Supported Argument #2 (F, C, or A)

            • etc...

            This case is a rare example where the police carried out an observational experiment to see if their suspicions were correct. From this experiment, students can explore whether the test presents explanations that are causal or correlational. Finally, this case was pivotal for the first ever forensic toxicologist Alexander Gettler, who subsequently spent 16 years developing methods for quantifying Cyanide from tissues. That work, published in 1938, still stands as the method for Cyanide identification.

        1. Assessment and Reflection

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      3. Course Changes—Example 2: Field Photography Lab

        The Field Photography lab challenges students to learn how to use their camera in very specific situations, so that when they face those same problems in later labs, they have a toolset to overcome those problems. This lab was the last lab to be developed for ENTM 22810: Forensic Investigation, and is very much a mirror of the two bench photography labs I developed for ENTM 22820: Forensic Analysis. The lab rounds out the "fundamental skills" section of the lab portion of the course.

          1. Learning Objectives

            The lab needs to provide a full suite of basic photography skills so that students can take best advantage of the camera they purchase when using it in lab. The lab supports Outcomes A-2, A-3, B-3, C-3, C-4, and D-1.

          1. Instructional Methodology

            Students are faced with a series of eight challenges, which they have to overcome with their cameras and props they are provided and they improvise. The challenges are:

            1. Brightness

            2. Shadows

            3. High Glare / Through Glass

            4. Movement

            5. Water

            6. Painting with Light

            7. Photographing Cardinal Directions

            8. Distance, perspective and close-up scene photos

            The lab instructor and assistant rotate through the different locations where the lab takes place, offering support and direction as students go.

        1. Assessment and Reflection


    1. Course Changes—Example 3: Documentation Manual


        1. Learning Objectives


        1. Instructional Methodology


      1. Assessment and Reflection