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News : Entomologist Larry Murdock's research the basis for PICS project

Popular Entomology course now online
​by Greg KlinePurdue News

Crime scene investigation is more than just the subject of the popular CSI series of television programs, it also is the subject of a wildly popular Purdue course, Entomology 218, Introduction to Forensic Science.


Now, thanks to an ITaP project to retool courses for distance learning, this fall students can get Entomology 218 in their own homes just like the CSI TV shows—or anywhere else with a computer and Web access.


The intent isn’t to replace the on-campus course, which typically draws hundreds of students and, as usual, was oversubscribed for this semester. Purdue students who can’t get in, or who need to take the online version because of work schedules or some other commitment, could do so. But the main goal is to reach people who aren’t on campus.


“We have a large audience of potential students out there, from law enforcement to military,” says entomology Professor Ralph Williams, who teaches the course with colleague Patrick Jones, director of the Purdue Forensic Science Laboratory.


Jones and Williams worked with Sinem Senol, an ITaP senior educational technologist, to revise the course for distance learning. Senol also worked this summer with Krannert School of Management faculty members Kelly Blanchard and Robert Holland to create online versions of Economics 210, Principles of Economics, and Economics 252, Macroeconomics.


Like Introduction to Forensic Science, the two economics courses are popular, large lecture classes. Moreover, because of scheduling issues a lot of Purdue students already take the economics courses online through other universities and transfer the credit. That made the courses attractive for the ITaP project, Senol says.


The project pairs faculty members with an ITaP educational technologist, one experienced in both the technology and in instructional design, who can assist them in converting existing course materials to engaging and interactive online content. The technological helping hand allows teachers to concentrate on the teaching aspects rather than the software and hardware.


Williams says discussions about taking Entomology 218 online had been going on for about three years. Senol’s able assistance helped move the idea from discussion to reality, he says.


“We have the subject matter down,” Williams says. “It was just a matter of getting the technology to turn this into a distance learning course.”


Meanwhile, students get a new way to take classes that may better fit their scheduling needs and learning styles—with greater student success a hoped-for benefit. ITaP will be working with instructors to assess the learning outcomes of the online courses and to compare them with the performance of students in face-to-face lecture courses.


ITaP plans to continue the program. Interested faculty can contact Donalee Attardo, director of the ITaP Academic Technologies Instructional Development Center, at 49-42696 or


The distance learning courses are delivered through the Blackboard course management system Purdue uses with on-campus classes. Among other things, Senol was able to help the faculty members in employing Adobe Presenter to record lectures for posting in Blackboard and incorporating PowerPoint slides, video and other multimedia features. Even the graphs Blanchard typically draws in her economics class can be captured as Flash animations and incorporated.


“It’s like you’re really sitting in a lecture but you’re watching things unfold on screen,” Blanchard says.


Students can communicate with instructors via email and in some cases with real-time chat serving as discussion sessions or office hours.


Some classroom experiences don’t translate as well. Williams has been known to roll in a body bag on a gurney at the start of Introduction to Forensic Science and unzip it—only to have Jones pop out and begin talking to the surprised students.


“We do things in the live course that you really can’t do in distance learning,” Jones says. “But we’re finding you can do a lot.”


In addition, online students get certain advantages. The virtual lectures can be replayed to cover missed information, Holland notes. His distance learning students have from 6 a.m. Monday to 11:45 p.m. Sunday to go through a week’s material and to complete homework and quizzes. But they’re free to do it whenever they like within the timeframe.


“You do have flexibility,” Holland says. “You don’t have to get up at 7:30.”