Innovative approach to teaching forensics helps students track and solve crimes

Aug 13, 2010

A novel approach to teaching forensics at the University of Toronto Mississauga’s Forensic Anthropology Field School is using global positioning systems (GPS) and geographical information systems (GIS) to examine complex crime scenes.

Mapping out details of crime scenes is a vital part of and reconstruction. The new teaching approach, developed by forensic anthropologist Tracy Rogers and GIS/Data librarian Andrew Nicholson, uses GPS and GIS technology to analyze evidence and spatially piece together crime scene clues.

GIS technology creates visual images of various types of data in map format. The technology can be used to display and analyze patterns in crime scene locations and forensic information. When combined with GPS systems, GIS software may be used to document and track patterns of crimes, track movements of criminals released on parole, as well as predict locations where serial offenders live and operate. The applications offer many possibilities for the visualization of forensic data and providing spatial and three- dimensional perspectives on forensic investigations.

“Our teaching approach uses existing GPS and GIS technology in a hands on way, so students can collect data points from crime scenes and then ‘mash’ them with other digital sources such as photos, scanned maps in a computer lab,” says Nicholson. “Many students are visual learners. Using digital mapping applications offers them opportunities for deeper engagement and linking between abstract concepts, practical application, and problem solving.”

The innovative approach to teaching forensics promises to greatly improve in-class analysis by allowing students to pose questions and run scenarios, without the need for new hard copy maps to be constructed each time.

“This saves time and promotes problem solving and thinking outside the box. New approaches for presenting evidence using maps and other visuals in a courtroom-like environment can also be explored using these tools,” says Nicholson.

Digital mapping is used in many courses at other universities, however not all place the process of data collection entirely in the student’s hands. At the Forensic Anthropology Field School, students proactively analyze spatial relationships, run scenarios, take detailed measurements, compare maps to aerial photographs, identify patterns, and create data sets.

Explore further: Brain signals turn into drone commands in Lisbon presentation

Related Stories

Investigators take a fresh look at crime

Jan 24, 2007

Space scientists built advanced imaging tools to investigate the origins of the planets. Now they're working with forensic scientists to see if their tools can help investigate crime.

Council wants youths to think spatially

Feb 07, 2006

The National Research Council in Washington is urging educators to teach K-12 students to think spatially, using geographic information systems.

Probing Question: Is forensic science on TV accurate?

Dec 03, 2009

Turn on the television any evening and you're apt to see a scene such as this: Five crime scene investigators, or CSIs, return to the crime scene at night to follow up on some leads. CSI Kathryn Willows looks ...

Recommended for you

Neuroscientist takes scientific look at art of filmmaking

Feb 24, 2015

Why do so many of us cry at the movies? Why do we flinch when Rocky Balboa takes a punch, duck when the jet careens toward the tower in "Airplane," and tap our toes to the dance numbers in "Chicago" or "Moulin ...

Driverless shuttle will be on the move in UK

Feb 22, 2015

(Phys.org) —"Autonomous public transport" is on the minds of planners who envision self-driving vehicles that would cross over short distances, suited for airport transport, industrial sites, theme parks ...

Challenges for doctors using fitness trackers and apps

Feb 20, 2015

More hospitals and doctors are starting to use data from fitness trackers and health apps to help treat patients. But they are moving cautiously. The technology has a lot of potential, but there are key ch ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

COCO
not rated yet Aug 16, 2010
I am so old I remember when univeristies tudied ways to make life better not pursue Big Brother ideas like this - give it shot on the 911 cover-up then I will endorse.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.