I am doing a massive open online course, (mooc) with Dundee University in Scotland. It lasts for six weeks. When I first heard about it, ten thousand people had already signed up. Massive in name and massive in number.  I like to think I might have been number ten thousand and one.

 An event I went to at the Edinburgh Book Festival in August this year informed me about moocs and in particular, this one.  The course is called ‘Identifying The Dead: Forensic Science and Human Identification’.  It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, (if you drink tea).  I  was a week late starting and have now caught up.   We are now beginning week three and I intend to stay with the time line; you won’t hear much from me while I am keeping up with it. This course has fired up the brain cells, (much needed) with new and interesting learning; a great combination!  The science of real forensic investigations is not like what we see on television programmes such as CSI, Lewis, or, Waking The Dead. It is educating me, and ten thousand others, about what the forensic science specialists actually do and how they collect and collate the provision of evidence.

At least decade ago, a director  of a forensic laboratory in Scotland, said, that if he were seeking trainee forensic scientists he would look for candidates who had studied a science subject, such as physics, or chemistry, in depth, because they would have the desired academic rigor.  The candidates can, he said, be trained in forensic investigation to accreditation standards once in situ. There were then, and are now,  many students taking forensic sciences courses, which the professor described as ‘scientifically superficial’ and which,  are unlikely to take the students into the realms of the specialised scientific forensic work that the experts are expected to perform.  From what I have learned so far with the mooc, I can understand why that may be so. 



  1. congratulations on taking the course, I think there is no joy like starting to learn a new subject. It’s like entering a new world. Wishing you great success in your studies.

    • Hi Shimon,

      The beauty of this piece of learning is that the only pressure is time…keeping up with it for the six weeks! Any extra reading around the subject can be done once it’s completed. There are little revision tests at the end of each week, you choose if you want to got for a formal [informal] test at a later stage. It’s about ongoing learning as opposed to ongoing qualifications.

      Thank you….and yes, it is another world.

    • Hi Mr F,

      I don’t suppose I will know, but it would be interesting to find out just how many of the 10k complete the 6 weeks. For anyone who has no scientific background it takes a wee bit of time to get into the bits of practical method. There is an interactive element. xxx

    • Moocs are generally free openlearn courses. I guess if you do a search trawl under ‘moocs’ you’d get some idea what is available AnneMarie. It’s all new to me, requiring a bit of time commitment I grant you. I’ll probably just be getting used to the foundations elements of this subject when it will end. C’est la vie.

  2. It’s a shot in the arm, learning about something new. Sounds fascinating. Are you an admirer of Patricia Cornwell’s whodunnits – her protagonist Kay Scapetta is a forensic examiner and Cornwell’s research is meticulous.

  3. Hi Gill,

    I haven’t read Patricia Cornwell. I’ll have a better idea of meticulous stories once I have got to the end of this mooc. A crime story author, Val Mcdiarmid, who takes guidance from the Dundee Uni experts for her murder mysteries, has written a story element of the mooc and at various points is participating in the unfolding story line.

  4. I’d be interested to hear how you found it when you’ve finished. There’s a lot of interest by universities in the potential of Moocs for broadening access to education, but also serious concerns about dropout rates and if students struggle without much support. So any views from people who’ve tried them are very useful.

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