By Donna Wielbo, University of Florida’s Director of Online Forensic Science Programs
Welcome to the next digital decade of forensic science education. Everywhere you turn, transformative trends are shifting in this field of study. These fundamental forces are altering the way forensic science professionals, students, faculty, curriculum, and technologies interact.
Major Forces Shaping Forensic Science Education
Forensic science education is confronting critical challenges head-on through online education, including how to best bring education to adult learners and professionals in the field today, in the most cost effective way.
Some of the major forces destined to have far-reaching impacts on forensic science education in the next digital decade include:
Increasing forensic technology sophistication
In the lab, analysts are surrounded by new instruments that deliver more comprehensive results than would have been reported just one decade ago. This trend will continue in the next digital decade, and we will witness ever-increasing sophistication of technology in all fields of forensic science.
With this constant development in technology, it is imperative to maintain a strong scientific foundation in our labs, as well as an environment that encourages professional development for forensic analysts at all levels.
Preparing the next generation of forensic scientists is difficult to envision today. Nevertheless, educators need to respond to these changing times by including technology trends and delivering new creative competency options. The latest technology and thought leadership will impact forensic science education when developing lab courses, instructional design, learning management systems, and essential new teaching modalities.
Expanding career options – competition rising
The knowledge-based job market has accelerated innovation in every field, requiring professionals to retool—often several times in a career. Adult learners are searching for new ways to balance continuing education with their jobs and personal lives.
A bachelor’s degree in today’s competitive job market may not be enough for long-term career advancement. Higher educational standards are already required for technical managers and forensic DNA laboratory leaders who, at minimum, must have a master’s degree in biology, chemistry, or a forensic science-related area.
The University of Florida’s Forensic Science Graduate Program, launched in 2000, now has the largest MS degree program with concentrations in Forensic Sciences, in the world. This program has given forensic scientists the flexibility to access superior education while dramatically reducing the cost of higher education. The online MS degree removes the need for these professionals to make tough choices, such as resigning from full-time employment and relocating families for an on-campus education. In many cases, the cost of relocating to an on-campus program to earn an MS degree in a traditional environment would have far exceeded the tuition of the education. This cost has been completely eliminated with the advent of online and blended learning.
Accelerating collaboration – forensic science is going global
Continuing with the example of the University of Florida’s forensic science MS degree program, a students interested in forensic death investigation, and related forensic sciences, can take highly tailored courses offered by Edinburgh University and Canberra University, concurrently with UF course offerings. This arrangement grants the student access and instruction from the best in the world at the same tuition rate—no matter where the student is located. Through its multiple global partnerships, students from 42 different countries have been able to earn their MS degrees from the University of Florida, Forensic Science program for less than $17,000.
Online reach provides excellent global networking, collaboration, and economic benefits for national and international students. Education that was once considered regional and unaffordable for out of state and international students, will disappear before the end of the digital decade.
Critical to achieving our mission of providing a high quality education is maintaining the high standard of teaching basic scientific principles, quality assurance in the lab, data analysis, and review and assessment of scientific literature. When we look ahead to the next digital decade of education in forensic science, considerations must include managing expectations and standardizing education for new recruits entering the field, balanced with educating the experienced and current professionals in the field of forensic science today.