Online course teaches death investigating techniques
July 16, 2013Tweet
For many students, summer school conjures images of hot classrooms, early mornings and burdensome homework. After struggling through finals, summer has traditionally been a time to relax, recover and refresh. The substitution of the computer screen for the blackboard in an online course does little to ease the anxiety of having to study instead of play.
This melancholy of summer school may start to change with a new online course – Medicolegal Death Investigation – taught this summer at Binghamton University by Matthew Lunn.
Lunn, an experienced death investigator and criminologist from Colorado, worked on the 2012 Aurora, Colo., theater shooting. The online course he is teaching presents to students the causes and manner of death and factors of those deaths that require investigation as in the case of violent and unexplained deaths. Common injury patterns present in such deaths and how to work with the victims’ family members are also taught.
As an undergraduate student at Iowa State University, Lunn was given the opportunity to assist with autopsies on his way to earning a bachelor’s degree in health and human performance. From these experiences, he developed a passion for finding answers for families who suffer the shock and sense of loss inherent in the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one. In his online course, Lunn is sharing his passion with Binghamton University students.
“Being able to provide answers and, in some instances, being able to pass along valuable information to families on things they should discuss with their own primary care provider regarding their health is particularly rewarding,” Lunn said.
This summer, the graduate students in his class will become familiar with the current literature in the field. As a class, they discuss pertinent journal articles to better understand the scientific material that is an essential tool of in-the-field practitioners such as Lunn. One of the most important topics covered — the developments brought about by technological advancements in both equipment and technique that are changing the nature of death investigations.
“One new piece of technology would have to be the advancement of DNA testing,” Lunn said. “It is now faster, cheaper and requires smaller sample sizes to get a complete DNA profile.”
In a course like Medicolegal Death Investigations, one may think that the subject matter is better taught in a traditional classroom/lab format and that the online nature of the course would hinder the learning experience. Lunn and his students don’t think this is the case at all.
Carolyn Gaulke is one of those students. She takes a combination of traditional and online courses, and believes that both teaching formats have advantages.
“One of the biggest differences is the amount of work,” Gaulke said. “For example, in an online course, discussion and responses may be worth 60 to 70 percent of the grade. I find that with traditional courses, papers and quizzes are worth more than with online courses.”
“With the exception of taking the students out on a scene with me, I don’t believe there are any disadvantages teaching this material in an online format,” Lunn said. “The students have voice-recorded PowerPoint lectures from me, discussion questions that force them to really get into the current literature and quizzes that test their knowledge.”
Gaulke is grateful for the access to Lunn and the timeliness of his responses to questions and concerns that she and other students raise.
“Professor Lunn has made himself available to the students and has responded to all the discussion questions with supporting references,” she said. “He has made the course very interactive, with posted audio lectures, which have helped make the course similar to a traditional class.”
With an experienced and knowledgeable instructor and a fascinating subject, the old notions of summer school are being dispelled by this course. The emergence of online discussion boards, voice-recorded PowerPoint lectures and journal databases are helping online courses rival traditional classroom instruction and offering Binghamton University students opportunities to take courses like Medicolegal Death Investigation that might otherwise not be available to them.