Glasgow & West Scotland

CSI Scotland: Learning lessons from an online murder mystery

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe case is based on a real-life murder mystery

There's been - as Taggart apparently never actually said - a murder.

The body of a woman has been found in a car on the shore of Loch Lomond.

It looks like she's been shot. And it's up to you to crack the case.

On the upside, you have six weeks to do it and it'll only take about three hours a week. It's all online, so you won't need to get your hands dirty.

Oh, and no-one's really died.

Welcome to Introduction to Forensic Science, the murder mystery that doubles as a university course.

Image caption Forensic evidence plays a part in solving the crime

It's open to everyone with an internet connection, and it's free.

It's the work of Strathclyde University and the online learning specialists FutureLearn. With it, Strathclyde has become the latest Scottish university to offer a Mooc - a Massive Open Online Course.

Strathclyde's professor of forensic science, Niamh Nic Daied, says they came up with the idea "to help the general public understand what forensic science really is".

"Forensic science is a subject that captures everybody's imagination, from schoolchildren right the way up to pensioners," she says.

Image caption Strathclyde is the latest Scottish university to offer a Massive Open Online Course

"What we wanted to do was to give them the means whereby we could give them the real story - the real science behind forensic science."

Prof Nic Daied doesn't want to give too much of the game away, but she says the online study is based on a real case on which her colleagues have worked.

"It sets up a particular scenario and a particular scene, and it goes through the procedures that make that scene contamination-proof.

"Then it looks at aspects of forensic science practice, particularly around fingerprints, DNA, drug analysis and the analysis of drugs and impressions, and what those different types of forensic science work can bring to an investigation like this."

If you're thinking CSI Scotland you aren't far off. The course even has a glossy online trailer with appropriately tension-building music.

It's the first of three Moocs which Strathclyde will be offering. The university's associate deputy principal, Professor Colin Grant, describes it as "a marvellous opportunity to publicise the strengths of the university".

He also thinks that, with online learning playing an increasing role in undergraduate teaching, it'll help them hone their own teaching skills.

And he says it fits well with the university's history.

"If you go right back to 1796 (when Strathclyde's forerunner, Anderson's Institution, was founded) the ethos of the university was to reach out.

Image caption Anyone with an internet connection can access the free course

"This is a fantastic way of reaching out to offer expertise and background to a much wider public."

The idea of the Mooc is burgeoning at universities worldwide. But Strathclyde's learning enhancement manager Howard Ramsay says it's early days.

"We want to found out exactly what we can find out from Moocs about teaching and learning online, about teaching large numbers of students, about teaching diverse and disparate and distributed bodies of students.

"So it is quite a lot to do with learning for the institution itself."

Plot twists

Meanwhile, back at the loch, that murder's not going to solve itself. So one last question for Prof Nic Daied. Will there be plot twists?

She smiles. "Oh, of course there are twists, there's always twists.

"And in our particular story we'll be asking the participants to engage in discussion and debate about the different aspects of the scene as the information unfolds to them."

By the end of the six weeks people should be logging off with a greater understanding of how the appliance of this particular area of science affects their everyday lives.

It's your chance to catch a killer - and perhaps find your inner CSI.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites