Forensic Science Criminal Investigation Online Coursework: An Investigation into Sense of Community and Self-Efficacy

Concurrent Session 8

Brief Abstract

Forensic Science degree programs are at the forefront of virtual coursework requested by undergraduate students. Minimal research exists which reviews student perspectives of science-based coursework in forensic science online learning. Developing an understanding of student self-efficacy and connectedness in Forensic Science virtual classrooms is essential to developing effective degree programs.


Jennifer Hall Rivera is a doctoral candidate at Liberty University, with a dissertation focused on students enrolled in forensic science traditional and online education. With a passion for online undergraduate learning and forensic science, she has been published in the Journal of Forensic Identification, Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and Learning, The Journal of Education and Training Studies, and the Kappa Delta Pi Record. She has also been a workshop presenter at the following forensic conferences: Georgia Division of the International Association of Identification (GAIAI) 2015 and 2016 state conferences, and the IAI international conference in 2017.

Extended Abstract

Forensic Science degree programs are at the forefront of virtual coursework requested by undergraduate students. Minimal research exists which reviews student perspectives of science-based coursework in forensic science online learning. Considering students construct knowledge of course content through virtual discussion boards, dissections, and simulated online laboratories, examining these factors within a forensic science criminal investigation course is imperative. Forensic Science coursework requires tangible application of content learning in addition to a level of self-efficacy or confidence in the concepts taught in the classroom.  Forensic Science also necessitates a need for connectedness amongst a team of individuals, as peer collaboration, problem solving, and discovery are essential in investigation. Therefore, developing an understanding of student self-efficacy and sense of community in Forensic Science virtual classrooms is essential to developing effective degree programs.

This research study examined whether online forensic science students perceive themselves as possessing the same confidence in their capabilities as those in a traditional program. Additionally, do online forensic science students value their course knowledge of forensic science practices at the same level as traditional, face-to-face students?  And do online forensic science students experience the same feelings of connectedness as traditional students? The research questions include: Is there a statistically significant difference in forensic science criminal investigation students’ self-efficacy dependent on the type of modality (traditional and online) enrolled? And Is there a statistically significant difference in forensic science criminal investigation students’ sense of community dependent on type of modality (traditional and online) enrolled?

To effectively analyze these research questions, a quasi-experimental nonequivalent group design study examined these variables within a Forensic Science Criminal Investigation courses in a large, private university.  Both online and residential courses within the same course number were utilized or the study. Data was collected from online student surveys using two forms of validated instrumentation. The Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ) self-efficacy subscale by Pintrich, Smith, Garcia, and McKeachie (1991) was used to measure student self-efficacy. The MSLQ was designed by Pintrich et al. (1991) to measure levels of orientation in motivation and learning strategies in college students, in addition to the effect courses have on students. The MSLQ Self-efficacy for Learning and Performance subscale evaluates students on two levels: expectancy for success and self-efficacy. This subscale includes eight items on a seven-point Likert Scale. The seven-point Likert Scale ranges from (1) “not at all true of me” to (7) “very true of me”. The Classroom Community Scale (CCS) by Rovia (2002) was used to measure sense of community. Community is described as a sense of belonging to a larger group, purpose, or calling. Students experience connectedness to peers involved in similar activities, enrolled in similar coursework, and categorized in comparable degree programs. The CCS is a twenty question, self-report survey on a five-point Likert Scale, with the following responses: strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, and strongly disagree. The score range for the twenty questions is 0-80. A high score reflects higher feelings of connectedness and community.

The online survey for both the MSLQ and the CCS were administered in three separate semesters of undergraduate online coursework at the 400 level. To provide further validity to the study, a pre-test and post-test of the survey was provided to all participating students. The survey was also given to the residential students during one full-length semester in the exact corresponding course. At the close of the data collection period, data was analyzed using general linear modeling.  A review of the statistical analyses and significance of online student self-efficacy and sense of community is forthcoming.

Pintrich, P. R., Smith, D. A., Garcia, T., McKeachie, W. J. (1991). A manual for the use of the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ). National Center for Research to Improve Postsecondary Teaching and Learning, 1-61.

Rovai, A. P. (2002). Development of an instrument to measure classroom community. Internet and Higher Education, 5(3), 197-211.