CRIME101x: The Psychology of Criminal Justice Online and in Class

Concurrent Session 6

Brief Abstract

The Psychology of Criminal Justice is an online course based around a crime drama that can be used to teach on campus in a workshop format.


John Zornig is Director of UQx at University of Queensland (UQ). UQx represents UQ’s engagement with edX, and is tasked with helping to guide a fundamental change in the way teaching and learning is managed on campus, as well as delivering high quality online MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) to the broader public. His research interests include the structure of knowledge, video as an online information resource, and just-in-time learning. In recent years at UQ he managed a team developing learning tools and LTI, and worked on establishing the Australian Access Federation. Previously, John amassed twenty years of experience as a consulting technologist and at various technology companies, including Pyramid, Sun, Fujitsu and Apple.

Extended Abstract

The Psychology of Criminal Justice is a course taught by Blake McKimmie, Barbara Masser, and Mark Horswill. With the help of a lot of people at the University of Queensland, including the team at UQx, and a large number of volunteers, we made an online course based around a crime drama filmed for the course. Filming our own drama, while a lot of work, allowed us to create narrative context for the research studies and phenomena that we wanted to tell students about.

By the end of our course, we wanted students to be able to do two things. The first was to identify some of the myths about how the criminal justice system works from a psychological perspective; and the second was to to understand some of the empirical evidence that can inform our understanding of criminal justice and how to improve how justice is administered.

The drama was split up into eight episodes and students watch one of them each week. The episodes start with the crime being committed, then next week we see the witnesses being interviewed. The third week is about the identification process, meaning photofits and lineups. By the fourth week, the investigators have narrowed in a suspect, and we get to see him questioned. The second half of the drama focusses on the trial--including the publicity about the case, jury selection, then we get to see the trial itself in week 6, and the jury deliberating in week 7, and finally the verdict in the final week.

These drama videos are all matched by lecture videos that cover the research on each of these topics. The three of us took it in turns to deliver these videos. We had a lot of fun finding interesting locations related to each of the topics. We filmed some from a lookout, a moot courtroom, and even an old jail.

In the online version of the course, these videos are interspersed with a set of activities to get students to test their knowledge or try and solve parts of the crime. For example, in the week were we cover the reliability of memory, students might be given a memory test for what they remember from the scene of the crime. Or they might be asked to help select the jurors prior to the start of the trial, or analyse the suspect's confession to see whether it should be relied upon.

When we taught this course in class, we basically used the same format with some additional assessment tasks and activities. Each week we would ask students to watch all of the drama and lecture videos before coming to class. To help motivate them to do that, we gave them an online quiz. They had to attempt the quiz before watching the videos. This was just a formative piece of assessment, but designed to keep them motivated while watching, because they knew they were going to be asked the same questions after watching the videos as well. The second attempt counted towards their grade.

When they turned up to class, which was a three-hour workshop format, we would start by clarifying any topics they had difficulty with. Then we would give our students a short answer test, typically either three short answer questions or one longer short essay. I would email them during the week before with tips on what to focus on, essentially giving them the core of the questions they would be asked.

After 20 minutes working on the test. We'd shift gears and talk about some specific cases that exemplified some of the issues we talked about in the online videos. We would also do a couple of activities and worksheets with students. The goal was the have students working in groups and use concrete examples, such as writing a brief for the prosecutor, or analysing the pre-trial publicity in the drama, to clarify any misunderstanding students had about the material.

This was because we finished each class by giving our students that same written test they got at the start of the class. We wanted to give them a chance to improve their answers based on the discussions and activities that we had during the class.

When we looked at how they did with the online multiple choice quizzes, there was a substantial improvement from pre-test to post-test, which is great because it means students were paying attention to the videos. For the in class written tests, there is also a consistent improvement in most weeks, however the improvement was a little more modest. It's possible that students were already close to the doing as well as they could at the pre-test because we effectively emailed them the question before they came to class, and the workshops might have just clarified a few remaining questions for students.

The University of Queensland has decided to make all it’s MOOC materials, where possible, available under Creative Commons licenses. Thus the Crime101x drama, lectures and activities can all be reused by academics around the globe in teaching these important aspects of criminal justice systems.