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The Teaching Techniques column, sponsored by the AP-LS Teaching, Training and Careers Committee, appears in the AP-LS newsletter. The column offers useful ideas for those who teach (or who plan to teach) courses in psychology and law, forensic psychology or more specialized areas of legal psychology. In the column you can find activities, simulations and demonstrations that engage students in the learning process and help professors to teach important content in psychology and law.

The column editors welcome your comments, ideas, suggestions or submissions. We are especially interested in articles describing techniques that promote active learning in Psychology and Law. Please send submissions, questions or ideas for articles to any of the four editors:

The following article by Wendy Heath appeared in the winter 2013 edition of the AP-LS News.

In a world where online teaching is becoming more and more common (Lewin, 2012), instructors may be looking for ways to enter this arena. With this column I will present information regarding teaching an online undergraduate psychology and law class. I will not present all of the technical details that one might need to teach such a course, but what I will do is show what is generally possible, and suggest what is needed to accomplish these goals.

To provide you with a background, I should note that it took a long time to convince me to teach my Psychology and Law class online. I couldn't imagine how to impart, through an online course, that passion I feel for the psychology and law topics I cover. How can I possibly replace that real world interaction that occurs in the classroom? How can I miss, for example, that gasp that occurs when I tell them that even though all of them chose a person from the presented lineup, the culprit wasn't even there?

I was finally convinced to teach online when I realized that taking a version of this course online would be a viable alternative for those for whom attending traditional courses is not ideal. The idea of an online course is especially appealing when you consider that the course, Psychology and Law has, at times, attracted students who are employed full-time within law enforcement or corrections fields; the online version of this course makes this course even more accessible to such audiences.

So I agreed to teach an online course, and I worked to make my online course as comparable as possible to my traditional Psychology and Law course, a course that I had been teaching for almost 15 years. After 4 years of teaching online, I can say that I am pleased with what this online course has become. Thus, in this column, I will review the central features of an online course, and provide ideas regarding how specific components of an online course can be delivered.

In an online course, all activities typically take place over the Internet, likely through the use of a Course Management System (CMS) (also commonly referred to as a Learning Management System (LMS)). A CMS is software that your educational community has likely licensed to be used with online courses. Among other things, it keeps all of the course content secure; it can only be viewed by those registered for the course so you don’t need to worry about someone viewing your material as a result Teaching Techniques of an Internet search. There are a variety of CMSs (e.g., Blackboard, Canvas, Desire2Learn). I have been using Blackboard and so the specifics of my examples come from that knowledge; however different CMSs have similar functions, and thus, the information provided here can likely be extrapolated to other CMSs.

Most CMSs allow you to organize your course in a way that works for you and your students. For example, you may choose to have folders that correspond to particular dates or weeks within the academic period (e.g., “Week 1”) so that students can easily find the information they need. CMSs also tend to have calendar functions that you can use to alert students when material is due. Another helpful feature of many CMSs is that there is an option to keep elements of the course hidden from students until you are ready for the students to see them (you typically can also toggle back and forth between “student view” and “instructor view” so that you can see exactly what the students see). Another feature that will likely be of interest to some is that some CMSs are available on mobile systems (e.g., Android); being able to access course material from one’s phone or tablet can make the opportunity to learn even more accessible. Finally, it is important to note that once you’ve created your online course, future renditions will be easier to launch. While you’ll potentially want to make some modifications, CMSs allow for relatively easy transferring of material from one online course to another.

If you need to or choose to work without a CMS (e.g., your institution does not provide access to one), there are still ways to teach online. For example, you could create a website for your course, and that site could contain the syllabus as well as links to lectures (note that this website could be accessed by anyone surfing the Internet). You could supplement this website by using Facebook to discuss topics (you can “create a group” that is just for the class). Skype can be used for live “face-to-face” conferencing. Youtube can be used to deliver audio and video content. Google also can be helpful here, as they have developed a host of applications for classroom use. For example, Google Docs allows for collaboration on the Internet as many can work together to create and edit a document. Google+ Hangout has video conferencing for up to 10 people at a time. In addition, Google+ Hangout allows others to watch the video conference while it is happening (“enable hangouts on air”) and/or after the video conference is finished (Google will upload a public recording to your YouTube channel). These are just a few ideas; there are many options available and the options will continue to grow as time passes.

As I mentioned above, it was important to me to incorporate into an online course all of the typical components of my traditional course. In an effort to ensure that I am providing information that is likely to be applicable to undergraduate psychology and law courses in general, I reviewed the undergraduate Psychology and Law syllabi from 2000 to the present day (N = 14) available at the website. I will discuss below how to incorporate, into an online course, the major components found in these undergraduate Psychology and Law courses.

Eighty-six percent had lectures as part of their traditional courses. There are, in fact, a variety of ways to provide lecture content to your online students.

Some instructors choose to make their written lecture notes directly available to students. If you want to make the hard copies of your notes available, they can be scanned, then uploaded into the CMS and displayed as links. If your notes are already available as files on the computer (e.g., Microsoft Word files), they too can be uploaded into the CMS and displayed as links. In both cases, students will be able to click on a link to download the files they need. Alternatively, you may choose to copy and paste material directly into the CMS (length of the material can be an issue here—shorter is better); if you do this then students will not have to download the files to see the material.


Many instructors use Powerpoint to deliver their lectures (interestingly, even more students prefer that instructors use Powerpoint over a whiteboard/blackboard to deliver their lectures (Landrum, 2010)). This presentation method can be preferred for a variety of reasons: 1) it means that you have the bulk of your lecture material “ready-to-go” in the future, 2) your lecture material is easy to modify as needed, 3) your lecture material is easy to read, 4) Powerpoint files can be narrated (see below), and 5) video (e.g., Youtube) can be added into a Powerpoint presentation. If you do use Powerpoint, these slides can be made available to the online student, although note that Powerpoint files are sometimes too large to email or to house within the CMS, thus you may need to store them elsewhere and just provide a link to them within your CMS (check with your instructional technology department at your institution to determine if your CMS can handle Powerpoint files).

To record narration in PowerPoint files, use the “record narration” option on one of the PowerPoint pull-down menus. Once you record narration for a slide, a speaker icon will appear on the slide that contains the audio portion of that slide. It can be deleted and redone as necessary. Because PowerPoint files tend to be large (especially if you have recorded narration), you can use software such as iSpring (only available for PCs—go to website for free access to convert the PowerPoint file to a flash file (smaller than the regular PowerPoint with audio files—note that some Apple products (e.g., iPod) will no longer accept flash files) to convert the PowerPoint file to a flash file (smaller than the regular PowerPoint with audio files—note that some Apple products (e.g., iPod) will no longer accept flash files).

Another way to record your lectures is to import your PowerPoint slides into iMovie and then record your voice using your computer’s microphone. One advantage of working with iMovie is that you can also add in video clips that you can edit as desired.

Audio and/or Video

If you want to create lectures with audio and/or video, there are a variety of ways to do this. You can use a digital camera to record yourself while you’re giving a traditional lecture; you can then upload these files into the computer for future viewing. Alternatively, since many computers have a microphone, as mentioned above, and webcam, recording yourself while you are sitting in front of your computer does not require any additional equipment; you may choose to present in that manner. In addition, there is software available, sometimes embedded in your CMS, to aid in the creation of your audio and video files (e.g., Elluminate).

What did I decide to do? Well, I wanted an online course that kept the major components of my traditional course intact. In my traditional course’s lectures, I use Powerpoint slides to provide outlines, definitions, and major points as I verbally elaborate. I also pepper my lectures with video clips that serve to illustrate the points I wish to make. I wanted to be able to provide each of these components to my students in an online course. So here’s how I thought about my options:

  1. Present basic visual content (e.g., student sees Powerpoint slides on the screen).
  2. Present visual and audio content (e.g., student sees Powerpoint slides and hears narration).
  3. Present more elaborate visual and audio content (e.g., student sees and hears instructor as well as sees Powerpoint slides).
  4. Present most elaborate visual and audio content (e.g., student sees and hears instructor and classmates in real time (i.e., “synchronous”); this can include live discussion, instant polling, and words on the screen (e.g., Powerpoint slides and/or electronic whiteboard)).

The minimalist approach, that is, just showing the Powerpoint slides, did not seem sufficient for my purposes as it would be difficult to convey that passion I mentioned earlier, and the amount of content I wanted to provide would not be reasonably communicated given the oft-cited recommendation of “do not provide too many words on a slide” (Vik, 2004, p. 225).


I also evaluated the other end of the presentation continuum. I could use an application such as Wimba (recently purchased by Blackboard and now referred to as Blackboard Collaborate—it can be used with a variety of CMSs) which can provide audio and video of whomever is talking at any given time (i.e., instructor or students), instant polling, an electronic whiteboard, as well as the Powerpoint slides. This, in many ways, would be the closest experience to actually being in the classroom in front of students. However, I found that when I participated in this type of classroom, I became completely overloaded with the challenge of attending to so many channels of information, inevitably missing major components of the presentation (for more on cognitive load limitations and potential solutions to cognitive overload, see e.g., Mayer & Moreno, 2003). While others may not share my feeling of being overwhelmed with this type of experience (see Chen, Pedersen & Murphy, 2011), I decided to be more selective in my presentation offerings. I chose to provide my Powerpoint slides with narration, eliminating all video of the instructor, live classroom discussion, a live whiteboard presentation, and polling. So my students get to see my slides as they do in the traditional class, and hear me speak as they do in the traditional class; these are the essential parts of the presentation as I see it. Students still have the option to discuss issues, although not in real time.

This decision worked well for me; I was comfortable with this delivery method (frankly, the idea of lecturing in my pajamas was particularly appealing), but it was important to assess the views of the students. Thus, I asked my students over the course of 4 semesters to evaluate my course. While the research technique I used was not the gold-standard ideal of randomly assigning students to different presentation techniques, the responses obtained suggested that students were generally satisfied with the approach I chose. What follows is a summary of this investigation (McGee, Yang, & Heath, 2010).

Course Survey

Thirty-four students from four online classes of Psychology and Law anonymously completed the survey (approximately 77 percent of the total number of students completed the survey). Sixty-five percent had had a previous online course (most of the students have had one, two or three previous online courses). Thirty percent indicated that lecture material presented in their most recent online course was just words on a screen; 21 percent said that they could hear the instructor as he/she spoke; 6 percent said that they could see the instructor as he/she spoke, and 42 percent said that they did not have lectures in their previous classes. When asked to rank order their preferred method of online lecture presentation, 62 percent indicated that they preferred “words on the screen with audio,” while 29 percent wanted to see the instructor as well as see the words on the screen and hear audio. Seventy-four percent of this sample indicated that “just words on a screen” was their least preferred method of lecture delivery.

Students were asked various questions about the Powerpoint slides with narration method used in their Psychology and Law class. Below are their responses.

”How well was the instructor able to communicate the material presented in lecture?”  

  • Not Very Well at All (0 percent)  
  • Somewhat Well (15 percent)  
  • Extremely Well (85 percent)

”With regard to the lectures, how would you rate the instructor in terms of enthusiasm for the course content?”  

  • Not Very Enthusiastic at All (3 percent)  
  • Somewhat Enthusiastic (27 percent)  
  • Extremely Enthusiastic (71 percent)

”Do you think the current class’ lectures would have been more or less interesting if the audio was removed?”  

  • More Interesting (0 percent)  
  • Less Interesting (82 percent)  
  • Likely No Change in Interest For Me (18 percent)

”Do you think the current class’ lectures would have been more or less interesting if you could see the instructor as she lectures?”  

  • More Interesting (29 percent)  
  • Less Interesting (12 percent)  
  • Likely No Change in Interest For Me (59 percent)

Thus, these results suggest that my goals were generally accomplished. Most agreed that the information contained in the lectures was well communicated, and delivered in a manner that revealed my enthusiasm for the course content. Overall it appeared that my students were pleased with the PowerPoint slides plus narration delivery.

One of the potential benefits of an online course is that students can have the ability to view lectures more than once. In the current sample, 82 percent indicated that they had viewed the lecture more than once. When asked why, 67 percent said that they wanted to write something down and didn’t catch it all initially, while 33 percent said that they viewed the lecture again to study for an exam.

Seventy-one percent of the reviewed courses included a textbook. Online students can, of course, buy a textbook as traditional students have always done, however there have been some changes that have occurred in conjunction with the advent of the Internet. Online students can purchase their texts without stepping foot in a bookstore. Online bookstores such as Amazon can be an option here (you may need to remind students to make sure they purchase the most recent edition); it may also be possible to buy the text online through the campus bookstore. Another fairly recent change is that many textbooks can be rented or purchased as an e-book at substantial savings (you can even purchase e-chapters!). In addition, online students may also benefit from the websites that often accompany textbooks; these can offer features such as quizzes and flashcards (example of a website for one popular psychology and law textbook).

Seventy-one percent of the surveyed courses included readings as a supplement to or, in some cases, instead of a textbook. As long as the required permissions are in order, you can easily upload documents directly into the CMS and then display the files as links (if you have resources that are not already electronically based, then you may need to scan the file first before uploading). Some institutions pay for students and faculty to have access to full-text of some journal articles; in this case, you can link to these articles for student access without a need to pay for permission.

Fifty-seven percent of the reviewed syllabi included student participation as a graded component of the traditional course. Student participation is also possible in online courses. This can be incorporated into your course in a variety of ways. You can ask that students “discuss” the course topics (e.g., “State an argument for or against the death penalty. In addition, respond to a statement regarding the death penalty that one of your classmates has made.”), or perhaps comment on or answer questions regarding a reading or video. The CMS will allow you to choose the parameters of these postings (e.g., deadlines, allow posts to be modified once posted). You may also choose to grade these threads of conversation. You can choose to grade the quantity of posts (the CMS can be set up to do this automatically); I prefer to grade the quality of posts, and I have found it helpful to have a 4 point grading system (0, 1, 2, 3). A score of “0” means that the student has added nothing to the discussion (e.g., the student has just stated “I agree!”). Higher scores reflect how well the student was able to state and explain their position. I should note that I ask that students to draft their online discussion postings using a word processor (e.g., Microsoft Word) that enables them to spell and grammar check their postings. Then they can “cut and paste” the posting into the CMS. I still find errors (although presumably fewer); when I do find errors, I am careful that I do not publically admonish students for the error(s) they had made.

Here’s another idea for a discussion:  Should “sexting” offenses put teens on sex offender registration lists? Eighteen-year-old Philip Alpert had been dating his 16-year-old girlfriend for over two years when he sent a naked photo of her to friends after the two had an argument. Now he’s a registered sex offender. What do you think of this? See Feyerick, D., & Steffen, S. (2009, April 8). ‘Sexting’ lands teen on sex offender list. Retrieved on Nov. 23, 2009 from CNN. How about the case in which a 14-year-old girl was arrested for sending nude pictures of herself? If convicted, she too would have to register as a sex offender. How do you feel about this? See DeFalco, B. (2009, March 26). NJ girl, 14, arrested after posting nude pics. Retrieved on Nov. 23, 2009.

One benefit of the online classroom experience is that students who might normally be reserved in a live classroom can take the time they need to write a thoughtful response, and post it when it is convenient for them. That said, I do want to note that requiring discussion in my online course has provided me with a different experience than what I had in my traditional course. More specifically, in my traditional course, we do discuss relevant topics. If you have something to say, you raise your hand, and speak when called upon. In my traditional course, discussion is not a requirement. The interaction is certainly welcome in the course, but presumably only those who decide that they have something relevant to say will raise their hand. In my online course, everyone must contribute to the discussion. That might mean that we could hear contributions that might have otherwise be kept to oneself. What this has meant for my online Psychology and Law online course is that I have learned that a surprising number of students do not believe, for example, that people will confess to doing something they have not done (as much as I tried to convince them otherwise). It’s an interesting difference.

Student participation can also take more of a fun and creative turn. You can, for example, ask students to create a video for their classmates that will illustrate or explain a concept relevant to psychology and law. One can find, for example, many instances on Youtube of student recreations (varying in quality) of Loftus and Palmer’s (1974) classic experiment. As an alternative, I offer the following idea: have students use xtranormal to create their videos. For a small fee, the instructor can purchase class access to this online software that allows students to create animated videos in which the characters they choose will speak the dialog they write. Students can also control a variety of the presented components of the video such as the facial expressions and gestures that the characters use as well as the language that the characters speak. I’ve had good success recently using this website with my traditional class, and I am looking forward to using it with an online class. In a recent traditionally-taught research methodology lab class, my students (N = 11) rated the xtranormal site as easy to use (M = 4.55 on a 5 point scale, SD = .52), and indicated that this type of assignment could help them learn course material (M = 4.40, SD = .52).

You can also ask students to complete group work (note that the video creations referred to above can be done as group work). Just as you do in traditional courses, you can choose which students are placed in which group; you can have students choose their own groups, or in some cases, the CMS can sort students into groups. Below is an idea for group work.

One of the ways that we find out about psychology and law is we do experiments. Specifically, we vary/manipulate something that we present to our experimental participants and then we see how this manipulation affects them. For this assignment, I’d like you to work with another member of the class to find an account of a recent crime in the newspaper, and then come up with an idea for an experiment based on this crime. For example, I read a newspaper article about a woman who at 95 years old was the unfortunate victim of a crime. She was assaulted and raped by a male, later identified as Brian Anthony Reavis. Although the victim lost one of her eyes in the assault, she was able to give the police enough information to have police artists create a composite sketch. She later testified against Mr. Reavis in court.

In this case I wondered: Were the jurors affected by the age of the witness? To answer this question, I could vary the age of the witness and present two different groups with the same crime, but the ages would be different (thus, the age of the witness would be an independent variable). So for example, one group can read about a 96 year old woman being raped and assaulted, while another group can read the same scenario except the woman in this case is, say 36. Would jurors view the testimony of these witnesses differently? It is possible that one might question the eyesight and memory of the older woman relative to the younger woman. One could ask the mock jurors to, for example, judge the likelihood that the defendant is the actual perpetrator on a scale of 1-5 (1 = not at all likely; 5 = extremely likely), and then determine if there are differences between the two groups in terms of this decision (this would be the dependent variable). I would expect (i.e., hypothesize) that the defendant would be seen as more likely to be the perpetrator when the 36 year old as opposed to the 96 year old testified against him.

When you do this, provide the class with a link to the newspaper article and a short description of the crime. Provide us with your choice of two independent variables (give your reasoning behind your choices) and two dependent variables. Provide your hypotheses, in other words, your expectations for your results.

You can, of course, make this assignment as simple (e.g., ask for only one independent and one dependent variable) or as complex (e.g., ask for a research proposal with a relevant literature review) as you wish.

Twenty-nine percent of the reviewed syllabi included scheduled videos (others may show videos without mentioning them on the syllabus). Including video in a course can serve to encourage interest and enrich understanding of course content. Fortunately, the field of psychology and law has a plethora of real-world video that is relevant and exciting. I’ve listed a few of my personal favorites below. You may choose to link students directly to this material (i.e., if you can find it on the Internet, chances are you can copy the link and provide it to students—to be sure, copy the URL and then paste it into your Internet browser so that you can try linking to it yourself). Alternatively, for many sources you can download the video from the Internet and present it to your students from within your CMS. The advantage to this is that once a video is downloaded, you won’t have to worry about someone taking it off the Internet, never to be found again. I like using to download videos. To do this, just go to and enter the link for the video you want to download. That’s all there is to it! Once you have the video downloaded, you can upload it into your CMS or, if you wish, you can embed the video into your Powerpoint presentation or into a presentation using software such as iMovie. In addition, some institutions will embed multimedia management systems such as Sharestream into their CMS which enables storage of licensed and institutionally-generated media content. Whatever you choose to do, please be aware of your rights with regard to using copyrighted material in the classroom.

Sample Videos

  • Be an eyewitness.
  • Youtube often has videos of interest within the field of psychology and law. For example, you can see Saul Kassin at The Vera Institute speak about his research on false confessions.
  • Visit the website for Frontline’s The Plea program to watch the program online. This website also includes answers to many frequently asked questions about plea bargaining (e.g., Page 32 Fall, 2012 “What are the pros and cons of pleas?”) as well as interviews with professionals within the legal system on the implications of relying on plea bargains.
  • Frontline also provides online access to other programs relevant to psychology and law. Consider The Confessions which details the story of the “Norfolk 4,” the story of innocent men who confessed to a brutal crime they didn’t commit.
  • Death by Fire tells the story of Cameron Todd Willingham who was convicted and put to death for killing his three children by arson. Was an innocent man executed?
  • The Released chronicles what happens to the mentally ill when they are released from prison.
  • The New York Times is often a great source of written content relevant to psychology and law (e.g., see example of a new kind of victim that has emerged as a result of the Internet).
  • As for multimedia, the following link has audio interviews and profiles of dozens of inmates freed as a result of DNA evidence.
  • CBS’ 60 Minutes can also be a good source of media content. In the following example, Scott Pelley of 60 Minutes investigates the death of a mentally ill inmate (Timothy Souders) in a report that considers the plight of the mentally ill in U.S. jails.
  • The National Institute of Justice held a Postconviction DNA Case Management Symposium in 2009. Presenters included Barry Scheck of The Innocence Project, Ronald Cotton (falsely accused of rape) and Jennifer Thompson-Cannino (the victim who wrongly pointed a finger at Ronald Cotton as her rapist). Students can see the entire two-day symposium (video and Page 33 Fall, 2012 accompanying Powerpoint presentations).

Sample Websites

Many of these suggested websites come from a much longer list of suggested sites in the Instructor's Manual that I wrote for the 7th edition of Wrightsman’s Psychology and the Legal System by Greene and Heilbrun (2010)—see Heath (2010).

 Twenty-nine percent of the reviewed syllabi also listed recommended websites to visit. A list of my favorites is presented below.

  • The American Psychology-Law Society (AP-LS) website is great for a whole host of things. Students may be interested in, for example, information on graduate programs in psychology and law and/or careers in psychology and law.
  • Go to the Oyez website for audio of and information regarding many Supreme Court cases.
  • Information about the FBI Behavioral Science Unit can be found online. Students may be interested to learn that undergraduate internships are available; information regarding these internships can be found at this site. Students can read a sample amicus curiae brief.
  • The American Psychological Association (APA) has a websitedevoted to APA amicus briefs (some are available only in summary form; others are full-text).
  • The Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law was created by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld in 1992. This Project handles cases where postconviction DNA testing of evidence can yield conclusive proof of innocence. The Innocence Project, is responsible for, as of this writing, the exoneration of almost 300 wrongly convicted prisoners. Read more about these cases and the causes of wrongful conviction at the website. Have students sign up for The Innocence Project’s email list. They will be emailed every time someone gets exonerated!
  • Many have websites with information relevant to eyewitness memory. Try Gary Wells’ siteElizabeth Loftus’ site and the Eyewitness Identification Research Laboratory site at The University of Texas at El Paso (home to Roy Malpass and Chris Meissner among others) ( for a wealth of information on eyewitness identification phenomena (e.g., including full text of journal articles).
  • The United States Department of Justice published a guide for law enforcement officers on how to collect and preserve eyewitness evidence. This guide is available online. To view this document in its entirety, you can download the Adobe Acrobat or text file available from the DOJ website.
  • The MacArthur Research Network has a website that provides information on mental health and the law.
  • The Sentencing Project promotes “reforms in sentencing policy, addressing unjust racial disparities and practices, and advocating for alternatives to incarceration.” The website includes information regarding topics such as racial disparity in sentencing and the transfer of juveniles to adult court.
  • The American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) is a coalition of groups who support civil justice reform. It includes a history of the relevant laws and proposals for reforms. Visit the ATRA website for more information.
  • The American Psychological Association website includes Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Family Law Proceedings and the Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychology (view the guidelines)
  • Follow an on-going local or national case with your class. For high profile national cases try CNN Crime website for information.
  • For examples of sex offender Internet notification sites, students can visit websites devoted to Megan’s Law. One fairly comprehensive site is the “Parents for Megan’s Law” site that represents the New York State version of Megan’s Law. This website includes a link to other Megan’s Law sites in the nation, thus students can visit the site closest to their community.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice also has a National Sex Offender Public website (the site has been recently named for Dru Sjodin, a victim of a homicide).
  • Many Internet sites are available on the topic of the Death Penalty. One comprehensive site is the Death Penalty Information Center. This site provides state-by- state information on executions, as well as a history of the death penalty. Their “fact sheet” is a great up-to-date resource.

Not surprisingly, both papers and exams are part of most of the surveyed courses (71 percent and 79 percent respectively). These typical assessments can take place in an online course although there are some differences between online and traditional offerings. Paper assignments in the online course can be quite similar to what is assigned in the traditional course. For example, in my course, the paper that I assign for my online course is identical to that used in my traditional course. Briefly, students are asked to look through newspaper sources for a real-life case (most use online sources even in my offline course) that involved at least one eyewitness and then discuss the factors that could have influenced the eyewitness(es) in that particular case. Once prepared, student papers can be uploaded for grading (CMSs usually have a “drop box” for completed assignments). I have recently discovered that I like grading online papers more than hard copies of papers as I can type faster than I write longhand. Thus, I now comment on and track my changes to student papers using the “track” feature of Microsoft Word. I then email the papers back to students for their review.

Testing can be a little trickier. CMSs do have assessment features that allow you to input a variety of question types (e.g., multiple choice). You can write these questions yourself, or you can cut and paste or import from a testbank. The upside of testing online this is that if you use multiple choice questions or other types of questions in which the correct answer can be indicated (e.g., true/false questions), the CMS will automatically grade the test and input the grade into the CMS’s grade book. The tricky part of assessment is that since you cannot watch the students take the exam there is potentially more opportunity for cheating. However, there are options here too. Certainly you can have students sign an honor code as many do in traditional academic environments. Another option is to acknowledge the possibility that students will access the material while being tested, and make tests “open book.” I have opted to do this, although I have also made the tests timed so that if students haven’t prepared, it is difficult to do well. You can also test using essays on your exams; it would likely be more difficult to cheat on essays, but it does create more grading demands. Another option is to purchase software such as Respondus that can be used to create and manage exams. Respondus software will take an exam that has been prepared in Microsoft Word (PCs only) and will prepare it for your CMS (it also has access to publisher’s test banks if you want to go that route). One of the advantages to using Respondus is that they have a feature known as the Respondus Lock-Down Browser which locks a student’s computer (PC or Mac) once an exam is started, and does not unlock the student’s computer until the exam is submitted. Thus, students are not able to access other applications on the computer they are using for the test (although, of course, they are able to go on another computer or read hard copies of material). It is interesting to note that Respondus is currently beta-testing a feature called Respondus Monitor which allows the monitoring of students using their own computers’ webcams to record assessment sessions. As the popularity of online testing grows, security features for assessment are likely to become more plentiful as well.

Before I leave the topic of assessment, I’d like to mention that offering psychological study participation in exchange for extra class credit is also possible with an online course. There are many opportunities to participate in online research; my favorite source of such studies is Hanover College which has a section with studies relevant to “forensic psychology” ( exponnet.html#Forensic). Of course, if the need arises, offering a substitute activity instead of study participation (e.g., summarize a journal article) is also possible, just as it is in the traditional classroom.

The technology world changes quickly, and it is possible that you may need to learn some new skills in order to launch an online course. Remember that help is available. Your instructional technology specialists on campus can be a good resource. In addition, there are often online resources that can aid you with answers to your technical problems. Try doing a Yahoo or Google search with your question, and you are likely to find a written explanation or even a video of someone showing you what to do.

As for the students, although many today are quite familiar with the technological advances that will help them learn in the digital age, each semester does typically bring with it a student or two who need help navigating the online resources. Often I help just by telling students to use a more up-to-date Internet browser. It can help to include in your syllabus the contact information for your institution’s technology specialist(s).

I will also admit that teaching online has brought some new challenges in that students likely need self-discipline and motivation to stay on top of online coursework (see e.g., Waschull, 2005). Even though many students have taken online courses (e.g., Allen & Seamen, 2010), I find that sometimes students will let online coursework lapse (truth be told, sometimes my traditional students “forget” to come to class too). Sometimes students have lapsed because of technological problems (e.g., “I haven’t been able to see the lectures”); sometimes there are other reasons. In an effort to combat this problem, I try to engage my students immediately. I ask students to provide, in the first week, an introduction, to state who they are, and why they are taking this particular course (this can be a written introduction or a video introduction—students are generally familiar with how to produce video content using their phones and/or Youtube). (Note that if the Youtube video is unlisted then only those with the link can view it.) This introduction requires that students are engaged in the course early on, and hopefully sets the stage for future interactions.

To keep students on track, you may choose to send frequent announcements to students using your CMS (the CMS uses email to contact students); this can help students stay on course (announcements can even be written at the beginning of the academic period and be programmed to alert students at later times). Note that CMSs typically allow you to, with just a few clicks, see each student’s level of activity (e.g., how often a student logs into a course).

In conclusion, it is possible to create a psychology and law course that is comparable, in its major components, to traditional psychology and law courses. There are advantages to teaching your course online; the course is available to a wider audience. There are disadvantages too. I don’t feel as though I get to know the students as well when they are solely online students. What’s missing from the interaction is purely visual—I miss seeing how they react in a group (is this student likely to just sit quietly?), how they react to the material. For some reason, I seem to remember them less well when I’ve only had them as words on a page. Some who teach online (e.g., Duell, 2006) have recommended that students who are geographically nearby might welcome an in-person interaction at some point during the run of the course (others who are not nearby could Skype in). Some of my online students have indeed stopped by while on campus and I appreciated this opportunity to put a face to the words. Scheduling in-person interactions could potentially add to the feeling of being engaged in the class. In any case, as time passes, our ability to interact meaningfully while online will continue to improve as new tools make it easier to approximate online what we used to only do while face-to-face.  

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Berman, G. L., & Platania, J. (2007, Fall) (PDF, 557KB). Deliberating the benefits of learning through focus groups.

Bornstein, B. H. (2006, Fall) (PDF, 438KB). Creating witnesses to teach about witnesses: A classroom demonstration.

Bottoms, B. L. (2006, Summer) (PDF, 458KB). Illustrating minority and majority influences through a jury simulation exercise.

Callahan, L. (2008, Fall) (PDF, 383KB). A sociologist looks at the field of forensic psychology.

Edens, J. F. (2008, Winter) (PDF, 507KB).  “Pretend you have a mental disorder”: Using a malingering simulation to illustrate important topics in forensic evaluation and experimental design

McCauley, M. (2007, Summer) (PDF, 449KB). Using writing assignments when teaching psychology and law.

MacLin, M. K. (2006, Winter) (PDF, 277KB). Implementing a mock crime, investigation and trial in your psychology and law course.

O’Connor, M., & Groscup, J. (2008, Summer) (PDF, 590KB). “Who’s your daddy (or mommy)?”: Teaching psychology and law through biography.

Schwartz, B. (2009, Summer) (PDF, 397KB). Developing a course on the issue of child abuse with a global perspective.

Wygant, D. (2011, Winter). (PDF, 319KB) All rise: Taking psychology outside of the classroom and into the courtroom

Date created: 2013