We continue our series of winter postcards from the School’s modules, written by the academics who work mostly closely with students and tutors, the Staff Tutors. Today Mark Smith writes from DD802, a second-level postgraduate module in forensic psychology.
What’s happening at the moment on DD802?
Having already completed the first-year module DD801, students on DD802 – a 48-week second level forensic psychology postgraduate module – are now more than halfway through their studies towards an MSc in Psychology. DD802 covers a wide range of fascinating and challenging topics in forensic psychology such as lie detection, offender profiling, decision making in a legal context and psychopathy. Last year, students completed their first TMA which investigated the contentious issue of eyewitness memory and they have just submitted their second TMA. In this second TMA, students write a 2000 word essay exploring the relationship between violent crimes and mental health. Also, however, the TMA requires students to produce a short presentation summarising the key arguments of their essay for an undergraduate audience.
This approach is typical of the postgraduate psychology modules which have all been designed not only to build up students’ theoretical understanding of a wide range of contemporary issues in psychology but also to equip students with practical skills relevant to real world contexts. In their next TMA, for instance, the students on DD802 will be preparing a critical review regarding the treatment of vulnerable victims within the criminal justice system of a hypothetical state called Sekovia ,and presenting this to their Ministry of Justice in the form of an expert report.
What are the students enjoying about this module?
Students have responded very positively to the module material itself. This material makes the topics accessible and relevant to students by exploring a number of criminal cases that they may already be familiar with. Thus, students learn about the decisions made by criminal investigators by exploring the case of the Yorkshire Ripper and are introduced to the topic of terrorism by means of material relating to the September 11thbombings. As well as exploring historically significant real world examples, the module also explores cutting edge topics such as cyber crime with particular contemporary relevance.
DD802 students have also responded well to the small tutor groups. This is of particular benefit to them when they enter the dissertation phase of the module because it ensures that they can gain plenty of access to supervision time with their tutor. At the same time, the approach to supervision developed on the module is flexible so students have the freedom to work without a great deal of supervision from their tutor if they prefer to pursue a more independent approach to learning.
As with the other postgraduate psychology modules, DD802 students also get the opportunity to select a dissertation tutor who specialises in the topic area they have chosen to explore.
What kinds of challenges do students face on DD802?
The main challenge that students face on DD802 is the same challenge that students would face on any forensic psychology module, namely that the module inevitably explores a wide range of shocking and extreme criminal behaviour such as terrorism, serial killing and child sexual abuse. Open University Psychology and Counselling students may have encountered some material of this kind on other modules (such as DD210) but they will typically have had the option to focus on other material if they feel uncomfortable. On a forensic psychology module, however, getting to grips with such difficult material is simply unavoidable. Given this, the academics responsible for producing DD802 have done their utmost to treat the challenging topics covered in the module in as sensitive and thoughtful a manner as possible.
What do you yourself find interesting about DD802?
I have been very much struck by the sheer breadth and variety of material that is covered in the module. I think it is fair to say that DD802 covers a wider range of material than is covered by most other forensic psychology modules on offer at other universities. A great many scholars were hired to produced the material on DD802 and this has yielded a refreshingly eclectic range of approaches to forensic psychology with the result that the discipline is explored from a wide range of different perspectives.
At the same time, there are similarities in the way each topic is covered – most notably, each topic focusses on a single, well known case study such as the crimes committed by Raoul Moat – and this ensures that the material is coherent and hangs together well. Moreover, as with all Open University modules, DD802 provides its students with a wide range of accessible and interesting audio-visual materials to supplement and reinforce the module text.
What message would you send to current and future students?
Rest assured you are in very good hands – the module team have done a wonderful job of producing a fascinating exploration of forensic psychology with a great deal of contemporary relevance. The first presentation of the module in 2018/2019 was very well received by students and we are continuing to refine and modify the module throughout the second presentation. In particular, we are adding in additional study resources, extra tutorials and so on.
We also have some of the very best tutors that I have ever worked with at the Open University. They all possess substantial expertise in forensic psychology and their enthusiasm for the subject is infectious!
Dr Mark C. Smith is a Staff Tutor in the School of Psychology and Counselling and has taught on a number of psychology and counselling modules including DE100, E102 and DD303.