An innovative approach to teaching forensics at the University of Toronto Mississauga proves that GPS isn’t just useful for finding the nearest gas station — it can actually help solve crimes.


The teaching approach developed at U of T Mississauga by forensic science program director Tracy Rogers and GIS/data librarian Andrew Nicholson uses global positioning system (GPS) and geographical information system (GIS) techniques and devices to let students map out and spatially piece together crime scene clues for analysis.


The system digitizes all the data and combined with photographs can even allow users to create a 3-D reconstruction of a crime scene.


Rogers says the idea of using GPS-style technology in teaching forensics is a natural fit because similar mapping is already commonplace in archaeology.


She says students enjoy the work and feel a lot more involved than in traditional forensics teaching methods where data collection takes a back seat to analysis.

“It’s one of the most exciting things for students because they have to find locations themselves, they take ownership of the scene and by the time they’ve collection all the info they’re quite invested in the crime scene.

Nicholson says the technique can actually help forensic investigation by letting students combine GPS and GIS data with things like photos and scanned maps to make the learning process far less abstract.

“Students use a GPS survey instrument to record the positioning of things like clothing and footprints, then they take that data and map it.

“They’re taking what they’ve seen in the real world and digitizing it so they can better analyse the particular position and distance between things,” Nicholson said.