Crafting an Effective Virtual Classroom in the COVID-19 Pandemic


  • Catherine C. Connon, PhD Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Tal Simmons, PhD Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Susan A. Greenspoon, PhD


Transforming hands-on laboratory activities to a meaningful virtual experience was truly challenging during the spring and fall semesters of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Needless to say, the task was daunting. Even under normal circumstances, many instructors are not technological gurus. Despite Virginia Commonwealth University’s fortunate position of having additional technological resources available to its instructors, many of these resources could not be utilized effectively, if at all, given the extreme time constraints to develop virtual courses and/or activities. VCU’s Department of Forensic Science realized that virtual laboratories were not the only option to replace in-person activities. At home lab activities were appropriate for some forensic science courses, like crime scene investigation, but not appropriate for others, like forensic serology, due to safety concerns associated with the use of biohazardous body fluids, difficulty storing and transporting sensitive reagents, as well as challenges associated with the practical aspects of delivering/dispersing take-home laboratory kits. The forensic science department did its best to effectively and creatively adapt all courses for virtual learning in the spring and made additional modifications to accommodate social distancing to allow for in-person laboratory courses with some virtual components for the fall (though all lecture courses were still taught virtually). These included at-home, do-it-yourself crime scenes; virtual labs for forensic serology; a heavy reliance on Zoom for a variety of applications aside from online lecture delivery; and anti-cheating strategies for online tests. Even once the COVID pandemic subsides, some of these modifications will likely remain integrated into these courses because they were so effective.

Author Biographies

  • Catherine C. Connon, PhD, Virginia Commonwealth University

    Catherine Connon is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Forensic Science at Virginia Commonwealth University specializing in forensic biology/molecular biology. She is also the Undergraduate Programs Director for the department. Prior to joining VCU in 2015, she worked in a private forensic DNA crime lab for nine years performing casework, research and development, and production of proficiency tests for other forensic DNA laboratories. She continues to consult with Bode Technology for the proficiency testing unit and maintains her American Board of Criminalistics Diplomate certification in Forensic Molecular Biology.

  • Tal Simmons, PhD, Virginia Commonwealth University

    Tal Simmons is a Professor in the Department of Forensic Science at Viriginia Commonwealth University specializing in Forensic Anthropology. She is certified as a Diplomate through the American Board of Forensic Anthropologists and certified in the United Kingdom through the Royal Anthropological Institute as a Forensic Anthropologist I. In addition to having over 25 years experience in higher education, she also currently serves as a forensic anthropology consultant for the Virginia OCME and various international human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

  • Susan A. Greenspoon, PhD

    Susan Greenspoon is an Affiliate Assistant Research Professor in the Department of Forensic Science at Virginia Commonwealth Unversity and a forensic molecular biologist at the Virginia Department of Forensic Science crime laboratory where she has been employed in that capacity since 2001. Her primary roles are to investigate new technologies, validate new technologies, develop implementation and training programs, and perform statistical analyses for criminal paternity and relationship cases, as well as a number of other functions.






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