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Evidence of Success for Immersive Learning

Solving problems is nothing new to students who participate in immersive learning experiences at the Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry. Students in past seminars have researched topics such as poverty, homelessness, healthcare, and human rights, raising community awareness about the issues.

In the fall 2008, a group of students, led by John McKillip, associate professor of biology, spent the semester studying the backlog of DNA evidence that exists at many state crime labs, trying to find solutions to reduce or eliminate the problem. At the same time, they looked at how this backlog and other communication issues affect victims of sexual assault.

The students in the “State of Assault” seminar partnered with the Indianapolis-Marion County Forensic Services Agency and the Madison County Sexual Assault Treatment Center and interviewed law enforcement, criminology, and forensics professionals to better understand the legal process victims go through. They also learned how to perform DNA fingerprinting to understand the work done by crime labs.

In addition to learning about the DNA testing and victim advocacy, the students, who came from diverse majors such as biology, criminal justice, nursing, psychology, social work, and telecommunications, learned how to work with other students who have different learning and communication styles.

“I learned a lot about how to handle interpersonal conflict,” says senior social work major Brittany Albertson. “We had to work out our differing expectation as a group and have many discussions to resolve different opinions about how to proceed with our work. This took creativity in conflict resolution and patience.”

Developing technical skills in filming and producing a full-length documentary was an outcome for junior telecommunications major Riley Fields.

“I wanted experience producing films outside of class, and I thought this project would serve as a sort of ‘real-world’ model,” says Fields. “After setting up as many interviews as we did this semester, I feel I could adequately light, mic, and shoot an interview with almost anyone. I can go out into the real world and do this kind of stuff every day now.”

The result of their discussion, patience, and work was a 30-minute documentary that defines the problems sexual assault victims often face and suggests steps that could improve the collection, testing, and storage of forensic evidence as well better meet the emotional needs of victims. The film aired on the local PBS station and will be marketed to criminal justice professionals as well as distributed to sororities through their national headquarters.

The impact this documentary and others created by students at the Virginia Ball Center have had is unquestionable, both for the partners they have served and on the students’ college experiences. That’s hard evidence that’s undeniable.