Most years, Stacie Merken, assistant professor of criminal justice, has her criminal law and criminalistics and forensics classes jointly present an in-person mock trial. This year due to COVID-19, her classes, with some faculty help, participated in a virtual mock trial December 2.
Professor Merken as courtroom judge for virtual mock trial
Each student in class plays a role, from jury member or bailiff to journalist or court reporter. They each list their top three choices for what role they want to play and then I assign them their position, said Merken. One of the roles is the judge; Professor Merken always serves as the courtroom judge.
Faculty members chipped in to play roles as well, like prosecution and defense witnesses and the defendant, played by Associate Dean Lee Kahan of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Their immense support for virtual active learning and student engagement goes above and beyond, said Merken.
Merken works hard putting the cases together, starting preparation in the summer. Her cases are murder trials with circumstantial evidence to make it as authentic as possible. Merken says in real life, cases tend to be circumstantial.
At the end of the trial, the jury of his peers found the defendant not guilty of first-degree murder and aggravated circumstances. But in reality, in this particular case, the defendant was found guilty. Merken explained to the students why the defendant was found guilty and what evidence they should’ve looked at.
Merken credited the students and faculty, saying this virtual active learning component could not have been successful without everyone playing their role and providing expertise and character information to set the stage for a realistic though virtual courtroom experience for the students.
It is really important during these challenging times to provide a quality learning for students in whatever way possible, said Merken. I believe this experience showed my students that the IUSB community really helps one another and works together for the betterment of student learning and success.