An Update from a Researcher in Forensic Handwriting and Document Examination

Nikolaos Kalantzis, a Forensics Researcher at Staffordshire University, has had some exciting months discussing and presenting his research.

I was invited to deliver a webinar for Namirial’s partner campus [in August]. It is a company that sets up Biometric Signature solutions worldwide & the webinar was attended by more than 40 people from all over the world. The title of the webinar was Forensic Handwriting Experts taking digitally captured signatures seriously and parts of our PhD research were presented.

There is more information on this here:

https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn%3Ali%3Aactivity%3A6694249770623479808/

https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn%3Ali%3Aactivity%3A6696833862539976704/

I also presented three (& co-authored one more) presentations at the 78th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners (ASQDE). Two of those included parts of our PhD research.

You can watch a recording of one of the presentations here

The other two presentations that are related to our research are here (but require free registration to access):

https://chartoularios.clickmeeting.com/force_asqde_78

https://chartoularios.clickmeeting.com/the-use-of-digitally-captured-signature-technology-in-everyday-casework-phu-111-wacom-clipboard

The Chinese government liked these presentations so much that they translated them & gave me the chinese versions, so those are also available here:

https://chartoularios.clickmeeting.com/chforce

https://chartoularios.clickmeeting.com/cn-phu-asqde

Upcoming plans

Three publications from my collaboration with the ENFHEX STEFA G8 group are underway.

I will be presenting content (including parts of our research) for Wacom’s Connected Ink event in November 2020.

I have been invited to present specifically Biometric Signature lectures & a workshop (so content directly connected to our research) for the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) meeting in February.

You can also read  “Assisted vs. Guided Handwriting: a current approach to an old problem” from Niko Kalantzis & Leonidas Gigogiannos here

The racism faced by teenagers in the UK: new research

“Thousands of people took part in Black Lives Matter protests in the UK in recent months, not just in solidarity with Black people in the US following the murder of George Floyd, but also standing against racism in the UK. However, some people in the UK may assume that racism is not as big an issue in Britain as it is in the US – my latest research suggests otherwise.”

Read more on The Conversation here

Ninth, Annual FACS Conference

On the 22nd April, the Forensic and Crime Science Society (FACS) held their ninth, annual student-led conference. This event usually takes place in the Science Centre, but this year our students didn’t let Covid-19 deter them and hosted the event online.

The event was organised by Jade Wheeler, the president of the FACS Society and a Forensic Investigation student, along with Dr Rachel Bolton-King and “our brilliant, friendly and brave level 6 students in forensics and policing to share the findings of their final year research”.

Rachel also said that “I think the students have done a brilliant, professional job with their presentations”.

Rachel kicked off the conference with a Welcome Talk, outlining the importance of the conference.

Jade Wheeler then outlined the event and introduced each of the presenters and their research topics.

Lauren Yare, a Forensic Investigation student, presented her research first on the ‘Effect of Fabric Type on Knife Identification using Stab Damage’.

Next was Lauren James, a Forensic Investigation student, who present her research on the ‘Effects of Restricting Air Circulation and Oxygen on Decomposition’.

Third was Rebecca Neville, a Policing and Criminal Investigation student, who presented her research on ‘The Reliability and Accuracy of Available Doorstep Crime Data. This video is confidential and is therefore unavailable to view.

Finally, Shan Pryce, a Forensic Investigation student, presented her research on ‘Public Perceptions and Reporting of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

Associate Professor Rachel Bolton-King concluded the event with a Closing Speech, congratulating the students for all of their hard work.

Laura Walton-Williams also presents a Careers Talk for anyone interested in pursuing a career in Criminology, Forensics, Law, or Policing.

You can watch all of the videos of the FACS Conference here.

Well done to everyone who took part!

Mental Health and Social Media Usage: a Call for Policy and Practice Change

Scarlet Hunt, a final year student, has been undertaking a final year research project around the impacts of social media with young people. She has particularly been looking into the mental impacts of utilising social media. 

New proposals and guidance from the British government for legislation concerning social media usage are welcomed as a mechanism to protect Children and young people, especially concerning protecting young people from on-line bullying and grooming.  However, there are some social media behaviours that impact upon mental health that are not about the illegal; policies and legislation won’t change the situation, but education and support can elevate social stress and reduce immature and anti-social behaviours.

Scarlet Hunt, one of our undergraduate students, recently undertook her final year project by connecting with the Lead Commisioner for Mental Health at Stoke Public Health and local charitable organisation, Mind, to design a research project that could be used for service development and improvement concerning young people’s mental health and social media usage.

” It was evident that young people were using social media all the time.” – Scarlet Hunt conducted research about social media usage and mental health for her final-year research project.

Who did you conduct the research with?

“In order to look into the topic, I conducted focus group interviews within a high school setting. Four interviews, with four separate focus groups of students:  Boys from year 8, girls from year 8, boys from 10, girls from year 10. [So] 26 students at the same school.”

Scarlet was encouraged to connect with local organisations to ensure her research would make a difference.

Who did you connect with in terms of local organisations?

“So, first of all I met with the Lead commissioner for Mental Health at Stoke Public Health, just to talk about the nature of my project and what it would involve and look at. She was really supportive of the project. She really liked it and she also wanted me to include a little bit about self-harming in relation to social media [and] how much sleep young people were getting, and the impact social media could be having on this.

I then spoke to the director of local charity, Mind, who was happy to take referrals from young people who felt they needed extra support after taking part in the research.”

What impact did that have on you going in to schools to conduct the research?

“First of all, it made me feel a lot more confident knowing that the findings from the research project were going to go towards improving local strategy, towards helping the mental wellbeing of young people and improving this. I also felt that the project would give local organisations a bit more knowledge on social media and how this could be affecting young people’s mental health. So it made me feel a lot more confident.”

Scarlet’s research findings point to the negative impact that posting only the best bits of people lives on social media can have upon young and impressionable minds. The impact on young people was particularly an issue when celebrities do this. You can’t put a law out that tells people they can’t only post nice things about themselves, but have to post about the challenges of life too. You can’t prevent people from using filters and edits on pictures to make them look better, but you can teach people about social responsibility in relation to the issues that only posting the best bits of life has and trying to ensure that there is more transparency about life’s challenges. When celebrities keep it real about the challenges of life it helps take the pressure off people feeling they have to strive for perfection. For example, Prince Harry speaking out about his mental health.

Scarlet found that young people wanted guidance on how to navigate the challenges of social media and to look after their mental health. However, they did not want this wisdom to come from teachers, who in their opinion, did not use social media in the same ways as they did. Teachers were perceived as out of date with youth culture. Youth workers have previously been additional ‘neutral’ educators to children and young people and perceived as more socially relevant to the youth of today. However, youth services have had drastic cuts.  

What were the suggestions that young people came up with about how they might improve their mental wellbeing with social media usage?

“Young people said that they would appreciate having sessions on social media and perhaps teaching them ways to use social media in a more healthy way, but they also acknowledged that they would prefer someone a little bit younger to deliver these sessions. They stated that if teachers delivered these sessions that it wouldn’t be as beneficial because teachers don’t use social media in the same way that they do. They stated that to have someone a little bit younger come in who uses social media in the same way they do would be a lot more beneficial than a teacher delivering the session.”

So they almost wanted someone that was a step ahead of them, but that they could connect with socially, to be able to give them information on how to use social media in a positive way for their mental wellbeing?’

“Yes, definitely.”

Scarlet’s research found that young people were having less sleep due to social media and they struggled putting their own boundaries in place due to fear of missing out.  They suggested that social media platforms could stop people using for long periods of time to help address this.  Restrictions to social media platforms could be a potential feature to be included in national policy.  As a parent, I would argue that parents also have a role to play in supporting their children to implement healthy personal boundaries to social media usage.

Mental health issues in young people across the UK are perceived to be at an all-time high. There are lots of contributing factors to this and social media usage is one element of the issue.  Social media can also be used as a tool for good in helping young people get support and information. 

What did you find, in terms of the findings, from the young people you talked with?

“The first thing that was really evident is that young people are using social media all the time. It was the first thing they checked when they woke up and the last thing they check when they go to sleep.

A lot of the participants stated that this was having an impact on how much sleep they were getting, because they were using social media for a prolonged time before they were going to sleep.

In relation to self-harming behaviour, participants felt that social media didn’t really have an impact upon this, but young people would use social media to perhaps upload stories on Instagram and Snapchat, just sort of saying how they were feeling, in order to seek attention from peers and seek support.” 

It is really important that in any new policy direction the voices of young people are heard in order to ensure that the UK policy directive enhances social media application, rather than dictating access to a digital community that can be used to enhance education and knowledge. Young people in Scarlet’s study saw social media as positive, despite the issues they raised.  New policy needs to ensure that it does not demonise social media, or the users of it, including young people. 

In terms of your next steps, you need to report these findings back to the stakeholders you connected with at the beginning?

“Yes, so I am currently putting together a report of the key findings from all of the interviews that I conducted and this will go back to Public Health and Mind, in order to inform them of the findings and recommendations of what we could do in the future to help young people use social media more healthily.”

In terms of you as a student conducting a piece of research in a very professional way, what impact do you think this will have on you in the future?

“I think by linking with local organisations, it will make me feel more confident when I go to job interviews – I will be able to say that I worked with local organisations on this research project and it sounds a little bit better knowing the findings have gone towards something useful, you know, and it wasn’t just purely for my own self-interest.”

Congratulations on the piece of research and we wish you all the best on writing up the report.

~Sarah Page

Sarah Page left (Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology) and Scarlet Hunt (final year student conducting research around social media usage and the impact on young people.

You can watch the full intereview between Sarah Page (Senior Lecturer in Sociology & Criminology) and Scarlet Hunt on YouTube here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the Edtech?! Jisc Podcast Series Episode three: the research landscape, here and now

In May 2018, Associate Professor Rachel Bolton-King was invited to do a feature on the latest Jisc podcast series ‘What the EdTech?!’ about Forensics research.

The content, which begins from 30mins 35 seconds in, focuses on Rachel’s collaborative research, the concepts/challenges of research data management, learner/data analytics, and linking academia to practioners. She also touches on the CATE Award and Research4Justice.

You can now listen to the podcast here.

Shaping Healthy Relationships in Schools

“New research at Staffordshire University is exploring how drama can be used to educate secondary school pupils about unhealthy relationships.

In September 2020, it will be compulsory for primary and secondary schools to include relationship education in its PSHE curriculum. In anticipation of this, Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology Dr Em Temple-Malt is leading a research project to explore and evaluate different approaches for educating children and young people.”

Read the full article and check out the video on the Staffordshire University News site here.

“We anticipate that it is going to be more effective to act out the changes in terms of creating those long-term messages about creating healthy relationships for the future.”

School pupils watched a drama performance by Staffordshire University students

You can also read the podcast of Em’s interview on Signal 1 here

World Café: a participatory research tool for the criminologist engaged in seeking world views for transformation

Sarah Page and Em Temple-Malt’s paper titled ‘World Café: a participatory research tool for the criminologist engaged in seeking world views for transformation’ has been published. Sarah said she is ‘very excited to have our paper finally out there in print!’

The paper demonstrates how Em and Sarah used the World Cafe approach to gain insights into NPS (New Psychoactive substances) drug usage levels with young people and the homeless population.

‘World Café offers an alternative data collection methodology using group discussion in a face-to-face environment (Brown with Issacs, 2005).[…] we attempt to reflect on applying World Café with vulnerable groups in society on their understanding and consumption levels of NPS and give some examples of the ethical and data issues experienced.’

The research is co-produce with undergraduate and alumni students and the project was the launch of the Crime and Society Research Group.

‘Staffordshire University Crime and Society Research
Group draws upon a variety of options for delivering
research and evaluations in the field of Criminology and
Sociology that are bespoke for organisations and partnerships. Our research provides recommendations for reducing crime and offers helpful insights into meeting the changing needs
of society.’

“The project originally got Vice Chancellor/research funding to conduct a piece of research that enhanced new teaching delivery. The research informed both my Sociology of Health and Working with Drug Users modules and has assisted with building relationships with our local public health team at the local authority.”

“It was fab to work with Em and team on this project.”

Sarah went on to say that “it has [also] contributed to Em’s Research Methods teaching – we are pretty much the only uni[versity] offering World Cafe methodology training to our UG students. On an impact level, drug service improvements occurred with local homeless hostels (with the most significant drug issues) getting a drop in service set up on their premises.”

The paper is based on a presentation that Sarah and Em delivered at the British Society of Criminology in June.

The NPS research (particularly focused on monkey dust) is being continued this year and Sarah has a final year student working with herself and Public Health on this. “We are now looking at the impact of NPS drugs on local communities.”

Click here to read the publication.

 

Simultaneous detection and image capture of biological evidence using a combined 360° camera system with single wavelength laser illumination

“Forensic investigators frequently utilise light sources to detect and presumptively identify biological evidence. The instrumentation typically deploys single or multiple wavelength exposures at various intensities, which interact with constituents of biological material, initiating fluorescence or improving contrast between the material and substrate. Documentation using sketches and/or photographic approaches follows detection, which are essential for scene reconstruction. Recent research has demonstrated the simultaneous detection and capture of biological evidence using a 360° camera system combined with an alternate light source exhibiting broad wavelength ranges of light.”

Carry on reading Sarah Fieldhouse, John Casella and Kayleigh Sheppard’s article on ScienceDirect here.