Lifelong learning in crime fiction: murderous Scotland and the MOOC

Traces is a series on Alibi, which usually runs endless episodes of classic TV detective series. It has a lot going for it: a stunning cast, unfeasibly attractive principal characters, strong female leads, suitably atmospheric locations, and a plot inspired by Val McDermid.

Traces also features a MOOC as a basic plot device. Emma, the lead character, has returned to her home town of Dundee to work as assistant in a forensic science lab. As part of her induction she undertakes a MOOC, which is designed and delivered by senior staff in the lab, only to discover that it involves a case study which closely resembles the murder of her own mother some 18 years before.

So far so familiar: Traces is a cold case series, clearly rooted in McDermid’s long-standing interest in forensic science. I’ve now seen all of the series, and found it watchable if unexciting. Surprisingly, given McDermid’s involvement, the main problem lies in the script; the plot seems mechanical, the narrative clunky, the dialogue punctuated more than once by the need for explanation, and some of the relationships overly coincidental. But that’s just me.

Meanwhile, the role of the MOOC threads through the story. The decision to use a MOOC in this fictional series presumably has its origins in a real-life MOOC, developed by Dundee’s Professor Sue Black, which included a Val McDermid story. Given that the script involves several explanations of what MOOC stands for, I guess we are not yet at the stage where MOOCs are a part of everyday life. But the fact that one features so prominently in a prime time tv series suggests that we are getting there.

‘Dundee, it’s been an utter pleasure’: Professor Sue Black prepares for next adventure

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