Accessing Internet Based Instruction in the Department of Corrections

Guest Post by Richard Chamberlain, Director of the Center for the Application of Information Technologies at Western Illinois University.

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i-Pathways has been used in adult education programs now for almost 15 years. We have grown to the
point where we are serving programs and seeing positive student outcomes in states coast to coast. In addition to our work with state administrators and adult education programs, we have also begun to work in correctional education programs; work that is seeing success.

The move to computer-based testing required a refocus, particularly in correctional education due to its unique educational environment. In the correctional education environment, the need for cost-effective and meaningful technology-enhanced instruction took on a new importance; students were going to need to understand how to use technology. In December of 2013, we began a pilot deployment of i-Pathways in three facilities in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

We were using a technique to deliver i-Pathways that had never been done before in Illinois; we connected the classroom computers to our central data center in Illinois using the Internet. Yes, we were using Internet-based curriculum in the corrections
classroom. Gnerally speaking, using anything accessed via the Internet in a correctional education setting has been taboo; it is just not allowed. Well, we did it and it worked. It took some forward thinking folks in the Illinois Department of Corrections and quite a bit of planning and testing, but it worked.

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 1.11.11 PMNow, 20 months after the start of our
six-month pilot, we are deployed in 33 facilities in Illinois serving almost
3,000 learners a week. In the past 20 months, we have had absolutely zero security issues and have also started to see some positive trends regarding reading gains and test results. It is working.

It is working thanks is large part to the dedication of the instructional staff using the i-Pathways curriculum. Once they became familiar with the curricula and the tools that are available in i-Pathways, they took i-Pathways and incorporated the curricula and resources into their own teaching methods and style and made it their own. Instructional staff that had not used technology in their classrooms before, were now using computer-delivered curriculum as part of their overall teaching approach, and they were having success. In many focus groups and outreach efforts, the i-Pathways team took time to hear instructor and learners feedback. Teachers and students alike defined success as engagement and interest in learning, increased student motivation, the development of computer skills in learners that would prepare the student for release, post-secondary training, or workplace skills.

Nationally, there is a growing awareness of the need for technology-based instructional approaches coming to the corrections classroom. In many correctional facilities, the broad use of technology is just not available on an enterprise level, but that is changing. I have been talking to correctional educators from across the country and many are looking for the right way to incorporate technology into the classroom. They know that most of the students they are working with are going to be released, and they are going to need to understand how to use technology to be successful upon release. Technology is pervasive in our culture; it is required.

Correctional educations’ use of technology in the classroom reminds me where K-12 schools were at in the late 1990s. Then, K-12 schools were identifying which technologies were appropriate for the classroom, how to provide for a secure and safe experience using the Internet in schools, and working to train teachers both in the use of the technology tools and the pedagogy that goes with their use. From our experience in Illinois and other locations around the country where we are working with correctional educators using i-Pathways; we are covering some of the same ground we did in K-12 schools in the late 1990’s. That is not to say that there are not some great programs, innovative instructors and visionary leadership all across the country, but there is a great deal of searching for solutions.

There is a great surge now in alternative approaches on the horizon. A variety of groups are jumping into the correction tablet marketplace with a wide variety of models, both instructional and technical. This has the potential to expand the instructional day; learning doesn’t just have to happen in the classroom. A tablet can be taken back to housing units, and students with nothing but time on their hands have tools to both entertain and educate themselves.

We at i-Pathways are working to provide access to high quality curriculum to the broadest audience and continue to explore delivery options in correctional education be it through our Internet connected systems, on tablets, or other delivery options. We are also exploring how best to support correctional educators in their unique environments. I ask those who know of innovation in the corrections classroom to contact us at i-Pathways and share your story, tell us what is happening.

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