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Offering programs to incarcerated students

The National Convergence Technology Center’s (CTC) most recent “Brown Bag” webinar featured a look at how Sinclair Community College offers a wide range of classes in prisons throughout the state of Ohio. The presenters were Kyle Jones, Chair and Associate Professor of Sinclair’s Computer Information Services department who’s worked in the IT field for over 15 years in both small PC repair shops and Fortune 500 data centers before coming to education, and Ryan Murphy, Chair and Professor in Sinclair’s Business Information Systems department, where he’s the coordinator and curriculum designer for Sinclair’s courses in Software Testing, MS Access, and Excel.

Stock photo of empty studnet desks in a classroom.

First launched in 2020, the Brown Bag series offers special topic presentations via bite-sized, 30-minute segments on both technical and employability topics. To date, these webinars have been attended “live” by over 470 people with another 1100 views of the recordings on YouTube.

Below are a few highlights of Kyle and Ryan’s presentation on the unique challenges and benefits of providing educational opportunities to incarcerated students. To view the entire presentation, click here.

* 65% of Ohio’s prisoners are unemployed when they go into prison. And 80% of them don’t have a high school diploma. In fact, on average, the highest level of education is seventh grade. These programs are about trying to reintroduce these people into society with useful skills.

* Prisons present a number of logistical challenges. You can’t install anything that students would be able to write their own code in. You can be limited by what students can do when they’re using affordable – but low compute-power – classroom devices like Chromebooks. Internet access isn’t always available. And when there is internet, individual website pages have to be whitelisted which involved layers of approval and permissions.

* Ultimately, some classes have to be designed (or re-designed) with the assumption that students will not have any internet access. Likewise, flash drives from outside the prison may or may not be permitted. Unlike traditional classes where improvisation is possible (I’ll just show this website or tool), faculty teaching in prisons have to plan ahead and be extremely prepared.

* It’s not easy to find qualified faculty willing to go teach in a prison. Further, you have to build into those instructors’ schedules not just drive time to get them to and from the institution, but also plan for possible “quarantine” situations where the prison locks down and the instructor can’t leave. In other words, those faculty can’t be scheduled to teach back-to-back classes.

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