On Monday I was at a meeting to discuss the Virtual Campus. For an idea of what this is the Prisoner’s Education Trust website has a handy overview; in essence it is a way of delivering screen-based resources over a secure internet connection to learners in prison. The content is hosted on central servers rather than the current topography where individual prisons have their own education server and they manage content locally. They will still do this but can also access the VC and a broader range of material. There was a lot of geeky chat, and I can get as geeky as the next geek, but what I found most interesting is the way some content is being created.
While much of the stuff is provided by external agencies; Learn Direct, DWP, JC+ and the learning providers who deliver education in prison there is now a new strand. Content is being created by users. Who better to write units about some of the issues prisoners might face than other prisoners? Not exactly OERs but an interesting way to develop transferable skills and provide “fit for purpose” resources. I hope to see some of this content soon and I’ll see if any is available to the wider world.
(Click to see full sized)
A brief glimpse inside my head – scary innit? I set myself a target of posting this today before I went to buy beer to enjoy with the big rugby game this afternoon so this is as much as you’ll be getting.
I’m fortunate in that I work for an organisation with “open” in its name. I’ve been involved in some of the projects mention in Martin’s paper and I’ve used OERs in my own practice for many years. In short I come to this with baggage; I have “previous” m’lud.
I think the node on the left is probably idealistic, the idea that anything is completely unbounded is a chimera but we have fewer limitations than traditional classroom-based transmission teaching.
I’ve put an icon next to trust/confidence because they seem to be the biggest hurdles to participation. Patrick McAndrew’s work, as cited by Martin, suggests that few users repurposed OpenLearn OERs because they were of such a high standard; “Big OERs”, but it is also daunting to take something of this quality and to then change it and make it available to an online audience. Participation in any online endeavour through forums, blogging, wikis, creating artifacts, etc is like getting naked in public - I use that metaphor frequently when working with groups who will be using online tools – we have to feel confident before we expose our ideas online. I’m sure many others on the MOOC feel much the same just now and that, for some, posting “out in the world” will be a step they don’t feel comfortable taking.
Edited to add a title – d’oh!
This post is to introduce who I am and why I’m doing the Open Education MOOC. I guess it’ll also serve to introduce me to anyone else who wanders in so it’s cool
The who and why are probably interlinked. By day I work for the Open University as an advisor I specialise in working with a specific group of students and I spend a fair bit of my time travelling and working away from the university’s offices. It’s in the DNA of the OU that we go to the student and as these students can’t access the usual support structures I’m one of the people who acts as an intermediary between them and the university. When I’m not doing that I work as an OU tutor on a first level technology course which is delivered almost entirely online. There are a handful of opportunities for students to meet face-to-face but they can’t all attend or can only come along once or twice so I don’t get to meet the majority of them.
The first OU thing I worked on as a tutor was more than a dozen years ago and that was a very innovative course which had more than 10,000 students on the first presentation Yes, 10k all at once. Bonkers. The course team chair was the self same Martin Weller who is heading up this MOOC. In the past I’ve created some stuff on OpenLearn and used the space in work I’ve done on collaborative projects in the south east of England and also a project with Marjon and Plymouth City Council. And I’d forgotten how much there was and how long ago until I looked at those as a reminder.
So I suppose I’m drawn towards opportunities to engage with all this newfangled online stuff because I’m a tinkerer; I like playing with technology and ideas and seeing where they might be going next so that I can hang on the coattails. And because I know that if Martin’s involved it’s worth being around and because it’s a chance to hang out with some very smart people and find out what the world looks like past the very little bit that I can see. If I can only steal one good idea and use it to plug a gap in something I’m trying to do somewhere else then it’ll be worthwhile.
I’m also here because I understood there would be tea and biscuits.
In Victorian times most people died at home, it was part of living and the cycle of life. We accepted death. Recently this has shifted and now most people die away from their home, death has become something which is often feared and misunderstood. Prisons are the same. Society locks people away and then knows only what the media decide we should be told. There is little narrative about the successes while the red tops will jump on the mistakes.
But we need to better understand what happens in prison because we, society, are the customers. We are the beneficiaries of the prison service in that part of its purpose is to protect us by keeping in custody those who might do us harm. It is also tasked with rehabilitating offenders so that when they are released they can be integrated into society and contribute. This costs us about 2.5% of GDP, the annual cost of re-offending is around £11 billion and each person in prison costs something in the order of £40k/annum. A 2% cut in re-offending, less 1% for fixed costs, would save £120m. A 5% cut less 2.5% fixed costs would bring in £325m/annum. These data from Tom Schuller’s presentation at a conference today and they are from a paper commissioned by NIACE as part of their “Learning Through Life: Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning“. This specific paper is “Crime & Lifelong Learning. Thematic paper 5” and it’s well worth reading. In 2008 the National Audit Office were less than happy about the way money was being spent on prison education (“Meeting needs? The Offenders Learning and Skills Service” 2008) – the spend on offender education isn’t a new story but it’s also not a news story and that’s our fault.
It’s time we viewed prisons in a similar way to hospitals. We might not want to know what happens in every nook and cranny but we expect everyone who is admitted to be cared for during their stay, that our money is being used wisely and that as many people as possible come out better than they went in. We need to look past the sensationalised media reports and start questioning what is really happening and whether it is making a positive difference. We frequently see hospital managers and chief execs on TV talking about their successes so why not prison governors? We need to stop wilfully ignoring what is happening to so many of the damaged members of our society, we need to start engaging with the prison system.
Some years ago I wrote book reviews for FirstMonday and I’ve just had cause to try to find one of them (to give someone the link). Rather than searching the archives again I’ve decided to put links on here so that I know where they are in future.
| Atlas of Cyberspace, Dodge and Kitchen
|Communities in Cyberspace, Smith and Kollock
|Islands in the Clickstream, Thieme
|The Cyberspace Handbook, Whittaker
|Delivering learning on the net, Weller
|Uncanny Networks, Lovink
|Cornucopia limited: Design and dissent on the Internet, Coyne
|Virtual Community, Rheingold
|Smart Mobs, Rheingold
Just thought I’d tie up a hectic week and try to tease out some thoughts.
Tuesday was talking to prison staff at HMP/YOI Rochester (the original Borstal) and on Thursday I attended an OU degree ceremony in a prison. This was a very moving event. We recognised the achievements of a number of prisoners including one who had earned a degree.
Of the many thousands of people in prison in this country only a few hundred will never be released, the rest will eventually have to find a way of surviving in a world which has moved on. And this raises an important question. What is the value of education in this context?
The audit commission report last year stated that the cost of prison education is £110M each year. Only a very small proportion of this goes on higher education, the bulk is on lower level skills and training including basic numeracy and literacy. Yet there doesn’t appear to be any coherent research on the value of education on reoffending. The question then, put simply, is “Does education help to reduce reoffending?”. There are some high profile success stories -Bobby Cummines attributes his transformation from one of the most disruptive prisoners in the system to founding “Unlock” to his Open University studies on release from prison. Eric Allinson spent much of his life in prison and now writes for The Guardian – he’s a passionate advocate of education in prison and recently wrote about the difficulties offenders still face while studying in prison. His piece and others reflect what we believe to be the value of offender learning but can we quantify this value? The government’s education policy is predicated on the presumption that a better qualified workforce will lead to an improved economy, and has been for many years, but does this hold true for offenders?
I’m still thinking about a research degree and this is the kind of area that I’m finding increasingly interesting. More to follow?
This piece is from the BBC but The Register suggests that it’s jumping the gun!