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Patrick Andrews

Teaching students in prison

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Over the past few years, I have been teaching students in prison on some OU courses and it was good to discuss some of the issues at Saturday's staff development day in Bristol.

One thing that has become clear is that prisoners are very diverse and the circumstances are also very diverse.  They vary greatly in terms of how much time and space there is for study.  Some students submit early because they feel they have so much free time to fill whereas oithers have many other duties (one I taught was doing many jobs and many other courses).  Students can also be disrupted by suddenly having to share cells.  An issue I was not aware of before doing this work is that many prisoners change prisons quite frequently and at short notice.  Apparently, they are not always able to take their materials with them, which must be very disruptive.

I think OU tutors are used to being flexible and working with prisons demands this habit of being flexible.  For example, visits can be cancelled at short notice and some students submit by post and this might mean they arrive at unexpected times.  Some prisons have much stricter security procedures than others and tutors need to be prepared for long waits at the gate although sometimes entry can be reasonably quick.

A big issue for the OU as an institution is enabling courses to be accessible to prison students and courses that are completely online (eg L185 EAP Online) are not available to students.  Unfortunately, this would be a very useful course for many students in prison.

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SXR103 chemistry is fun (2008) :-)

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The science faculty is going over to totally online for all new modules sad. They've almost eliminated the books now. Only a few more long-running courses to be replaced.  This is bad news, not only for those in prisons, but for many other students too, for various reasons.

I rarely reply to open to all the world posts as it means my comments are also visible. I do prefer a bit of privacy.  But this is such an important issue. Books are more flexible for study than is the dependence on electricity powered and expensive gadgets. Plus we don't all have perfect internet connection.

I'm not anti tech. I was a programmer through to consultant business analyst in my paid-working life.  Technology was my bread and butter.  But tech is not always the best method.


Sharon Hartles - Zemiologist - because ALL HARM MATTERS

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Hiya Patrick,

We all have upheavals in our lives those that can be planned for and those that can't, which is why many of us mature students make the choice to study with the OU.

On the plus side at least these prisoners know they will have a bed and shelter. Prison can have it upside. Gives prisoners a chance to get clean from a varity of addictions, change their lives, educate themselves, break away from viscous habits in outside world.

In my personal,professional capacity I know of young children who are brought to school after sleeping on the streets. Parents carried there belonging in black bags. Many have day to day upheavals.... of which study is not a priority. 



Patrick Andrews

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Thanks for the comment, Jan.

I agree with you that it is sad many courses are going completely online.  Experience with OU Live shows that many people do not have perfect internet connections.  I do have some students who seem to rely on mobile phones for much of their online work and it seems to me that is not really feasible when reading a great deal of content.

Patrick Andrews

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Thanks for the comment, Jan

The OU population is very diverse.  I have had students succeed despite very serious challenges.  As a tutor, I tend to be made most aware of students' medical issues and I have had students do excellent work despite being very ill.  Many people do OU courses or distance learning courses because it is the only option.

Your comment about shelter in prisons is interesting as it seems prisons are so diverse.  I think some must be intimidating places to stay in whereas the open prison I have worked in seemed relatively relaxed (as far as I understand it, though, all prisoneers will have been in tougher environments at some stage in their sentence).