A pike-m res-dissertation-ap2


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Masters of Research Dissertation: Investigating Technology-supported
Distance Learning in Prison

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A pike-m res-dissertation-ap2

  1. 1. Investigating Technology-supported Distance Learning in Prison Dissertation for Master of Research (MRes) degree The Open UniversityAnne Pike, BSc. (Hons), MSc, PGCE (PCET) a.e.pike@open.ac.uk Submitted: 13th September 2010 Re-submitted: 24th December 2010
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  3. 3. AbstractThe internet and its new technologies provide many opportunities to support distancelearning (Bates, 2005) but the pace of change has led to a „digital divide‟ betweenthose who have the access, skills and desire to use new technologies and those whodo not (Eynon, 2009). There are, however, up to 4000 distance learning inmates inEnglish prisons who have restricted access to technologies and for whom the „digitaldivide‟ may be even wider.This research employed a partial ethnographic approach to obtain multipleperspectives of what technology is available to distance learning inmates, how theyaccess and use that technology to support learning, and what are the attitudestowards technology-supported distance learning. Data was collected over two dayswithin one prison cluster in England which included three prisons housing adult maleinmates. 10 student-inmates and 6 staff participated in the in-depth, semi-structuredinterviews and additional data was collected through participant observation, informalconversations and document analysis. Through a grounded theory style analysis ofaccess, skills and attitude, three themes emerged: physical environment, institutionalvisions and student identity.This research finds a closed social world where the distance-learning student-inmates show great determination in maintaining an essential student identity.However the conflicting institutional visions of the education stakeholders and thecontrolled physical environment negatively impact on technology-supported distancelearning. Except in the most „progressive‟ prison with a learning culture, the student-inmates perceive very little choice in what technology they use for learning. In the iii
  4. 4. „working‟ prison with the regimented work culture, student-inmates perceiveinsufficient time or space for learning. Having access to a computer and a printerwhich are attached to each other is a bonus and the idea of internet access appearsinconceivable to some. In this environment the „digital divide‟ appears more like atotal „discontinuity‟.Keywords: distance learning, prison education, technology-supported learning,digital divide, identity. iv
  5. 5. AcknowledgementsSpecial thanks go to staff and students in the prisons who were extremely helpfuland kind. Without their support and enthusiasm I would have been unable tocomplete this research.Thanks also to my supervisors Dr. Anne Adams and Dr. Lesley Anderson who wereamazingly patient and always available to help, even at unusual hours.I would like to thank the tutors of the MRes modules for helping to provide me withthe skills I needed, especially Prof. Martyn Hammersley and Prof. John Richardsonfor their vision which inspired me.I also acknowledge the support I received from staff in the Institute of EducationalTechnology (IET) and the Centre for Research in Education and EducationalTechnology (CREET) and fellow students.Finally, thanks to Steve, Ben and Georgina for supporting me through difficult times. v
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  7. 7. CONTENTSCHAPTER 1: AIMS AND OBJECTIVES .................................................................... 21.1 Introduction ......................................................................................................... 21.2 Background ......................................................................................................... 31.3 The research questions ....................................................................................... 6CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW ....................................................................... 82.1 Introduction ......................................................................................................... 82.2 The „digital divide‟ for distance learners in England ............................................. 82.3 The „digital divide‟ for distance learners in prison............................................... 112.4 Technology in prison: bridging the „digital divide‟? ............................................. 132.5 Conclusion ........................................................................................................ 16CHAPTER 3: METHODS OF DATA COLLECTION................................................. 183.1 Introduction ....................................................................................................... 183.2 Theoretical perspective ..................................................................................... 183.3 Methods of data collection ................................................................................. 193.4 Data collection methods chosen ........................................................................ 213.5 Selection Procedures ........................................................................................ 223.6 Ethical Issues .................................................................................................... 24CHAPTER 4: DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS .............................................. 284.1 Introduction ....................................................................................................... 284.2 The prison setting .............................................................................................. 284.3 Data collection procedures ................................................................................ 294.4 Problems encountered ...................................................................................... 354.5 Data Analysis .................................................................................................... 37CHAPTER 5: INTERPRETING THE DATA ............................................................. 425.1 Introduction ....................................................................................................... 425.2 The physical environment .................................................................................. 425.3 Institutional visions ............................................................................................ 475.4 Student identity.................................................................................................. 55CHAPTER 6: CONCLUSION .................................................................................. 606.1 Introduction ....................................................................................................... 606.2 „Digital divide‟ or discontinuity? .......................................................................... 606.3 Reflections ........................................................................................................ 656.4 Future research ................................................................................................. 69REFERENCES ........................................................................................................ 72Appendix A: Justification of Data Collection Methods ............................................. 80Appendix B: Extract from email confirmation from SRPP ........................................ 81Appendix C: HPMEC Request Form ....................................................................... 82Appendix D: Consent Forms & Information sheets .................................................. 87Appendix E: Interview Guides ................................................................................. 91Appendix F: Additional Information request form ..................................................... 93Appendix G: Student Participant Characteristics ..................................................... 94Appendix H: Conceptual Labels .............................................................................. 95Appendix I: Some additional/ more complete quotes for Chapter 5 ......................... 98 vii
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  9. 9. CHAPTER 1: AIMS AND OBJECTIVES1.1 IntroductionUp to 4000 prisoners per year study through distance learning1 while in prison(Schuller 2009), potentially equipping them with better qualifications, skills andvalues for a crime-free future (Hughes 2007; Prisoners Education Trust 2009a). Theinternet and its new technologies2 provide many opportunities to support distancelearning (Bates, 2005) but studies of technology-supported distance learning in thegeneral population of England have identified a „digital divide‟ between those whohave the access, skills and the desire to use new technologies and those who do not(Eynon, 2009). Many prisoners come from those socio-economic groups in Englandwhere exclusion or truanting from school is commonplace (SEU 2002) and which areconsidered to be most at risk of marginalization through the „digital divide‟ (Clarke,2008). However, in terms of the technology which they can access in prison, theyhave been labeled “cavemen in an era of speed and light technology” (Jewkes andJohnson, 2009). The aim of this research is therefore to investigate if and howdistance learning in prison is supported by new technologies.1 Distance learning is the main progression opportunity for those prisoners who attain level 2 (GCSEequivalent) either before or inside prison (Open University, 2008)2 New technologies are defined here as the information and communication technologies (ICTs)developed since the advent of the WWW, such as networked computers, internet, Virtual LearningEnvironments (VLEs) and more recently Web 2 technologies and social networking tools. 2
  10. 10. 1.2 Background1.2.1 The ‘digital divide’ in EnglandSince the development of the World Wide Web (WWW) in 1995, the use of newtechnologies in everyday life and learning has grown almost exponentially; leading toan information revolution (BIS and DCMS 2009; Schuller and Watson, 2009).However, the pace of change has caused a „digital divide‟ for those who have beenunable to keep up and are „digitally disconnected‟, either because they cannotaccess new technologies or because they lack the skills or confidence to use themappropriately (Kirkwood, 2006a). The nature of inequality is complex (Schuller andWatson, 2009) and the interpretation of the „digital divide‟ varies but some researchsuggests that it has widened over recent years (Morris, 2009). The previousGovernment stated, “We are at a tipping point in relation to the online world. It is moving from conferring advantage on those who are in it to conferring active disadvantage on those who are without” (BIS, 2009, p11)They prepared to address the issue and the Digital Britain report highlights howthose who want to participate in the information revolution may be enabled, and havethe capability to do it (BIS, 2009). Considerable research, both quantitative andqualitative, has been devoted to investigating the „digital divide‟ in Britain and itsimplications for learning but students in prison are rarely included in these studies. 3
  11. 11. 1.2.2 The prison contextThe principle aim of prison is to protect the public (NOMS, 2007). However, thebalance of security, control and justice is complex and those who manage prisonshave conflicting aims in providing secure containment and a rehabilitativeenvironment (King, 2007). This complexity in the prison‟s role causes tension indetermining what prisoners should be allowed to do or have (Schuller, 2009). Thesecurity category of a prison normally determines the level of physical containment.Category A (High Security) normally houses longer-sentenced, dangerous criminals,Category B (fairly high security) closed environment and receives prisoners directlyfrom the courts. Category C is lower security closed prison often aimed at providingvocational training. The category D open prison is the lowest security prison andallows some prisoners to leave the prison to work or get home leave in preparationfor release/resettlement. Prisoners often move through the categories, entering a lowsecurity, sometimes open, prison shortly before release. Most prisons are managedby the Ministry of Justice but eleven prisons in England are privately managed(NOMS, 2007) and there is significant variety in the way prisons are run which is notalways related to security category (Adams and Pike, 2008; Liebling 2007).1.2.3 Education in prisonIn all except a few private prisons, the classroom-based prison education in Englandis provided by the Offender Learning and Skills Service (OLASS)3 whose contractedFurther Education (FE) providers concentrate on addressing basic literacy andnumeracy needs. This is not considered sufficient to meet many prisoners‟ personalor employment needs (NAO, 2009; Owers, 2007) and distance learning provides a3 OLASS is managed by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) (previously the Learning and SkillsCouncil) 4
  12. 12. higher level learning option in most prisons. However, prisoners must apply throughcomplex screening procedures and fund themselves or apply for funding throughcharitable trusts such as the Prisoners Education Trust. As with non-prison students,student-inmates4 organise their own learning but communication with distancelearning providers is complicated by the need to go through an intermediary in theprison; often the OLASS contracted education staff or, more recently, Careers,Information and Advice Service (CIAS) staff. The Open University (OU) providessome support through face-to-face or telephone tutorials when possible (Hancock2010) though there are many other providers. Recent research suggests that lack ofinternet access may be a barrier to this mode of study since student-inmates areunable to access online materials, assessments, tutors and other students (Pike2010, Prisoners Education Trust 2009a)1.2.4 Educational technology in prisonThe previous government committed to a long-term strategy of online secure accessin prison and planned for the development of a campus model for learning in prisonwhich has more flexible access to skills and employment support, with effective useof ICT (BIS, 2006). OLASS has recently invested heavily in upgrading and replacingits ICT infrastructure in many prisons in England and has financed suitablemaintenance arrangements. Most education departments in prisons in England nowhave at least one IT suite which has modern computers with CD ROM drives, someof which may be internally networked (Learning and Skills Council, 2008). A varietyof different technology solutions have been developed, including a new secure, fire-walled resettlement tool, the Virtual Campus, which is being trialed by the PrisonService in prisons in two English regions and there are plans to roll out across all4 ‘Student-inmates’ are defined here as those prisoners who study through distance learning while inprison 5
  13. 13. prison in England over the next two years (Prisoners Education Trust, 2009b).Internet access in a prison environment is problematic; apart from obvious securityconcerns it is politically sensitive as there is significant negative public and mediaopinion (Jewkes, 2007) but it is also dependent upon Prison Service managementand each prison establishment has its own unique culture (Liebling and Price, 2001).1.3 The research questionsThe literature review which follows draws upon research on the „digital divide‟ fromthe broad field of distance learning in the community at large, exploring its relevancein a prison context and comparing it with the limited research literature of distancelearning in the prison environment. The research questions which emerge are asfollows:-Qu1. a) What technology is available to the student-inmate? b) How does the student-inmate access and use technologies for learning inprison?Qu2. How does the student-inmate develop the skills required to use technologiesfor learning in prison?Qu3. a) What are the student-inmate‟s perceptions of technology-supporteddistance learning in prison? b) What are the attitudes of others towards technology-supported distance learning in prison? 6
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  15. 15. CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW2.1 IntroductionIn an attempt to understand how technology supports distance learners in prison,this review draws on the wealth of research literature on technology-supporteddistance learning in England and explores its relevance for distance learning in aprison context. Section 2.2 reviews the definition of the „digital divide‟ for non-prisondistance learners. Section 2.3 reviews the small amount of empirical research whichrelates to a ´digital divide´ for distance learners in prison. Section 2.4 reviews theliterature which investigates improving technologies in prison. The review concludesthat some solutions to the „digital divide‟ in the community at large could relate to aprison context, but there may be specific issues related to the closed prison contextwhich require further exploration.2.2 The ‘digital divide’ for distance learners in England2.2.1 IntroductionA large proportion of adults in England learn through distance education (Clark2008). New Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as VirtualLearning Environments (VLEs) and collaborative learning tools are perceived ashaving the potential to widen participation in education by providing accessible andflexible learning at a distance, though they also present many challenges (Becta,2008; Clark, 2008) as some students are unable or unwilling to use them (Kirkwood2006a). From some perspectives the „digital divide‟ is a socio-economic divide,involving students who live in deprived circumstances and cannot undertake online 8
  16. 16. study for financial or social reasons (or both)‟ (Clark, 2008). Others argue that the„digital divide‟ is shaped by factors which go beyond simple access to hardware andskills; that use of ICT is also related to the cultural and political context in which theyoperate, hence the inequalities are not being reduced by simply improving theavailability of ICT (Selwyn and Facer, 2007; Selwyn, Gorard and Furlong, 2004).Eynon (2009) however, defines the „digital divide‟ as a “continuum of access anduse” and suggests that access, skills and attitudes may explain patterns of use ofnew technologies. These are useful distinctions for ICT and learning issues and alignwell with suggested concepts of „access‟, „awareness‟ and „acceptability‟ for an e-learning framework in a secure environment (Adams and Pike, 2008a) so have beenused to structure this literature review.2.2.1 AccessKirkwood and Price (2005) reported on studies which used a variety of surveys togenerate quantitative and qualitative data regarding access and use of computers,ICT and media technologies among 80,000 active OU students over the period 2001to 2005. They found a variety of practical access issues, such as home computers innoisy family areas which were unsuitable for study or shared access timerestrictions. Some students had problems associated with their employers, such asprohibition of loading „external‟ software including course resources onto employers‟computers and they found that access and use of IT inversely related to age. Eynon(2009)‟s statistical analysis of Oxford Internet Surveys (OxIS)5 data also identifiedage as a significant factor in explaining access to online learning but social class,level of income and level of education were also highly significant factors. Althoughthese findings may translate to a prison context, there is a fundamental assumption5 Multi-stage face-to-face surveys on internet use of 2000 random people in UK (seehttp://microsites.oii.ox.ac.uk/oxis/) 9
  17. 17. in this literature that students have some choice in how they access and usetechnology for learning and this may not be the case in a closed prison environment.2.2.2 SkillsIncreasing sophistication in new technologies and level of competency expected oflearners may widen rather than bridge the digital and educational divide (Lane,2009). Allen (2009) identified a lack of confidence in the use of ICTs among new OUstudents who lived in areas of high deprivation6 in the UK. They had negativeexperiences of formal learning of ICT skills, undervalued skills developed throughinformal learning and were nervous about engaging in courses which requiredsignificant ICT usage. Many perceived the need for specific face-to-face ICT trainingearly in the course to develop required skills. Kirkwood and Price (2005) found thatstudents needed to understand why as well as how they should use ICTs for study.Peasgood (2007), supported Kirkwood and Price‟s results for OU Openingsstudents, who usually utilize telephone tutorials, but also found that many studentspreferred personal contact from a tutor instead of electronic communication.However, the fact that all her interviewed students were elderly may have biased herresults. As Openings courses are often compulsory for new OU students in prisonthese results may be particularly relevant.2.2.3 AttitudesEynon (2009) found that those internet users with a positive attitude towards ICTwere significantly more likely to use the internet for formal and informal learning.However, Peasgood (2007) found contrasting attitudes towards use of ICTs forassessment and suggested that although the convenience of online assessment6 the lowest 25%, using the UK Index of Multiple Deprivation 2007 10
  18. 18. procedures could be motivating its unfamiliarity could cause significant anxiety whichmay be alleviated through appropriate informal support. Kirkwood (2006b) arguesthat distance learners only „go outside the box‟ to learn if they are given a reason todo so and need encouragement to communicate with their peers. He suggests thatonline and collaborative activities should be clearly linked to outcomes andassessment. Although this argument may encourage participation for those witheasy internet access, it may negatively affect those in less connected environments.In comparison, Helsper and Eynon (2010) discuss the „digital natives‟7 who canreceive information really fast, parallel process and function best when networked.They argue that these skills are not necessarily purely generational and suggest thatthe „digital native‟ label could lead to unhelpful attitudes from educators who maythink that technology is a „quick fix‟; an attitude which would certainly be unhelpful tothose with more restricted access.2.3 The ‘digital divide’ for distance learners in prison2.3.1 AccessHughes (2007)‟s mixed methods study of distance learners across 9 prisons inEngland and Wales in 2001-2003 found variety in computer facilities and highlights alack of access to information generally since libraries had inadequate academicliterature or modern computers. Her research was not focused on technology,however, and lacked technical detail. Braggins and Talbot (2003) found perceptionsof „old and outdated‟ hardware and software in their study of young prisoners inprison education. Some distance learners were included but were not7 One of a number of labels to describe young people born into the WWW generation, now studying atschool or University 11
  19. 19. distinguishable. Pike (2010)‟s study of 35 OU distance learning students across 15prisons in England in 2007 also found that access to computers and storage devicesvaried significantly from one prison to another and most access was in shared areaswith very restricted times. She found some use of in-cell laptops which wasperceived as „empowering‟ and almost 10% of participants had internet access buther findings were biased by 2 students in one prison who had internet accessthrough their employment and her method and analysis were not clearly defined.However, none of these studies focused on how students used computer facilities forlearning.2.3.2 SkillsHughes (2007) found distance learning tutors very supportive but also a perceivedlack of email correspondence with tutors meant that students felt isolated. Adamsand Pike (2008a) also identified some isolation from lack of interactive tutor supportbut added that lack of communication with peers was also significant. Theysuggested that OU tutors or prison education staff often needed to „bend the rules‟ inorder to provide good support, such as copying DVDs or downloading material ontoprison laptops. However, these accounts provide very little detail of how supportimpacts on students‟ skills and they are unable to identify preferences for specifictypes of support in order to compare with non-prison studies (Kirkwood and Price2005).2.3.3 AttitudesMost prison distance learning literature provides evidence of positive perceptions ofdistance learning, for improved confidence and self-esteem (Prisoner‟s EducationTrust 2009; Wilson, 2000). However Braggins and Talbot (2003) found negative 12
  20. 20. attitudes from staff and huge differences in attitudes of the prison managementregarding what technology is or is not allowed for educational purposes. Theycommented on the „stupid rules‟ such as lack of access to in-cell electroniccalculators which could relate to biased cultures within the prison community.Hughes provides an example of one student whose application for a word-processorfor typing up coursework was refused. “Security said „no‟ because of the memory”(Hughes, 2007, p204). This highlights two specific issues: firstly the possibility thattechnological advancement in prison at that time was several years behind that inthe non-prison community and secondly the institutional fear of technology whichmay or may not be related to genuine security concerns. Adams and Pike (2008b)identified similar tension among some prison staff regarding prisoner access tounfamiliar technology which, they argue, related to the IT literacy of those in control.However, there was no detailed review of these issues in their paper and theysuggested that further investigation was required. Although „attitude‟ is a theme inthe literature of the „digital divide‟ in the non-prison community, the aspect of controlwhich this literature suggests, may be peculiar to a prison environment and requiresfurther consideration.2.4 Technology in prison: bridging the ‘digital divide’?2.4.1 AccessJewkes and Johnson (2009) suggest that 7 prisons in England and Wales provideinternet access though they do not provide any detail and their estimate of 300students annually studying with the OU disagrees substantially with other literature(Hancock, 2009; Jones and Pike, 2010). The OU and other distance learning 13
  21. 21. providers are participating in trials of the new Virtual Campus by providing a smallnumber of courses (Prisoners Education Trust, 2009b) though evaluation is limited.Pike (2009) suggests other prisons have networked their new computers internally,allowing software and printers to be shared so students can appear to accessuploaded courses „online‟, though she mentions only one High Security prison. Thereare many other initiatives across prisons which are making use of e-learning(Englebright and Essom, 2009; Englebright and Petit, 2009). Although this workrepresents a big step forward, most of the individual initiatives use non-interactivetechnology such as digital cameras and are limited in their effectiveness because oflack of access to the internet in prisons. Also there are many cases where thematerials are prevented from working properly due to the security tools used to lockdown the computers to the satisfaction of the authorities (National Learning Network,2010).2.4.2 SkillsComputer skills in prison are provided in the form of European Computer DrivingLicence (ECDL) or Computer Literacy and Information Technology (CLAIT)qualifications and some prisons have introduced e-skills though these IT skills areusually only available to students attending standard classroom education and arenot available to those doing distance learning (Prisoners Education Trust, 2009a).Some prisons also provide IT qualifications through CISCO academies orLearndirect courses (Jewkes and Johnson, 2009). In the non-prison community,Kirkwood (2006a) indicates effective networked learning requires specific skillsthough it is not known whether student-inmates either have or need such skills.Hancock (2009) suggests an Essential, Desirable or Optional (EDO) framework tostructure centralised support for specific distance learning courses which require a 14
  22. 22. VLE. Acknowledging this as an improvement and potential for a valuable short-termsolution, Pike (2009) argues that alternatives are not the long-term solution andfurther research is required to identify barriers to online resources.2.4.3 AttitudeBraggins and Talbot (2003, p29) commented “It is difficult to believe that the obvious risks and temptations associated with unfettered access to the internet could not be overcome with a little imagination, computer know-how and institutional courage”.Modern technology is able to provide secure access and a number of successfulinitiatives suggest technical solutions are possible (Jewkes and Johnson, 2009).Taylor (2005) explained that although no firewall is completely safe some prisongovernors prefer the ´trust´ method of internet access (as adopted by someEuropean countries) along with censored email, to the current system of letter-checking. Adams and Pike (2008a) argue that negative perceptions of informationsecurity and control which impede the development of open and distance learningare not specific to the Prison Service and other closed institutions such as the NHShave similar perceptions. However, they argue that in order to find appropriatesolutions to the „digital divide‟ there is a need to understand the culture within theenvironment. 15
  23. 23. 2.5 ConclusionThis review suggests that the „digital divide‟ is not a static gap but a complex andevolving phenomenon for both the prison and non-prison distance learner. Howeverthe prison context is under-researched and in order to adequately address the „digitaldivide‟ in this closed environment there is a need to identify patterns of access anduse, levels of competence and support, student preferences and cultural attitudes asin the community at large. This research project therefore aims to identify how thedeveloping technology is supporting distance learning in a prison environment; whattechnology is now available to the student-inmate, how they access and use thattechnology and what are the perceptions and attitudes regarding access and use ofthe technology (see research questions in section 1.3 above). Chapter 3 discussesthe methods and ethical issues related to the data collection. 16
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  25. 25. CHAPTER 3: METHODS OF DATA COLLECTION3.1 IntroductionThis chapter describes the research design. The adopted research approach isdescribed, a number of possible data collection methods discussed and the rationalefor the chosen methods of data collection provided. The table in Appendix A, whichis adapted from Mason (2002), justifies how the chosen data collection techniquesspecifically address the research questions. The selection process for the prisonsand the participants is then outlined and some of the many ethical issues areaddressed.3.2 Theoretical perspectiveThe prison, being a „total institution‟8 (Goffman, 1961), is a difficult environment toresearch (Liebling, 2001) and one that requires a special research stance(Piacentini, 2008). Student-inmates have actions, thoughts, attitudes and a story totell about their hidden social world. A qualitative approach is considered mostappropriate as it could generate rich descriptions of participants‟ perceptions oftechnology-supported distance learning in a prison context9, which would be flexibleand sensitive to the complexity of this closed social world (Mason, 2002). Somequalitative researchers such as discourse analysts argue that language is8 A total institution is described as an isolated, artificially created, world in which people are subjectedto a depersonalizing and totalitarian regime. Goffman considered prisons, mental asylums, monasteriesand boarding schools as total institutions and his version of ‘inmate’ included staff as well asprisoner/patient.9 The education department in the prison is not the prisoners’ natural setting in terms of theiraccommodation and leisure activities but with respect to the educational technology focus of thisresearch it is considered to be acceptable 18
  26. 26. constructive, constitutive of social life, so the social world only exists through humanmeaning-making (Potter and Wetherill, 1987) and nothing beyond the discourse isvalid. However in line with a „subtle realism‟, perceptions may differ but anassumption can still be made that the described phenomena are as they are and notjust how they are perceived to be, as long as threats to validity are minimisedthroughout the research process (Hammersley, 1992; Hammersley and Gomm,2006).A grounded theory style of analysis is therefore considered to be most appropriate(Strauss and Corbin, 1998) as it may capture the social complexity of the closedprison environment. However, to improve validity, multiple sources with differentperspectives could provide a better understanding of the complexities and a varietyof different collection techniques which have different kinds of validity threat mayalso check interpretations (Hammersley and Atkinson, 2007).3.3 Methods of data collectionA mixed-methods approach generating both qualitative and quantitative data isinitially considered as it could provide multiple perspectives (Blaxter et. al., 2006). Aquantitative research method, such as a survey, could be useful at a macro-level,providing large-scale, structural features of technology-supported learning in thelarger prison community as it is more concerned with identifying patterns and causalrelationships between variables which can be measured (Bryman, 2001). It couldalso provide evidence on which to base a qualitative research method for the microperspective. Surveys have been used successfully in a prison context as part of amixed-methods approach (Hughes, 2007) but delivery, completion and return is 19
  27. 27. dependent on the prison authorities and can be an issue. Although open questionscould provide some qualitative data, a survey alone would be unlikely to providesufficiently detailed information of the participants‟ perceptions of technology-supported distance learning under investigation and there is insufficient time to use itas a complementary method.Since the way people think and feel affects the way they behave and interact withothers (Blaxter et al., 2006), observation of student-inmates in their learningenvironment could provide insight into their social world. Participant observation isone of the primary tools of ethnography which has proved to be a valuable approachto studying social relations and cultural codes in a prison context (De Viggiani, 2007;Jewkes, 2002). However, time restrictions make the sustained observation requiredfor an in-depth ethnographic study inappropriate for this small-scale research. Alsoas much of the study time of the student-inmate is in the confines of the cell which isnot observable, participant observation does not adequately address all of theresearch questions. However, some observation could provide a complementarymethod of data collection and a partial ethnographic approach is consideredfeasible10.In-depth interviews are considered to be the most appropriate for the primaryresearch data collection method as they may produce rich descriptions ofparticipants‟ accounts, both for information about how student-inmates access anduse technology and for analysis of the perspectives they imply (Hammersley and10 It is acknowledged that a full ethnographic approach would require more than two days in the fieldbut data collection was approached in a reflexive manner over the two days. 20
  28. 28. Atkinson, 2007). They would also potentially provide data which would not be directlyobservable such as in other prisons and in-cell activities.Group interviews are briefly considered as they could potentially capture moreparticipants at one time and encourage less formality, but it is likely that narrativeswould be affected by participants‟ inability to divulge personal information in thecompany of others. One-to-one interviews in a quiet setting are considered to be themost likely possibility of providing the participants with the privacy to be able to talkfreely. They are also likely to provide flexibility for the researcher within the confinesof the prison regime. Only face-to-face interviews of the student participants arefeasible as the likelihood of being able to access prisoners by telephone is slim. Lessformal interviews with staff are possible, both face-to-face and telephone, and couldbe arranged opportunistically to improve flexibility.Document analysis is used in some form or other in most social research projects. Itis a valuable resource and particularly useful in a prison context because it can oftenbe completed without a site visit. This method is not suitable as a main datacollection technique as it could not obtain perceptions of technology-supporteddistance learning. However pertinent procedural and policy documents could provideinformation about distance learning and technology across the wider prison estateand individual learning plans or class registration documents could provide usefulbackground information.3.4 Data collection methods chosen 21
  29. 29. A systematic analysis of the above data collection methods leads towards a partialethnographic, multi-method approach with in-depth, semi-structured, face-to-face,interviews as the primary data collection method for the majority of the participants.Additional data will be generated from participant observation and informalconversations with staff and students; providing direct situational information andideas to bring meaning to the data collected through the interviews. Government,Prison Service, Ofsted and Third Sector documents will also be examined whereappropriate to provide background information and aid selection criteria. Appendix Aprovides a table which justifies how these data collection methods address theresearch questions.This multi-method approach should provide multiple perspectives and improvevalidity. In an attempt to further improve validity, interviews will not follow a strictsequence but be allowed to flow as in a natural conversation. What questions areasked and how they are asked would be considered in the analysis and anawareness of the researcher‟s participation in the research process could also beexploited with respect to the information gained from the participants‟ reaction to theresearcher (Hammersley and Atkinson, 2007). Research in prison must adhere tothe strict security regime (Jewkes and Johnson, 2009; Piacentini, 2007) and thismulti-method approach provides the flexibility to accommodate this.3.5 Selection Procedures3.5.1 The prisonOnly one prison setting is considered as Prison Service Research regulations requirecomplex and time-consuming Home Office approval for research in more than one 22
  30. 30. prison and difficult access arrangements are eased by a good rapport which usuallytakes time to develop.The selection criteria for the prison are as follows:-1. Potential of new technologies for learning.2. Sufficient number and variety of distance learners.3. A variety of learning environments (some prison clusters contain several prisons in one site with multiple security categories).4. Ease of access, including known gatekeepers and distance from the researcher‟s home as at least two full day visits are required and the day starts early.3.5.2 The participantsAn application to the Student Research Project Panel (SRPP) is not required as thefocus of the research is on all distance learning students in prison, not just OUstudents (see email confirmation in Appendix B).Purposive sampling is planned, to handpick student participants across a range ofprison security categories and distance education providers (Blaxter et. al., 2006).This is chosen because there are few distance learning students available and theaim is to interview as many as possible with a variety of experiences. Sampling ofthe staff will be more opportunistic though partially „theoretical‟ (Strauss and Corbin,1990, p177), as the data will be partially analysed and emerging themes may affectfurther selection. 23
  31. 31. 3.6 Ethical Issues3.6.1 IntroductionThis research adheres to British Educational Research Association (BERA) ethicalguidelines as well as OU ethical guidelines, and is cleared by the Human Participantand Materials Research Ethics Committee (Appendix C). However, research involvingprisoners is “fraught with ethical challenges” (Roberts and Indermaur, 2008) and anumber of specific issues require consideration at different stages of the research.These are highlighted below under the five main principles which can be consideredto underpin the majority of ethical concerns in social and educational research: harm,autonomy, privacy, reciprocity and equity (Hammersley and Atkinson, 2007;Hammersley and Traianou, 2007).3.6.2 HarmFor the participant: Every attempt will be made to avoid sensitive or distressingsubjects. The prison and the participants will be anonymised to prevent harm fromany adverse publicity or publications at a later date.For the researcher: Enhanced CRB disclosure has been obtained and theresearcher, as an ex-prison tutor, is fully conversant with prison security procedures.3.6.3 AutonomyParticipation will be completely voluntary and participants must sign a consent form.The rights of prisoners to make free and informed decisions may not be appreciatedby prison gatekeepers who consider prison management as the only authoritydeciding prisoner participation (Waldram, 1998). Thus to ensure that participation is 24
  32. 32. voluntary and student-inmates understand the implications of the research and itssubsequent report, easy-to-read information sheets will accompany the consent formand the main points discussed at length prior to the interview. The option to withdrawat any stage up to analysis and the opportunity of not being recorded will also bestressed, and time given for reflection before the end of the interview.Roberts and Indermaur (2008) argue that signed consent forms may pose a threat toconfidentiality, for example, to a prisoner‟s future wellbeing. However, this is notexpected to be an issue as: firstly, the research is focused on educational technologynot their crimes; secondly, the student-inmates will be specifically informed that othertopics are not for discussion; finally, a suitably confidential room for the semi-structured interviews will be identified where possible (though regime restrictionsmay affect interview space).3.6.4 PrivacyAll data will be anonymised and subject to the requirements of the Data ProtectionAct. The required OU Data Protection form has been completed and all necessarymeasures to ensure the security of the data will be taken. Audio files and/ortranscripts and other electronic data will be stored in password-protected files on anOU laptop, printed material in locked cupboards at the OU, personal data keptseparately from the interview schedules to protect confidentiality and preserveanonymity. Anonymity and confidentiality will be stressed before and after theinterview (especially relative to staff/ student relationships). 25
  33. 33. 3.6.5 ReciprocityAccess to prisons is difficult and people who are inconvenienced or disrupted by theresearch may require recompense, in order to allow access to more research in thefuture. The researcher will attempt to fit in with the prison regime and be guided tothe participants and spaces available. The researcher is aware that prisoners mayrequest favours but they will be informed of the researcher‟s role, working within theBERA ethics code and that she has no influence in relation to their studies, nor couldshe provide any other privileges.3.6.6 Equity or justiceAn attempt will be made to treat all participants equally within the research processand not discriminate against or exploit anyone. 26
  34. 34. 27
  35. 35. CHAPTER 4: DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS4.1 IntroductionThis chapter provides information about the data collection and analysis procedures.It describes the prison setting, including how the prison was selected and accessgained. The discussion of data collection procedures includes adaption forunforeseen problems and ethical issues considered. Finally, the analysis process isdescribed and the emerging themes of physical environment, institutional visions andstudent identity are introduced.4.2 The prison settingThe initial gatekeeper was the OLASS National IT manager who, in order to improvethe potential for technology, recommended those prisons which were successfullyusing the Virtual Campus (see section 1.2.4). Distance learner numbers in therecommended prisons were estimated by analysing data at the Prisoners EducationTrust (PET) and the OU. Ofsted reports provided background information. The prisonchosen was a cluster prison11, trialling an OU Openings course on the VirtualCampus and provided the potential to investigate distance learning at three securitylevels, B to D.The OLASS manager introduced the researcher to the second gatekeeper, the Headof Learning and Skills (HoLS), a Governor level manager at the site. He gave11 A cluster prison contains several prisons within one site which act as one establishment and aim toprogress prisoners through the different security levels as they complete their sentence. 28
  36. 36. permission for access to all three prisons on the site and completed securityarrangements for the audio equipment. It was agreed that the research would becompleted over two days with a gap of approximately 2 weeks for reflection, analysisand staff holidays.A third gatekeeper, an education staff member became the visit coordinator,providing support and an escort12 around the establishment. The HoLS, the visitcoordinator and the Virtual Campus were all in the Category (Cat) D Open prison, sothat was where the research was mostly focused.Initial enquiries established that out of the 1400 prisoners, there were possibly only13 distance learners though actual numbers were unknown. Through liaison with thevisit coordinator and various other education staff at the prison, the participants wereselected according to the sampling criteria (see chapter 3). However, data collectioncould not be fully planned prior to the first visit as student availability and staffingarrangements were unknown and the final decision on who participated was with theprison management.4.3 Data collection procedures4.3.1 The VisitsData collection was completed over two full-day visits in June 2010. During the firstvisit, data was generated from students and staff in the Cat D prison and one studentfrom the Cat B prison. The second visit generated data from additional students andstaff in the Cat D and Cat C prison. Movement around the cluster site was eased12 Visitors to prisons must be escorted at all times by a key-holder, not only to open the many lockeddoors but also to adhere to security regulations. 29
  37. 37. substantially by the visit coordinator, who also provided an excellent source ofbackground information, though most of the informal conversations took place „onthe move‟ and were recorded from memory in hand-written field-notes.4.3.2 The InterviewsIn all, 10 students and 6 staff were interviewed. Details are provided in Table 1.Table 1: Prison and interview detailsPrison Number and type of prisoner Number of interviewsCategory # Staff* StudentsB 1074 remand, sentenced and vulnerable 0 1 (OU) prisoners.C 170 sentenced prisoners focused on 2 (CIAS) 2 (ST) training 2 (MC)D 187 sentenced prisoners in open 1 (CIAS) 4 (OU) conditions (with 25% going outside the 2 (Education) 1 (ST) prison to work or study) 1 (HMPS) Totals 6 10* Staff employers: CIAS = Careers Information and Advice Service staff, Education = OLASScontracted education provider, HMPS = Prison staff.# Student‟s current distance learning provider: ST = Stonebridge, OU = Open University, MC= Manchester College.Following ethical procedures as discussed in Section 3.6, information and consentforms for both students and staff were checked with the ethics committee and the 30
  38. 38. prison before being sent in advance (see Appendix D). These forms providedinformation on interview technique, confidentiality, withdrawal options and theanonymised report procedures. The options and procedures were reinforced beforeand after the interviews but this process was not extended to informal staff interviewsas it appeared inappropriate.The interview guides (see Appendix E) provided questions and probes to focus theconversation towards the research questions only when necessary. They wereslightly different for students and staff to avoid sensitive issues such as staff-studentrelationships and previous history. Student participants were also provided with anadditional request form (Appendix F) which included sensitive information such asage range, length of sentence and expected release date, as well as a request forpermission to be contacted again either in prison or on release (see 6.3 Futureresearch). Most student interviews lasted approximately 45 minutes. Staff interviewswere mostly shorter as they were opportunistic within their busy schedule.All student interviews and most of the staff interviews took place in the educationdepartment of the prisons which enabled the researcher to move around relativelyunrestricted and appear less obtrusive. The student interviews in the Cat B and CatD prisons took place in relatively quiet staff rooms. There were some interruptionssuch as phones ringing and prison or education staff entering for records but thesedid not appear to affect the interviewee. The four students in the Cat C prison wereinterviewed in a group. This was not planned (see 4.4 below), but was organised bya staff member who considered that there was insufficient time for students, who hadbeen released from their work to attend, to be interviewed individually. The room waslarge with interviewees seated formally at four small tables facing the researcher, 31
  39. 39. who was seated between the interviewees and the door (in accordance with prisonsecurity).4.3.3 Other data collection methodsObservationOpportunistic observations took place across the prison on both days; they includedobservation of what technology was available in the classrooms and the staff rooms,how students accessed and used that technology and the interaction between thestudents and staff. On the second visit, one student, who had been involved in anOU trial, was observed for approximately 45 minutes using the Virtual Campus.During most of that time the researcher sat beside the student at the computer,noting his actions and his comments.Informal conversationInformal conversations were carried out with staff and students during observations,over lunch-times, on the move between prisons or while waiting for formal interviews.These provided interesting background information to the interview data. Hand-written field-notes were made unobtrusively, as and when possible.Document analysisDocuments studied prior to the field visits included various OU and PET records,recent Ofsted reports and the Prison Service Instruction13 (NOMS, 2010), a recentlypublished document providing instructions for the allocation and support of distancelearning in prison. Documents studied during the field visits included the prison13 Mandatory instructions to prison Governors 32
  40. 40. employment guide and induction material. There were unfortunately no distancelearner records available to provide quantitative data as originally planned.4.3.4 Recording and transcriptionNine interviews at the Open prison were recorded (with consent from theparticipants) using the audio recorder. All other data collected was recorded withhandwritten field-notes (see 4.4 below). Additional field-notes were made whileaudio recording which provided non-verbal observations such as body language butalso provided a backup in case the audio recording failed. The researcher‟s wordsand thoughts were always placed in square brackets14. Informal conversations andobservations which could not be recorded at the time due to logistics orinappropriateness were written from memory as soon as possible and wereconsequently less reliable. Audio recordings were fully transcribed by a third partybut only the words were required (not a detailed transcription as would be needed fordiscourse analysis). All hand-written field-notes were word-processed later by theresearcher to allow for searches for words and phrases during the analysis phase.The data was organised and categorised according to where it was collected withinthe prison.4.3.5 Participant ProfileOnly the student participant profile was obtained sufficiently completely to analyse(see problems below). Most of the student participants interviewed were welleducated and had been distance learners in prison for several years; some hadgained all their education in prison. Descriptive statistics of the student participants14 A lesson learnt from previous research when the researcher was unable to tell whether the commentwas her’s or the interviewee’s 33
  41. 41. are shown in a table in Appendix G and key features are displayed in the followinggraphs.Figure 1 shows the age range of the student participants. All had some IT skills,though some had developed those skills in prison doing CLAIT and CLAIT Plus. 60%hand-wrote their assignments but the only student to admit lack of internet skills wasin the oldest age bracket. Sentence lengths ranged from 3.5 years to life. 60 50 40 Percentage of students (%) 30 20 10 0 18-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 Age range of student participants (Years) Figure 1: Age range of student participantsFigure 2 shows their previous education. Only 20% admitted leaving school withnothing, but many of the 50% with GCSE equivalent suggested that much of theireducation had been completed in prison or Young Offender Institutes. In addition, 34
  42. 42. 80% of the students described poor school experiences and 50% were excludedfrom school at various stages of their education (See Appendix G) Degree Left school with nothing 20% 20% A-levels 10% GCSE (or equivalent) 50% Figure 2: Education level of student participants4.4 Problems encounteredPermission for the audio equipment was only granted for formal interviews in theopen prison so interviews at the Cat B and C prisons, all other conversations andobservations were recorded with hand-written field-notes. Care was taken to ensurethat the interviewee‟s words were recorded as closely as possible however this wasnot always possible. The group interview was particularly difficult to record as it wasrarely possible to record who said what and some abbreviations were later 35
  43. 43. undecipherable. The group interview was also a problem in other ways as theresearcher was unable to probe potentially sensitive issues such as previouseducation, skills levels and prison experiences which require privacy. In addition, theseating was very formal and did not provide an environment which was conducive to„open‟ conversation. Also, although well-intentioned, the organising staff memberreturned several times which disrupted the flow of the conversation and at one pointone of the students said “Shh he‟s coming”,Prison officer staff were not interviewed at each security category prison as plannedas only one prison staff member was interviewed on the first visit and permission tospeak to prison officers was refused for the second visit.Many staff were very helpful and forthcoming but the researcher occasionallyperceived some reluctance and decided that some questions such as previouseducation and IT history were too sensitive to ask.For the student participants, age-ranges instead of actual ages were collected asactual age was considered sensitive and age-range could be compared withliterature on the „digital divide‟ (Eynon, 2009). However these age-ranges were nothelpful for statistical comparison with prison records15.The transcriber was not an expert in the field and the transcriptions contained asignificant number of errors which were corrected by the researcher by playing andreplaying the audio files. One or two of the recordings were faded in some sections15 More than 10% of prisoners are aged over 50 in England and Wales, with more than 2500 over 60(the fastest growing age group in prison) (Cooney and Braggins, 2010) 36
  44. 44. or difficult to hear above the noise of telephones or shuffling of the researcher‟snotes, and the wording was lost. Hand-written notes were used to fill in gaps wherepossible.4.5 Data Analysis4.5.1 ProcedureOnce all the data had been transcribed or word-processed, it was read and re-read,with the recordings, where available, in an attempt to “know one‟s data”(Hammersley and Atkinson 2007, p162). In line with a grounded theorising approach,the data was open coded by selecting sections of narrative which were givenconceptual labels (Strauss and Corbin 1998, p65) which were written in the margin.The words and phrases „coded‟ were not taken out of context and what happenedbefore and after the account were also considered. In order to ensure theoreticalsensitivity this open coding was completed without pre-conceived themes orhypotheses. Themes then emerged from the data.Later, due to short time-scales, an adaptation of grounded theory, closer to“qualitative content analysis” (Bryman 2001, p392) was used to group the conceptuallabels according to the three themes which were drawn from the literature and whichformed the research questions. Selections were then colour-coded; access (red),attitude (green) and skills (yellow) and the grouped concepts were mostly recordedin a spreadsheet (see Appendix H). Some concepts did not appear to fit into thethemes initially and were left for a later analysis. Some concepts had multiplethemes. The colour-coded data was copied and pasted into a variety of otherdocuments which were then used to „think‟ with and look for patterns. 37
  45. 45. The aim was to identify “situated meanings” (Hammersley and Atkinson 2007, p168),not just what was happening but why it was happening and what perceptions werebehind the words. For example it was often necessary to consider the potential effectof rules and relationships on a situation and sometimes what was not said was asimportant as what was said. Initial ideas were recorded and built upon or discarded,depending on whether the rest of the data fit into the idea or not. Pre-conceptions ofthe researcher, such as empathy with the student‟s lack of resources, were guardedagainst as much as possible by trying to keep an „open mind‟ about how the data fittogether. Frequent and fundamental cases (Adams et. al., 2008) were used to setthe limits of what was perceived as the „normal‟ situation. Identifying the patterns ledto an appreciation of some of the rules, not just the official rules but the everyday,„hidden‟ rules as perceived by the interviewees.4.5.2 Emerging themesMost student-inmates provided rich descriptions of learning journeys through theprison system; providing comparison of their current prison with other prisons theyremembered and analysing the situation from other perspectives. Theirinterpretations were treated objectively as information on other prisons but as astudent‟s perspective of different prisons “the social location is no longer a source ofbias, it is a focus for the analysis”, (Hammersley and Atkinson 2007, p181). As someof the narratives were memories from several years previous their validity wasquestionable but despite this, they were surprisingly consistent and extremelyinteresting so were fundamental in the development of the three emerging themes ofphysical environment, institutional visions and student identity. These are detailedbelow in relation to the research questions (see section 1.3 above) and described 38
  46. 46. more fully in chapter 5, where the participants‟ comments are used to highlight keypoints.The physical environmentThe physical environment is perceived as a powerful force; controlling the student-inmate‟s ability to access personal space in which to learn or communicate withpeers, providing the technologies to support the learning but controlling access tothose technologies (RQ 1a, b); even controlling the clothes which are worn whichimpacts on self-esteem and attitude towards learning (RQ 3a). It also impacts on thedistance learner‟s skills by developing the determination to survive (RQ 2).Institutional VisionsThis second emerging theme is related to how students perceive the visions of theinstitutions which have control over their learning in some way; that is the PrisonService, the OLASS Providers, the CIAS Organisations and even the DistanceLearning Providers who all have different attitudes towards technology-supporteddistance learning (RQ 3b). These institutional visions are perceived to clash with thephysical environment, thus further controlling the student‟s time and ability to accesstechnology for learning (RQ 1b) and promoting skills which may or may not beperceived as useful to the technology-supported distance learner (RQ 2).Student IdentityThis third emerging theme is the one thing over which the distance learner perceivesto have some control. The physical environment and the competing institutionalvisions together impact on the student identity but ultimately the distance learnershave a perception of their own learning, what access and skills they need to manage 39
  47. 47. their learning and what motivates them to continue with their studies despite thebarriers (RQ 1b, 2, 3a, 3b). 40
  48. 48. 41
  49. 49. CHAPTER 5: INTERPRETING THE DATA5.1 IntroductionThe data analysis which has been described in chapter 4 produced three emergingthemes. This chapter describes how these emerging themes impact on the prison-based distance learner, as he seeks to develop his student identity throughtechnology-supported higher level learning within the confines of a physicalenvironment which is pulled in different directions by the conflicting institutionalvisions of the educational stakeholders within the prison, who all have a differentperspective of rehabilitation. Participants‟ narrative is used to describe key issues butin order to ensure anonymity; the names used are not the participant‟s real names.Additional and fuller quotes are supplied in Appendix I. Although the researchquestions (as specified in 1.3) are answered within each theme, they are moreclearly addressed in chapter 6.5.2 The physical environment5.2.1 IntroductionWithin this research „access to technology‟ is defined as being able to physically gainaccess to a place where the technology exists and, once there, being able to fullyutilize the technology which exists but it also appears to be dependent on the studentbeing given the time to study. 42
  50. 50. The physical environment is perceived to vary significantly across prisons andsecurity categories so physical accessibility depends on where the students accessthe technology. Often the education department, where the technology is perceivedto be „improved‟ and „good quality‟, was in a different building to the library or thevocational working environment or the student‟s cell or dormitory. The time to studywas dependent on where and when the student could access the technology andalso on what other activities the student was expected to do. Both time and spacewere seen to be controlled by the various organisations within the prison.5.2.2 ‘Progressive’ prison versus ‘working’ prisonMost student-inmates had perceptions of a stark contrast between those prisonswhich appeared to consider technology-supported independent learning assomething to be encouraged and those that appeared to positively discourage it. Toexplain this contrast, the terms „progressive‟ and „working‟ have been used for theprisons at each end of the spectrum. At one end of the spectrum, there is the„progressive‟ prison (often Private) in which higher level distance learning isintegrated within the full-time education programme. It provides an environment inwhich prisoners perceived they could learn independently and grow throughreflection, with unrestricted access to computers, DVDs, printers and a place to talkto like-minded students. Ethan, who was already studying an OU course when hewas transferred to a Category (Cat) C prison, explains how there was supportedinternet access to his distance learning materials in the „progressive‟ prison he hadleft behind.At the other end of the spectrum, the student-inmates talked about the „working‟prison (usually Cat C and D) which is highly regimented with an “obsessive work 43
  51. 51. environment” (Freddie), which does not allow space and time for independentlearning and personal development. All student-inmates interviewed providedexamples of severe restriction to computers in these prisons. Even though there maybe modern computers in the education department, the distance learner is notallowed to study there. Often, they are only allowed in the library, perhaps for oneevening a week where there are a couple of computers which they share with thosewho “play solitaire” while talking to their friends, and they try to print on the one“temperamental” printer. The distance learner appears to be almost invisible in thistype of prison. One student-inmate knew of only one other higher level student whohe could talk to, and that was because he had shared a „dorm‟ with him.5.2.3 TrustIn the higher security category prisons (A and B), physical movement is heavilyrestricted but as the student moves to prisons with lower security levels (C and D)they expected more freedom to access technology and learning. However, thefindings from this research were mostly contrary to this. As physical restrictions wereimproved, access to technology appeared to reduce. Ethan explained that when hewas in the Cat B prison, he received the help which he considered to be acceptablefor that level of security but he was confused by the level of increased restriction atthe Cat D prison. “There seems to be more restrictions. We are placed in somewhere we can be suitably trusted, in open conditions, but I don‟t really see that trust” (Ethan) 44
  52. 52. In the „progressive‟ prison the student-inmate is allowed to study alone; often givena room in which to study full-time and unsupervised. The student-inmates respectthat trust. However, in the „working‟ prison they are often told that they must besupervised and this restriction is sometimes difficult to understand as “the wholepoint about distance learning is that you learn by yourself” (Ethan). However, theworst effect of the need for supervision is that if the supervising staff are notavailable then valuable technology-supported study time is lost. “If they [the CIAS staff] weren‟t in, you couldn‟t go to the library, which meant that‟s a day you couldn‟t study” (Ethan)Some student-inmates manage to gain employment in the library. This trustedposition allows them more time to access computers and other material. Charlieused to work in the library at his Cat C prison where he had access to a “tele and aDVD player” though he has no access to a DVD player at the Cat D open prison. Healso used the computer in the library but explained that storing your work on thelibrary computers could be dangerous as it could be deleted by other prisonerswhich “can destroy the entire course.” (Charlie)5.2.4 Personal spacePersonal space is at a premium in prison and if the student-inmate is not able to findstudy space during the day, the only place to find peace and quiet to study may be ina cell at night. Single cells were sometimes perceived good for study as once thedoor was closed it was easy to focus, though others perceived even single cells werenoisy at night. Some prisons have dormitories which held as many as 9 otherprisoners and student-inmates find it very difficult to study in these conditions as 45
  53. 53. there is so much else going on. However, the determination to survive enablesstudent-inmates to find ingenious coping strategies. Those who share a dormitory,may study in the early hours of the morning before the other prisoners are awake.Duncan copes by completely „switching off‟ to everything around him by saying, “this bed space is mine and what takes place in here is me and anything else is outside of that” (Duncan)But that is not technology-supported learning as Freddie highlighted as he told whathappens if, while studying in your cell, you make a mistake on the third attempt at ahand-written assignment, “you .. rip off a little white piece of paper and stick it over the mistake and write on it like it‟s a little bit of Tipp-ex. It‟s really medieval like some sort of … struggling communist in a fascist prison.” (Freddie)Another aspect of the physical environment is the student-inmate‟s clothes. Thesehave an impact on their self-respect as well as their learning. Freddie did not want toleave the „progressive‟ prison where he wore his own clothes though he explainedthat it was necessary to keep moving through the prison‟s perceived rehabilitationroute; to be seen to be progressing by going to a Cat C prison. But he was shockedby the “horrible pyjama humiliation” of the „working‟ prison, where, “it‟s put on your purple tracksuit … at HMP X you are going to be sewing curtains” (Freddie). 46
  54. 54. 5.3 Institutional visions5.3.1 IntroductionAlthough the ends of the physical spectrum are extreme cases, they show thedifferent institutional visions. In a „progressive‟ prison the different organisationsappear to work together towards one aim which is „student-centred‟ or, in the case ofthe private prison, there may be fewer organisations to have different visions. In the„working‟ prison, however, the many different organisations appear to haveconflicting views. The key aim of the Prison Service is that prisoners should bedoing purposeful activity. Distance learning is classed as a recreational activity whichhas a much lower priority than prison „work‟ as Minny explains, “I do think there is the stigma that it [distance learning] is just recreational … a lot of the officers think it is just a case of some purposeful activity that keeps the guys amused” (Minny, [education staff])The following paragraphs highlight how the conflicting institutional visions impact onthe student-inmate‟s ability to access the space, time and technology to learn or theability to gain appropriate skills.5.3.2 Can you read?The student-inmate‟s perception is that the OLASS provider‟s vision is to educatethose who cannot read and write. The higher level learners feel unwanted in the 47
  55. 55. prison education department and consider there is very little help for those whoalready have literacy and numeracy skills, “can you read and write? Yes you can? In that case you are educated. As far as anything further, there is not a lot of support.” (Charlie)The student-inmates are also saddened by the fact that there are good computers inthe education department which are standing idle. Education in the „working‟ prisonis not compulsory and many of the classrooms are only half-filled. “It [education department, Cat D] has got a lot of resources and life and a lot of good stuff, but it hasn‟t got any people.” (Freddie)The student-inmates feel they should be entitled to use the facilities but they are notallowed to use the idle computers as distance learning is not an OLASS accreditedcourse. The education staff acknowledge that access to computers for student-inmates is not as good as it could be and that “increasingly there is less opportunityfor students to access resources where there isn‟t necessarily accredited learning”(Minny, [education staff]).Many of the student-inmates have the perception that the education staff are justfollowing orders which are “coming from above” (Ethan). This is corroborated byeducation staff who put the blame for the orders at either the door of the PrisonService or the OLASS provider. 48
  56. 56. “There is all sorts of rules and regs that we just have to work within. There are boundaries and OU is just one part of prison life where we have very tight boundaries…..but I do think it is very difficult for them to do an OU course in prison, because education departments (and obviously I‟m extending this back to prison) are only open for so many hours. XX [the OLASS provider] restricts the hours that we can offer them…. my understanding is that OLASS providers are not supporting them” (Molly, [education staff])Most education staff are sympathetic to the plight of the student-inmate and try veryhard to help but feel that their “hands are tied”. Officially, there also appears to besome confusion about who should be taking responsibility for distance learning andthe staff are concerned about those who “are falling completely through the cracks”(Molly, [education staff])5.3.3 Tagged onStudent-inmates are sometimes attached to a taught accredited course in theeducation department. Often this is facilitated by supportive education staff. Andrewused the Computer Literacy and Information Technology (CLAIT) course to accesscomputers every day. Officially he was doing CLAIT but he purposely had notfinished the course as he was concerned that he would then no longer be able togain access to the computers and would have to „work‟ elsewhere. One student hadalready “done the highest level of IT in here, CLAIT Plus and Advanced and all that” 49
  57. 57. (Ethan). He was allowed to sit in the CLAIT class and do his distance learning workinstead.However, not all students liked being tagged onto someone else‟s class. Despitebeing grateful to the “friendly and sociable” education staff for enabling them toaccess computers in this way, they really wanted their own space where they couldaccess technology for their own study, rather than being “just tagged on”.Ben sums up why technology-supported distance learning in a „working‟ prison canappear so difficult, “I can‟t do my work here [education], because they wouldn‟t pay me …So I have to get a job so therefore the only chance of work [study] is of an evening and the only place I can do it is over there [library] and the only place I can print is over here” (Ben)5.3.4 Regimented work ethicStudents perceive the regimented work ethic of a „working‟ prison to be detrimentalto any form of learning. The induction process is considered to be a particularlyunhelpful process in which prisoners are provided with insufficient information tomake a choice about education or work. They are perceived to be pushed into doingsuch activities as recycling. “Do you want to do IT classes? They [prisoners] are going to say – oh hell, I don‟t know what that is, right next, recycling, 50
  58. 58. want to do that? Yes? Do you know what I mean? It‟s a quick interview - tick that box.” (Freddie)There are several major perceived problems with this emphasis on work for thestudent-inmates. Firstly, the financial aspect does not encourage the student-inmate.As distance learning is not part of the OLASS curriculum so the student-inmates arenot paid. Therefore, unless a student is able to get onto a paid education course theymust do various other work activities. This leads to the second perceived problem,that there is insufficient time to study as the students must spend at least half theirtime working in the prison or doing community work. They must therefore completetheir distance learning by “stealing time here and there” (Ethan). “The greatest drawback is time. There is never enough time.” (Duncan)Thirdly, the skills being developed in the working environment may be inappropriatefor higher level learners. Students perceive the CIAS provider‟s role in induction asless about providing sufficient information about what is available and more aboutchanneling prisoners into prison work vacancies, regardless of whether that isappropriate training or not. “I think because [the CIAS provider] didn‟t have anybody to do recycling I was pigeon holed into doing it.” (Charlie)Most students perceive the skills being developed through their work as not helpful.Charlie is hoping to get a job in retail when he is released and sees “Powerpoint 51
  59. 59. skills” or “something to extend my vocabulary” more useful than “sifting throughmetal and plastic.” (Charlie)But this is not the view of the Prison Service staff in the „working prison‟ which sumsup the Prison Service vision for the higher level student-inmate, “Even though they are very well educated we have to sort of sit with them and look at a different career path, hard though that is, and that might involve sort of retraining them … we have got to be honest with people and there is no point in somebody hoping to be able to practice as an Accountant or as a Lawyer or a Solicitor if their offence is going to preclude them from doing that…. it may be plastering or it may be forklift truck or brick-laying, something like that, simply because that‟s probably where they are going to, I‟m not saying that‟s where they will end up, but ultimately they can‟t practice and do what they were doing originally. (Peter, Prison Service staff)5.3.5 Deteriorating landscapeMany students consider that the technology landscape for distance learning isdeteriorating and that “the window is just closing all the time” (Ben)Lack of internet access is perceived to be reducing access to courses since thevision of the distance learning providers is fully online courses but there is general 52
  60. 60. acceptance by the student-inmates that internet access in prison is not going tohappen any time soon. “Prisons are terrified of technology. They haven‟t realised Queen Victoria‟s dead yet.” (Ben)Most student-inmates have not heard of the Virtual Campus, and the few student-inmates who know of its existence, do not perceive it to be a means of accessingthe internet. The courses are pre-loaded onto the server and there is no apparentinteractive element to the learning or additional information on demand. It istherefore not considered to be particularly useful for higher level distance learners atthe moment. “it doesn‟t really help me as a person that much … it‟s limited. At the end of the day the internet really means unlimited. … This is the complete opposite.” 16One student sees the information provided on the Virtual Campus as useful forreading the course material but another student actually perceives it to be “quitepatronizing” and more likely to be of use to “someone who doesn‟t know how to fillout a CV or whatever and needs advice on interview techniques”17Andrew thinks that internet access is not really the issue at present. He seesaccess to a computer and a printer as the biggest problem at the moment.16 The false identity of these Virtual Campus quotes have been removed to ensure anonymity17 See footnote 16 53
  61. 61. “just give us a room, give us a corner…. even old computers with a word-processor would be OK” (Andrew)5.3.6 Potential for the futureThere is hope that the Virtual Campus will become more useful in the future. Thesecure messaging is thought to have the most potential, “Yes, through emails it would be easier to speak to him [the OU tutor], because obviously I can ask my questions and hopefully if the email works get my answer back”18The education staff could see its usefulness for resettlement but its potential fordistance learning is less clear, "I think it [Virtual Campus] will go an awful long way. I think the potential of it is massive. I just don‟t know what a distance learner is going to be able to do on there in a year‟s time” (Molly, Education staff)Many of the CIAS staff are new in post but appear dedicated and keen tolearn. One staff member is considering doing distance learning, “I think that that would probably be quite good and I think it would expand my understanding of what people are doing” (Mandy, CIAS staff)18 See footnote 16 54
  62. 62. 5.4 Student identity5.4.1 IntroductionOne of the key differences between the „progressive‟ prison and the „working‟ prisonis that in the former the student is provided with an open learning environment inwhich they can assume the identity of a student and use technology to access theinformation they require to learn. In the „working‟ prison, however, the student-inmateis isolated, often only finding other distance learners by accident and feelingdeprived of the time, space, technology and information to learn. Although theirstudent identity may be harder to find in this environment it does still appear to existand the student-inmates show remarkable determination in overcoming the barriersin order to maintain that identity.5.4.2 Isolated but specialBeing one of only a very few higher level distance learners in a prison environment isperceived to have its benefits and its drawbacks. The benefits are that the student-inmates feel special and pride themselves on their achievements. They take workwhere they can, which will allow them to access technology and study space butthey are also very keen to help others. Many teach „toe-by-toe19‟ or work as mentorsor classroom assistants in the IT lessons. They seem to care greatly about theirfellow prisoners, knowing that education makes such a difference; they want them tohave the same. Freddie is saddened by the lack of students using the technology inthe education department in the „working‟ prison.19 A one-to-one literacy scheme run by the Shannon Trust in which prisoners teach other prisoners toread. 55
  63. 63. “It‟s a complete drastic irony to me, it‟s not in some way incentive based or mandatory … Because they will just go and work on the farm…. Why aren‟t they in here? I don‟t get it, I just don‟t get it. Everyone should leave prison with a level of some sort (Freddie)The drawback to distance learning in the „working‟ prison is isolation. With no accessto online student forums or other students of a similar academic level they often feelthey are “the only one doing this thing” and desperately seek peer support fromwherever they can. Duncan explains how nice it is when his OU tutor visits “becauseI can sit there and grill him … and grill him and take it to all different levels”. Andrewexplained that a Prison Governor went on to do the same course as him and he wasproud that the Governor asked his opinion. Charlie feels that he is “swimmingagainst the tide”, with most of the prison population “just getting through their time”.He considers it very hard for some prisoners “to put their heads above the parapetand say I want to better myself” as “it‟s not perceived to be cool to be educated”.5.4.3 Shaking the foundationsStudent-inmates are very determined and seem to be able to overcome, at least inpart, many of the barriers placed in their path. Normally this requires help fromothers, and they appear very grateful for whatever help they do receive, such asreceiving printed iCMAs from the OU so they do not lose 10 per cent of the marks fortheir course, or downloaded internet search material from relatives or perhaps amember of staff with a memory stick to transfer a TMA to a computer which will print. 56
  64. 64. Sometimes the student-inmates feel they need to exert pressure to make their voiceheard. Duncan explains that sending a message to his tutor is not always easy andonly happens “after raising my voice, kind of shaking the foundations a bit, which youhave to do from time to time”. Similarly Ethan perceives that he “might rattle a fewbushes” in order to be allowed to travel to an official exam centre for his forthcomingOU exam.However, sometimes they just have to accept the situation and stay quiet. Ethanexplains that sometimes prison officers have “an air of resentment” and recalls arecent comment about his new web design course, “”Oh, how can you do web-design? What do you know about computers?” And I‟m thinking what kind of naive question is that? … but I didn‟t engage in the conversation I just took the slur as that‟s your ignorance that you choose to believe that because I‟m a prisoner, „you walk around with a swagger and a bag of clothes‟, you know” (Ethan)5.4.4 Pandora’s boxThe skills of the technology-supported distance learners are many. Most studentshave completed all the CLAIT courses at least once and perceive them as easilyaccessible and a good option for access to computers yet others suggest that theirIT skills are “self-taught” or “come from playing” (Andrew). Duncan, as the oldeststudent, still puts his faith in books, hand-writes everything and admits that he doesnot really use the internet on home leave as he is still trying to learn his way around 57
  65. 65. it. But as there is very little technology in prison to challenge these learners, they donot as yet see lack of internet skills as a big problem.However, the perceived benefits of technology-supported distance learning extendfar beyond IT skills or even the subject-specific knowledge which they gain from theircourses, as the following quotes highlight.Duncan feels liberated by his knowledge. “Well, it‟s like Pandora‟s Box isn‟t it? Well I see almost everything now, but before I see very little” (Duncan)The next two quotes highlight how their perceived student identity provides hope.Distance learning enables them to see beyond the confines of their criminal past andpotentially providing a route out. “It makes me feel a lot more like a human being. I‟m not a number in a box, I‟m an individual. I‟m allowed to share and expand my mind. It opens my horizons up. If you have greater horizons there‟s less chance of coming back to jail and I‟ll have an actual future instead of more of the same. (Andrew) “I just can‟t wait to get out and use the skills that I‟ve learnt and try and put this behind me and I shouldn‟t say this about 58