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Innovation and Frustration go hand in hand                                                                         Reflect...
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Innovation and Frustration go hand in hand: Reflections on a project to enhancing the learning experiences of students within prison walls


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Higher Education is being challenged to change and grow like never before in response to a new cohort of connected, self-motivated, well-informed and savvy generation of students. The drive to develop new and innovative methods for teaching online and distance education students is accompanied by a roller coaster ride through uncharted loops and tunnels. This poster presents a graphical account of the frustrations, challenges and small successes experienced at various points in the road during the development and implementation of an innovative solution for enhancing the educational experiences of incarcerated students.

Incarcerated offenders face a number of additional challenges to those faced by most other students studying at a distance. Lack of internet access is especially problematic for those studying in a sector that is increasingly characterised by online course offerings. In July 2011 the authors formally embarked on a project to develop a solution for some of the barriers to participation in HE experienced by incarcerated students. The project involved collaboration between a number of departments within the university and with external stakeholders including Queensland Correctional Services.

The original aim of the project was to develop a version of Moodle, called Stand-Alone Moodle or SAM that would function on a network of computers used from education inside the prison that were independent of the internet and separated from the main prison computer network. The version of Moodle would provide the students with the same learning experience and study desk functionality that was available to other students. The use of SAM in would also be supported by the use of eBook readers. The inclusion of eBook readers was aimed at enable students to access more course and reference materials than presently available to them as well as alleviate the need to print learning materials in future.

The project was to be deployed in project will be deployed in Semester 1 2012 with a maximum cohort of fifteen incarcerated students enrolled in course TPP7120 Studying to Succeed as part of the Tertiary Preparation Program at the Southern Queensland Correctional Centre near Gatton.

It was early on in the project approval application procedure that the authors began to worry that they had bitten off more than they could chew. The first requirement faced was that the e-Readers to be used for the project were not allowed to have any internet access such as Wi-Fi or 3G capability, no SD card slot and no external battery. We eventually found 17 models of the very unpopular discontinued Sony SD-350. One reviewer on the website commented, who would ever want an e-reader without internet access or SD card slots. Well, we do!

The poster offers a glimpse at these retrospectively amusing project bumps and discuss ways in which future innovation pioneers may be able to overcome some of the quick sand pits along the way.

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Innovation and Frustration go hand in hand: Reflections on a project to enhancing the learning experiences of students within prison walls

  1. 1. Innovation and Frustration go hand in hand Reflections on a project to enhancing the learning experiences of students within prison walls Angela Murphy, Australian Digital Futures Institute Helen Farley, Australian Digital Futures Institute University of Southern Queensland ● Toowoomba ● Queensland ● Australia Implementation of trial Development of technologies "A mediocre idea that generates enthusiasm will go further than a great idea that inspires no one." - Mary Kay Ash "Almost all really new ideas have a certain aspect of foolishness when they are just produced." - Alfred North Whitehead The technologies that were deployed in the project look very different those we envisaged in the Due to the unusually restrictive prison project blueprint. This highlights the importance of environment and ban on internet access, it was being flexible during the product development difficult to secure technologies that met prison process. security requirements. The course also needed to be modified extensively to be able to function We also learned that the implementation of new effectively without the internet. Considerable technology requires the comprehensive training of planning and development will be needed to students and educators. Learning and teaching with automate these processes in the future. unfamiliar technologies can be an intimidating experience. The launch of the trial is only the We need to be cognisant of the extent to which beginning with iterative redesign of the processes we take access to the internet for granted. required to ensure a sustainable and viable solution for integrating digital technologies into prison education. On-going research and discussion Obtaining stakeholder support "New ideas pass through three periods: 1) It cant be "I cant understand why people are frightened of done; 2) It probably can be done, but its not worth new ideas. Im frightened of the old ones." doing; 3) I knew it was a good idea all along!" - - John Cage Arthur C. Clarke One of the greatest challenges in this project was to satisfy numerous committees to obtain clearance for Continuous discussions with stakeholders new digital technologies to be used in the prison identified needs and potential benefits that would environment. Security of the devices was a greater not have been possible to discern otherwise. concern than functionality. The research during the trial also uncovered a The lesson learned here is that stakeholder approval number of assumptions about the functionality of was necessary to make this project possible. It was the technologies which were not true. Without worthwhile diligently working through the correct sound evaluation methods in place we would have channels to obtain leadership support and proceeded with the development of features that commitment. This was an invaluable trust-building did not address student needs. exercise. Initial planning Obtaining Institutional support "An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself." - Charles Dickens "The new idea either finds a champion or it dies. No ordinary involvement with a new idea provides the energy required to cope with the indifference and This stage of the project involved a range of resistance that change provokes." - Tom Peters meetings with project stakeholders and team members to develop a blueprint for the project. Support from our own institution was difficult to Enthusiasm and common sense were often at odds obtain. The layers of support required were complex and convincing people that new ways of doing and the red tape extensive. We also faced things is a good idea, is not an easy task. unanticipated negative attitudes towards exceptions handling for prison education. Being comfortable with chaos was an important lesson during this stage. A project can be well A key lesson is that emotional commitment from scoped and planned but there are always problems project team members and stakeholders is essential you don’t anticipate. to effectively navigate this difficult stage. Conceptualising the project "If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it." - Albert EinsteinThis poster presents the observations andfrustrations encountered attempting to The project began with high hopes and big dreams.implement an innovation solution for We were out to solve the worlds problems with littleincarcerated education. The project was awareness of the technicalities and difficulties weaimed at providing incarcerated students would face.without internet access with innovative e- The key to success during this stage is ensuring thatlearning technologies that would simulate the need and expected outcomes of the project isthe learning experience of traditional clearly articulated, documented and understood by alldistance and online students. parties.