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Distance Learning

sara.gladwin's picture

I am really struggling with the idea of distance learning, brought up in Jones and Errico’s discussion about Prison education. In a practical sense, learning through technology seems more cost effective and as though it would allow for a much wider range of what inmates could be learning about. I definitely like the idea of prisoners having more available to them to learn from. Especially when considering what we have been discussing in class about the implicit ways in which we are taught in classrooms, a distance style learning seems as though it would be more likely to encourage independence and freedom of thought. Jones and Errico cite another author when talking about this: “Concepts such as “University without walls” and “Open University,” for example (Robinson 1977), bespeak the desire to decentralize learning in order to reach special populations and emphasize self-directed and prior learning at the expense of traditional instruction.” I definitely understand the value in being able to learn in way that is least likely to be biased by the language used in a traditional classroom. However, I can’t shake the feeling that this type of distance learning can also be limited, and that there is something desirable about being able to learn from another human being. I especially cannot help but to feel that not having classmates could be a terribly isolating experience. Maybe it is different in the sense that prisoners are already very isolated ? Not having ability to experience some kind of classroom discussion and dialogue seems as though it would be hard for certain kinds of learners to progress forward with learning material.


Maybe this is just an assumption I’m making but I feel like it would also be a continual reminder of the way in which prisoners are denied access to a traditional education, and to the right to some kind of choice. Ultimately, would this then be a reinforcement of the identity of a Prisoner, as one who is cut off and denied access to many of their rights?


I feel like this is a naïve and assuming thought in some ways, but I wish that both options could be available for prison inmates. I like the way our classes have the ability to make use of both classroom time and online time, and that we can find value in both. Some of the ways in which class feels limited, sometimes we can account for online, and vice versa. I wish they could have access to a much fuller and richer learning experience. I find it interesting that was mentioned in our readings was the lack of standardization for prison education and the desire to establish some kind of protocol, while many issues of education institutions come from the rigidity and standardization of learning enforced upon students.  



Hummingbird's picture

I agree with a lot of what

I agree with a lot of what you brought up and felt those same things when reading Jones and d'Errico. I also worried about the idea of "distance education" for a different reason, though. I couldn't help but think of the television commercials for earning a degree online and feeling as though the degrees were less valid in some way. Perhaps it's privileged of me to say this – especially as a student at a private four year college – but I feel that a lot of the rigor and accountability of being in college is lost in online or "distance education." Here at Bryn Mawr, we know when one of our classmates hasn't come to class prepared because our classes are so small and depend so much on the dynamic of shared learning and discussion. There are very few classes here which don't operate in that small style. In an online class, though, there isn't the same level of connection between sudents and professors – especially when students are physically distanced from one another.

Like you, I also worry about the way this distancing reinforces the isolation prisoners already face.

I guess, if distance education could be paired with in class learning – as you suggested – I might feel more comfortable with it. Logistically, it makes sense to spread resources in that way. I just worry the stereotype of online degrees being less rigorous will illegitimize the learning and work prisoners do and the degrees they earn.