Doin’ time in the Scrubs

Wormwood Scrubs prison gate

I was invited to Wormwood Scrubs today to see its educational facilities and look at an initiative called POLARIS which is introducing tightly controlled access to educational websites for offender learners in most of the London prisons.

Wormwood Scrubs prison gateEducating prisoners is a key part of the OU’s mission to “promote fair access for all” and needs to continue but here’s the problem: while I’m busily promoting the benefits of elearning across the University, and increasing numbers of our courses require use of the VLE, there are correspondingly fewer offerings available to those without Internet access. Hence we risk losing many of our offender learners and they risk missing out on the benefits of an OU education.

The POLARIS Project is a ray of hope which may allow us to provide parts of our online content to those behind bars and maintain the variety of OU courses available to them. VLEs do not generally allow the restriction of certain aspects of a course to specific groups of students. The roles and permissions architecture we’ve introduced to Moodle would allow us to control very tightly which features of our courses were available to offender students – in particular disabling any access to communications facilities with the outside world.