For the last three years, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) has been developing a Digital Education Project (DEP) to support technological advancements in learning environments behind prison walls. CSC has been working hard to include technology in the classroom to provide better access to learning opportunities and competency in technological environments and support reintegration success.
CSC has partnered with Desire to Learn Corporation (D2L) as part of this project and, over the last year, worked through infrastructure upgrades, information technology security processes, and staff training. After receiving the necessary security approvals, the project was implemented at Bath Institution, with the first offender starting his course on the environment on November 23, 2020. More offenders will be transitioning to this new learning environment over the coming weeks.
Employment almost everywhere requires at least some digital knowledge, and educational learning environments are relying more and more on technology as a basis of their programming. CSC has been working to adapt to increasing technology needs, while considering security requirements and practicalities of technology use within an institutional setting. Multiple efforts in this regard have occurred for several years, including partnerships with CORCAN and other community and educational institutions to provide computer-based training and certification programs. The DEP is a significant next step.
The DEP uses a blended classroom environment, linking the traditional classroom approach with modern technology and independent learning. With DEP, offenders have the opportunity to learn independently, while still having access to a teacher’s guidance. Offenders work in small collaborative learning environments, which encourages positive social interactions with peers. Classes currently include grades 11 and 12 English and Math, with further courses becoming available as the pilot progresses.
In addition, the DEP allows for modifications that can better meet the cultural needs of Indigenous offenders, as well as those with mental health and/or learning challenges. Research reveals that the use of technology amplifies offender accountability and engagement. It is anticipated that the use of technology in the classroom will increase the number and level of educational achievements, as well as provide enhanced and more dynamic learning opportunities for offenders than mainstream learning needs.
The challenges presented by COVID-19 underline our need for alternative formats to deliver programming. This project can assist in growing those options and addressing learning goals that need to proceed within the context of physical distancing pandemic mitigation plans. The DEP will be a key component in enhancing offender digital and computer literacy skills, which will in turn support offenders seeking employment opportunities in the community. This project has the capacity to expand well beyond the classroom and pave the way for more digital communication options in general for federal offenders.