Developing Faculty Use Of Virtual Learning In Incarcerated Higher Education Programs


One of the most important things any society can do is to provide its residents with a quality education (Buchanan, 2012). But what does a “quality” education mean? John Dew offers a few different ways to define it, such quality in education is “quality as endurance,” like a Mercedes Benz that will drive for hundreds of thousands of miles. Another potential definition is “quality as luxury and prestige” like a private yacht in Monte Carlo, or “quality as conformance requirements” or “quality as continuous improvement” (Dew, 2009, p. 4-5). While all of these suppositions are important, it is quality improvement in education that drives educators to constantly improve their profession and provide better guidance to their students. One way and area that administrators can best achieve this improvement is to focus on helping faculty who teach in correctional higher education.


Incarcerated education

It’s critical to understand the complexity of teaching in a correctional setting. As Spaulding describes, “Many prison educators are not full participants in the correctional system, and they are not full-time members of the higher education community” (Spaulding, 2011, p.73). These teachers are not fully members of either the higher education or correctional systems. Instead, most correctional teachers are contracted part-time through local universities or community colleges (Williams, 1989).


Teaching in a correctional facility

I’ve spent many years teaching in different educational settings. I first started out in public education as a K-8 ESL teacher. Then, I moved into an adjunct professor position with Central Arizona College before teaching in a correctional setting with adult inmates. For the first two positions, I received ongoing faculty development training to bolster my skills and learn about advances in best practices. However, in correctional education, I have never received training other than security procedures and self-defense lessons. Luckily, I am able to carry over the learning I received through the Central Arizona College faculty development training into my correctional education setting. However, those teachers that are not in dual employment conditions like I am are expected to provide the best teaching they can without the benefit of similar training. Hundreds if not thousands of teachers in correctional education are expected to continue to develop quality in their teaching craft without the support of training to improve.

Though students have access to textbooks, computers, libraries, educational T.V., and other teaching tools, these cannot replace having a teacher. Students still perceive faculty as the most valuable resource in a correctional education classroom. In an academic correctional classroom the teacher is the most important asset for inmate student learning and “are perceived as very helpful by almost all students” (Tewksberry & Stengel, 2006, p. 21). To ensure that this continues to be true, we must support our correctional facility teachers and offer the resources necessary to allow them to better themselves.

Personal computers and the Internet have revolutionized entire sectors of American society. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Skype and other online communications media have allowed billions of people around the world to share ideas in a matter of seconds, mostly at a very low cost. These advances in computer technology are as remarkable as they are familiar.

But most people are not aware of how computers and Internet technology are transforming the way students learn. This emerging education paradigm is often called “virtual learning,” and it has the potential to improve student achievement, educational access and schools’ cost-effectiveness.

Specifically, virtual learning uses computer software, the Internet or both to deliver instruction to students. This minimizes or eliminates the need for teachers and students to share a classroom. Virtual learning does not include the increasing use of e-mail or online forums to help teachers better communicate with students and parents about coursework and student progress; as helpful as these learning management systems are, they do not change how students are taught (Van Beek, 2011).


Education In Correctional Facilities

Since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001, there are rigorous standards that many states require teachers must meet to earn or maintain their certification. This includes professional development activities that improve teachers’ knowledge of their subjects; helps them ensure students can meet state academic achievement standards; and are developed with tandem with teachers, principals, parents, and administrators of the school, among other requirements (United States Department of Education, 2012). However, part-time faculty often struggle to meet these professional development requirements, a challenge with is especially concerning as so many teachers in correctional facilities are contracted part-time.

The challenges inmate students encounter every day in correctional facilities are very different from students of traditional higher educational programs (DelliCarpini, 2008). However, relevant and meaningful professional development for higher education faculty is rarely available even though we instruct students who are most at-risk in terms of academic success. Instead, faculty in correctional higher education programs attend professional development venues aimed at more traditional higher education teachers and often find that it is not applicable to their classrooms. For example, I often attend training opportunities through Central Arizona College and leave feeling that though I received interesting and valid information, it didn’t really fit into a correctional classroom environment.

After teaching corrections for more than four years, I’ve grown familiar with the student population and the nature of the job. I’ve become accustomed to the flow of daily life inside the walls of a prison and feel a sense of comfort in the routine. I could be having a stressful morning getting to work, but once I check out my mace and key set I calm down. Inmate students usually have not had the most positive experience with academic education. For many, the educational system let them down. For some, they were just lazy and were not interested in school as teenagers, but most inmate students want an academic education. The challenge is the discipline and knowledge needed to slowly prepare for the GED test. If we’re able to provide relevant professional development opportunities, we can work to address these challenges and ensure that we’re nurturing correctional teachers who can help these students succeed.



Buchanan, N. (2012). An educated population is essential to a nation’s prosperity, yet some politicians are demonizing our educational system for political advantage. Verdict. Retrieved from

DelliCarpini, M. (2008). Creating communities of professional practice in the correctional education classroom. Journal Of Correctional Education, 59(3), 219-230.

Dew, J. (2009). Quality issues in higher education. Journal For Quality & Participation, 32(1), 4-9.

Pieczura, M. (2012). Weighing the pros and cons of TAP. Educational Leadership, 70(3), 70-72.

Spaulding, S. (2011). Borderland stories about teaching college in prison. New Directions For Community Colleges, 2011(155), 73-83. doi:10.1002/cc.459

Tewksbury, R., & Stengel, K. M. (2006). Assessing Correctional Education Programs: The Students’ Perspective. Journal Of Correctional Education, 57(1), 13-25.

United States Department of Education. (2012). A PPSS lessons from the field report providing effective teachers for all students: Examples from five districts. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development Policy and Program Studies Service.

Van Beek, Michael. (2011). Retrieved from:

Williams, D. N., & ERIC Clearinghouse for Junior Colleges, L. C. (1989). Correctional Education and the Community College. ERIC Digest.

Advantages Of Reading And Virtual Learning For Test Takers


Something that happens numerous times in my classroom is when students approach me and ask “How can I improve my test scores for exams?”

I’ve noticed that good readers usually have more developed higher order thinking skills and computer-based or virtual learning skills and therefore they are better test takers. Therefore, it is important to have these skills before taking an exam because students need to have a decent level of both before preparing for tests or exams. It is not a quick or easy process to acquire these skills, but one that requires dedication to the development.

When I ask students “How much do you read?”, the most common response is, “Not that much.” After hearing their response, I challenge students to transform their habits. I explain that they need to read at least an hour a day. Students can read books, magazines or newspapers, but it is essential that they accommodate their individual reading level.

The ideal reading level will be simple enough for the student to comprehend, but challenging enough to allow for progress to higher levels of reading and new vocabulary. When each student reads at their prescribed level, learning occurs at an accelerated rate while still allowing the student to make connections in real-world experiences and observations through books, newspapers, and magazines.


The Importance Of Reading

Science proves that right now your own brain is actively engaged as you are reading my article; assuming you are enjoying the content. Your brain is actively working through the process of changing letters into words (or symbols) and your brain then takes these symbols and associates them with a previously understood meaning, converting their structure into language and understanding.

It’s not a simple process, but very complex and challenging for many inexperienced readers. According to Bloom’s Taxonomy, low-level readers fall within the lowest level of cognition:  knowledge and comprehension. How do I challenge low-level readers to move forward to higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy? How can you achieve the same goal?

Students need to put the necessary time into reading. We have all heard that “practice makes perfect” and this is a great example of that saying. There is no easy path to successful reading, except reading. Again, my suggestion is at least one hour per day.


Benefits Of Reading Books

Once readers put the time reading what the author is trying to convey, they will start to form opinions about the information presented. Readers must decide to agree, disagree or solve a problem related to the text they just read. Once students engage in this type of thinking, readers begin to participate in Bloom’s higher level of cognition which involves analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

In the 1950s, Benjamin Bloom, an educational psychologist, and his colleagues developed a classification system identifying different levels of cognition that defined both lower and high order thinking.  The six levels within the cognitive domain are from lower to higher: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

Higher-order thinking is the ability to think beyond rote memorization of facts or knowledge. Rote memory recall is not really thinking. Higher order thinking skills involve actually doing something with the facts that we learn.  When students use their higher order thinking skills that means they understand, they can find connections between many facts, they can manipulate them, and put them together in new ways. Most importantly they can apply them to find new solutions to problems.

Students with poor reading comprehension skills may be able to answer concrete questions or recall details. They can usually name characters or places. But they may have a difficult time summarizing information, or comparing one story to another, or using new information to reach new conclusions. Making inferences, identifying the big picture or moral of a story, distinguishing opinions from facts, or finding biases are also skills very difficult – if not impossible – for the reader with poor reading comprehension skills.

One of the goals of reading is to make new connections to our life and world.  Readers who can use higher order thinking not only show knowledge and understanding of the text, they can put the information in new contexts and form relations between ideas.  (Marshall, 2013)


Advantages Of Reading Books

The less time you spend in front of a screen, the better. You’re not damaging your eyes. If you want to sleep, you shouldn’t be looking at a computer screen for at least a half-hour before bed. The blue light emitted from the screen reduces the naturally occurring melatonin in your brain. Melatonin regulates your natural ability to fall asleep. Reading a book solves these problems.

As students continue to read on a regular basis, they will inevitably encounter new vocabulary in their reading. This is beneficial for the student to be exposed to new language and develop a more extensive vocabulary through which to express themselves.

In my personal experience, as the saying goes, “If I had a nickel for every time” a student asked what a word meant, I would no longer have to teach to pay the bills. Exposure to unknown ideas sparks students’ curiosity and cause them to question further. Students begin to wonder what words mean and will then seek answers to satisfy their curiosity.

New vocabulary is a challenging, but essential for students to obtain. Instead of just giving the definitions to their word questions, have students find answers on their own. The first tool to provide your students is the dictionary. Looking in the dictionary can and will be an adventure for your students because they will discover word origins and previous uses of the word throughout its history. Such a discovery process allows students to forge new and authentic connections to the world around them and is crucial for improving reading skills needed for each year’s new GED test.


Advantages Of Online Learning

A key part of learning for testers is the opportunity for virtual learning – or learning via the use of online resources such as the internet, social media, or computer software. This virtual learning is especially important for students who may not have access to more traditional in-person learning opportunities that others do to develop this critical thinking. By having access to the Internet or other online resources, students are granted a cost-effective way to access the information they need to become better readers and test-takers.


Virtual learning comes in several forms:

Computer-Based: Instruction is not provided by a teacher; instead, the instruction is provided by software installed on a local computer or server. This software can frequently customize the material to suit the specific needs of each student.

Internet-Based: This is similar to computer-based instruction, but in this case, the software that provides the instruction is delivered through the Web and stored on a remote server.

Remote Teacher Online: Instruction is provided by a teacher, but that teacher is not physically present with the student. Instead, the teacher interacts with the student via the Internet, through such media as online video, online forums, e-mail and instant messaging.

Blended Learning: This combines traditional face-to-face instruction, directed by a teacher with computer-based, Internet-based or remote teacher online instruction. In effect, instruction comes from two sources: a traditional classroom teacher, and at least one of the forms of virtual learning described above.

Facilitated Virtual Learning: This is computer-based, Internet-based or remote teacher online instruction that is supplemented by a human “facilitator.” This facilitator does not direct the student’s instruction, but rather assists the student’s learning process by providing tutoring or additional supervision. The facilitator may be present with the learner or communicating remotely via the Web or other forms of electronic communication (Van Beek, 2011).

As students increase their time spent reading and using virtual learning, they inevitably progress on the scale of Bloom’s Taxonomy towards higher level thinking.  The predictable advantages that accompany learning through reading are my main motivation for encouraging students to spend time here. The more often they read, the better they perform in testing and exams. Emphasizing extended reading along with virtual learning in your classroom and see how much better your students will perform in their tests and exams. Just remember to take advantage of paper-based reading where you can as well. 



Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational objectives: Complete edition.New York: Longman.


Anderson, L.W., & Sosniak, L.A. (Eds.). (1994). “Bloom’s taxonomy: a forty-year retrospective.”            Ninety-third yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, Pt. 2. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.


Bloom, Benjamin S. & David R. Krathwohl. (1956). “Taxonomy of educational objectives: The                  classification of educational goals, by a committee of college and university examiners.”                Handbook 1: Cognitive domain. New York: Longmans.


Marshall, Pam. (2013). Retrieved from:

Van Beek, Michael. (2011). Retrieved from:

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