Michigan Corrections Expands New Learning System Statewide | #education | #technology | #training


The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) is expanding the learning management system that it first piloted in 2021 to help ensure offenders have access to educational programs while incarcerated.

Following the results of a competitive proof of concept using the Google Workspace for Education platform in three prisons — a collaboration with Resultant and Google — the department decided to expand the initiative statewide. The program is currently in the process of rollout and will be functional at all the state’s correction sites in 2022, said MDOC Offender Success Administrator Kyle Kaminski.

MDOC operates schools in each of its prison facilities throughout the state, and things like educational programs and communications need to be operational on a daily basis, explained Kaminski.


Part of the driving force to explore new technology was the decline of MDOC’s legacy system, Prisoner Program Information Network (PPIN), which would sometimes go down for several days at a time. Kaminski said that the partnership with Google and Resultant has led to a system with nearly 100 percent uptime.

The functionality of MDOC’s education network was also limited in the programs it could support as testing for credentialing agencies was increasingly moving online. Additionally, it did not offer a digital environment for students and instructors to interact.

While this expanded learning management system will be supplemental to the in-person educational programs MDOC offers, Google Classroom technology will allow instructors to provide virtual instruction, give assignments and quizzes and communicate with their classes.

The department has used funding from the state Legislature allocated for prisoner education to implement this.

PROJECTED OUTCOMES

The primary outcome determining the program’s success is that it is gaining adoption and the department is delivering more training than it had before, Resultant’s President John Roach explained.

Digital delivery allows for very granular information about things like who took a class, how long it took them to complete it and how they performed on the assessment, he added.

And while Roach acknowledged that states already collect data around recidivism — defined by criminal acts that result in re-arrest, reconviction or return to prison within three years — Resultant helped MDOC use data to compare how the probability of recidivating changes when someone receives education and training while incarcerated.

Kaminski also underlined the soft-skills training outcome for technology literacy, as he explained that it is difficult for returning citizens to make the transition from a setting with limited technology access to a technology-based society, where everything from forms to job applications are online.

“We think that’s also one of the outcomes that’s going to be really important; this will give prisoners more regular contact with technology,” he stated. “It’ll get them used to the idea of communicating using technology.”

And while Kaminski believes working with Google and Chromebooks was a direction the department was already heading, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this adoption and furthered the discussion of increased investments in Wi-Fi to potentially expand this program in what he called “phase two.”

The department has asked the state Legislature for $30 million to install secure Wi-Fi into all state prison facilities as a separate initiative. He underlined that this would allow the deployment of Chromebooks outside of MDOC schools.

SECURING EDUCATION

Roach said the team implemented “role-based security” to determine exactly what offenders were and were not able to access. For example, Kaminski explained that because offenders could not have unlimited Internet access, the department was able to list certain websites, such as specific links for educational things and testing.

In addition, the department had to work around the collaboration feature of the Google platform to control the flow of information within the state’s prisons. Kaminski said that when this need was communicated with the team at Google, the company was easily able to turn off that feature or limit access as needed.

Starting with the competitive proof of concept, he said, has given the department the confidence of knowing what can be controlled administratively. What’s more, because the Chromebooks use cloud storage rather than desktop storage, files can be easily searched and managed.

Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She’s currently located in Southern California.

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