with the Office of Justice Programs' National Institute of Justice (NIJ)
Classroom in your home room
During the first day of a mandatory class on Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Act for newly hired correctional and probation and parole officers, the snow fell while road crews struggled to keep even the major routes open. Offices, businesses, and schools around Pennsylvania closed. But the class went on without a hitch.
The Pennsylvania Center for Juvenile Justice Training and Research (CJJT&R), sponsor of the class, had used the Community Corrections E-Learning Collaborative (CCELC) to revamp classroom instruction into online training. While a major snowstorm raged that wintry day in February of last year, many of the first students to take the revised class sat down at their home computers and prepared to learn.
Originally funded by NLECTC–Rocky Mountain, a program of the Office of Justice Programs’ National Institute of Justice, CCELC is now independently operated by The Education Coalition, which has offered nationwide online e-learning opportunities to the corrections community since 2004. CJJT&R has tried to promote training courses to the corrections community, but with limited success. The center decided it was time to push the online learning experience a step farther.
“We needed a way to push the envelope and move Pennsylvania toward online learning,” says Stephen Bishop, assistant director of training at CJJT&R. “We decided to take a piece out of our academy, put it online, and make it mandatory, in the hopes that the experience would make them more open to taking other courses on their own.”
Although Bishop says it may be too soon to tell if students are indeed moving on and taking other courses, he adds that CJJT&R has received plenty of positive feedback on the class and that scores on the final exam have been extremely high. The online course uses multiple media such as video, slides, and graphics, and spreads what would have been a full day of classroom training into 90-minute segments each day for a week.
“Adult learning works best if spread over time; learners can apply the content while they’re learning, and they come up with more and better questions,” says CCELC’s Dr. Carla Lane, who played a key role in the course development. CCELC provided national expertise in online course development, course conversion, and production of all course aspects, and trained and mentored the CJJT&R facilitators in online teaching. The center will maintain the course content on the Web and update and enhance it as needed. Lane hopes that the Pennsylvania experience will open the door for other States and agencies to request development of their own specialized training. Several States have made the national CCELC courses mandatory, but Pennsylvania was the first to request development of a course tailored to specific needs.
“The Juvenile Act is a piece of legislation that can be dry in a classroom, but it lent itself well to going online because it is a straightforward piece of content,” says Bishop. “I’m not sure what the next step is yet. Change is hard for people to get on board with, but I hope it is the first of more to come.”
Lane points out that putting routine training programs such as this one online can be a cost-effective alternative. “Agencies don’t have to spend money for a hotel, for per diem, and there’s no time lost out of the office. Putting basic courses online frees up funds to do advanced training face-to-face when it is needed.” Bishop concurs, adding, “This is a great way to stretch those
training dollars a little bit more.”
Also, he adds, this particular course contains information new hires need to learn immediately to do their jobs. Face-to-face sessions on the Act were offered only twice a year, opening up the possibility that an individual could be on the job for as long as 5 months before receiving an opportunity to take the class. With online offerings available monthly, now no one is on the job for more than a few weeks without taking the Juvenile Act training. The online class also often helps individuals improve their computer skills, which is an asset in other aspects of their jobs, Bishop says. The trainer/facilitators also have expanded their skills, with CCELC providing training in online instruction.
“It’s such a different way of doing things than traditional classroom teaching, but they’re coming along really well,” Lane says. “The great thing about online instruction is you can teach from anywhere. If you’re on travel, anytime you’re out of the office, you can still teach. It totally changes the dynamic of what you’re able to do. You really can be in two places at one time.”
For more information about online training possibilities, contact Stephen Bishop, assistant director of training, Center for Juvenile Justice Training & Research, 717–477–1294, e-mail SPBish@ship.edu; or Dr. Carla Lane, executive director, The Education Coalition/Community Corrections E-Learning Collaborative, 949–369–3867, e-mail CarlaLane@AOL.com. Websites for information are http://www.jcjc.state.pa.us/jcjc/cwp/view.asp?a=3&Q=393676 and http://www.tecweb.org/.
This article was reprinted from the Spring 2008 edition of TechBeat, the award-winning quarterly newsmagazine of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center System, a program of the National Institute of Justice under Cooperative Agreement #2005–MU–CX–K077, awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice.