Unique view of prison system

October 18, 2006, volume 37, no. 4
By Diane Luckow



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Students in Criminology 343 are gaining a unique insight into the federal correctional system thanks to dozens of mentors.

Parole officers, psychologists, psychiatrists, program facilitators, probation officers and deputy wardens are all volunteering their time to advise more than 60 students in this distance education course.

The idea came from criminology PhD student David Hunt, who is the tutor marker for the course.

A parole officer with the Correctional Services of Canada by day, he has taught the course online for the past eight semesters.

Last year, he redesigned and updated it with assistance from SFU criminology professor Margaret Jackson and staff in the centre of distance education.

The result is a fully electronic course that has students dealing with actual government documents like budgets and proposals; participating in e-live discussions online with fellow students, instructors and correctional services mentors; and writing modularized essays that build on each
other to create an actual proposal directed to a correctional services
organization.

Students may also present their proposals to those organizations. Last semester, the BC Board of Parole accepted student Jennifer White's proposal for a video that explains the parole application process to inmates.

A full-time SFU staffer, White is pursuing her bachelor of arts degree through distance education.

"It was the best criminology course I've taken so far—it couldn't have been more hands-on and the contacts I made were incredible," she says.

Her mentor toured her through his institution, discussed the parole application process and invited her feedback.

At the end of the semester, she presented him with a proposal that was accepted.

"These are the kinds of results I'm looking for," says Hunt. "It can happen because the students are working with mentors who can open doors for them."

"I don't think I would have learned as much just reading from a textbook," says White, who at the time was an undergraduate secretary in the economics department and is now a secretary for the dean of science at SFU Surrey.

"This is almost two semesters later and I'm still thinking about it. It felt very exciting."

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