I couldn’t be more excited to announce a new project funded by Ascendium Education Group that will allow us to expand our current work on increasing access to quality educational resources for higher education in prison (HEP) programs. This grant will support both Ithaka S+R’s growing research focus in the field as well as our own work here at JSTOR Labs to increase access to academic resources for incarcerated students.
As I described recently in this blog, the majority of HEP programs operate under a set of extreme constraints, one of which is not having access to the internet. Recently, however, some programs have begun some experimentation with limited internet access, and the current COVID-19 crisis brings urgency to those efforts. This three-year project aims to build and test a version of JSTOR that incarcerated students can access directly, providing access to high quality research literature while accounting for the diversity of DOC security and media review practices. This effort will be divided into two iterative phases, each of which will be informed by a parallel program of research conducted by Ithaka S+R. (You can read more about their research program here.)
Phase 1: Proof of Concept
The JSTOR Labs team will create a proof of concept to test a version of JSTOR to which HEP programs can provide direct, approved “whitelisted” internet access. JSTOR Labs will work with one state-level DOC partner and one technology vendor operating in corrections facilities within that state to design and build this tool. The new site will provide students immediate or expedited access to a large body of high quality research literature. Working with our DOC and technology partners, an advisory committee, and Ithaka S+R’s research on censorship, the JSTOR team will design and build into its tool a media review process that optimizes for access across DOC’s media review policies. When we have designed and built this custom version of the JSTOR website, we will work with our DOC and technology partners to provide access to it at multiple facilities within the state. Once implemented, we will monitor and support the use of the system through a full semester’s program, refining and making iterative improvements to the design based on feedback provided by students, teachers, administrators and the DOC.
Phase 2: Pilot
Informed by lessons learned through the proof of concept, we will expand the test to ensure that this solution can meet the diverse needs of multiple DOCs and access modalities. Doing so will provide vital data and validation to help with our “North Star” goal of providing access to JSTOR to all HEP programs operating in the United States. We will make further improvements to the custom website, exploring additional ways to securely provide more content more quickly to incarcerated students. These improvements will be driven by research conducted in phase one, and input from our partners and advisory committee. They might, for example, explore the use of natural language processing to facilitate faster and more scalable media review. We will then work with one or two additional state systems willing to implement a pilot of the online solution. Once implemented at these facilities, we will again monitor and support the use of the system through a full semester’s program, refining and making iterative improvements to the design based on usage data and feedback provided by students, teachers, administrators and the DOC. In the final months of Phase 2, the JSTOR Labs team will develop a white paper discussing lessons learned from creating and implementing the tool across 3-4 states, and best practices for additional programs seeking to adopt it.
We are thrilled to be undertaking this project to improve access to quality library resources to students in HEP programs. We hope that the lessons learned in this project will help JSTOR, its HEP and DOC partners, and others to provide the resources students need to get a quality education. If you are interested in learning more about the project or our current work, please contact us.
With many thanks to Ascendium for making this project possible.