program for formerly incarcerated college students

Four Strategies to Overcome the Challenges of Facilitating Formerly Incarcerated Learners

During the spring 2020 semester, I facilitated a cohort of 15 learners in Goodwin University’s ENet program. ENet is an entrepreneurial program that provides learners who were formerly incarcerated the opportunity to earn a small business start-up certificate at Goodwin. These learners complete six courses: Introduction to Management, Introduction to Property Management, Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Business Law and Ethics, and Accounting Information Systems.

As an instructor with more than 25 years’ experience at the tertiary level, I facilitate the course BUS 101 — Introduction to Management. The course is taught in a hybrid model: students have one weekly three-hour face-to-face sessions while completing various assessments online for 7.5 weeks. The assessments are designed to allow each learner to prepare four sections of a business plan: mission, vision, and goals; SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) and PEST (Political, Economic, Social, and Technological) analyses; business trends; and a social media plan.

The challenge of teaching any tertiary level course is bridging the gap between theory and practice, and providing opportunities for learners to acquire experiential competencies. BUS 101, like the other courses, has an experiential component that allows for the bridging of the gap between the theoretical concepts acquired in the classroom and what students will learn in job settings and businesses. The experiential learning component is of little benefit to students if it is not guided by a larger philosophical thrust; that is, the experience should be transformational. Learners should be able to apply many of the competencies acquired in class to their proposed or current businesses.

The following illuminates my experience as a faculty member and the four strategies I employed to overcome some of the challenges of facilitating ENet learners. These strategies include engaging learners in stimulating activities to foster learning; fostering critical reflection; providing opportunities for real-world connections; and providing multiple modes to process and communicate information.

Strategy #1 — Engage learners in stimulating activities to foster learning.
There is an underlying assumption in college settings that learners have suitable cognitive skills, are motivated, take the initiative to diagnose and formulate goals, while using available resources to solve problems, and recommend solutions. Hence, learners should engage in stimulating activities to foster the learning of business concepts. Learners should be provided with the opportunity to engage in interactive whole-class and small-group discussions to enhance their team building, analytical, and communication skills while learning the art and science of managing a small business. As they analyze contemporary management theories or problems, each small group should choose a scribe and team leader. The team leader would be responsible for leading the discussion and reporting the findings to the larger group. Engaging learners in stimulating activities must be student centered so that the learning experience will benefit the students.

Strategy #2 — Foster critical reflection.
Learners should be provided the opportunity for critical reflection to broaden their self-image, to validate their assumptions of values, and to review their prior knowledge in light of new experiences. Critical reflection leads to transformative learning while establishing clear and logical connections between beginning premises, relevant facts, and reasonable conclusions. Weekly reflections through multiple modes should be encouraged. These reflections will provide learners with opportunities to critically reflect on real-world business scenarios to foster a greater understanding of management concepts.

Strategy #3 — Provide opportunities for real-world connections.
It is always useful to allow learners to pivot on their prior and current experiences and to include them within real-world context through activities and scenarios. Ultimately, the goal is to help learners conceptualize real-world interconnections between management theories, concepts, and strategies, and the skills and knowledge needed to be successful entrepreneurs. Learners can develop a mission, vision, and goals; conduct an environmental scan using SWOT and PEST; look at current small business trends; and develop a social media plan for their proposed businesses. By engaging in these activities, learners can acquire the competencies to develop a strategy for their proposed businesses.

Strategy #4 — Provide multiple modes to process and communicate information.
In every institution of higher learning, learners immerse themselves in resource materials to learn concepts and to process information relevant to their learning. Learners should be provided with multiple sources of information including textbooks, PowerPoint presentations, videos, and other relevant resources. As a Universal Design for Learning Teaching Fellow, one of my roles as a facilitator to the ENet cohort is to remove barriers so that learners can process information relevant to their learning. It may require clarifying vocabulary and symbols or using strategies to activate background knowledge to help learners comprehend material and resources. Additionally, the learners should be given multiple modes to present information including essays, narrative PowerPoints, and three-to-five-minute videos and audios.

As their instructor, I feel the most notable takeaway from facilitating the cohort was their willingness to learn new concepts, theories, and strategies in small business management. However, the greatest challenge experienced by some learners is their inability to incorporate technology in the learning process. To overcome this shortcoming, several interventions were used including peer and facilitator support, and the embedded librarian.

Click here to learn more about Business Administration programs at Goodwin.

Click here to learn more about the ENet entrepreneurial program at Goodwin.