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Datacasting paves new avenue for incarcerated students to receive education

VPM partnering with community college and correctional center to provide educational materials for students

In a new pilot program underway in Victoria, Va., VPM is partnering with Lunenburg Correctional Center and Southside Virginia Community College (SVCC) to deliver educational content to incarcerated individuals with a technology known as datacasting.

Through datacasting, VPM uses a portion of its over-the-air broadcast signal to create a secure, one-way, encrypted data pipeline between SVCC and Lunenburg. Educators at SVCC’s Campus Within Walls program can leverage datacasting to send approved, customized educational materials to Lunenburg. Students enrolled in the program can access these resources, such as videos, photos, quizzes and documents, with a computer as though they were connected to the internet.

"The Virginia Department of Corrections has consistently emphasized the importance of education by offering innovative learning options for incarcerated individuals,” said Lunenberg’s Warden M. Bailey. “Inmates who are receiving an education seldom turn to violence when faced with obstacles. VPM’s datacasting pilot is a game changer for Corrections.”

What started as a pandemic-era resource for inmates while teachers were unable to meet with students in person has become a dependable, consistent tool for delivering educational opportunities at Lunenburg. Based on the success of this pilot, the model could be replicated in other correctional facilities and programs in Virginia.

“We are proud to partner with SVCC and Lunenburg Correctional Center to leverage the power of VPM’s broadcast signal to enhance the learning experiences of incarcerated individuals with high-quality educational materials,” said VPM President and CEO Jayme Swain. “I appreciate our partner’s willingness to innovate with datacasting and hope this technology can be deployed at other facilities throughout the Commonwealth.”

VPM is one of several PBS member stations across the country that is a part of the Information Equity Initiative (IEI), a nonprofit created by PBS member stations with the mission of ensuring that everyone, regardless of geography or income, has access to high-quality digital content. IEI developed an online tool that enables teachers to upload content to be transmitted via datacasting and students to receive the materials.

The partnership between VPM, SVCC and Lunenburg enables the pursuit of a shared vision for equitable educational opportunities for all, including those who are incarcerated. SVCC’s Campus Within Walls program provides college-ready inmates with the opportunity to attain associate degrees and certificates while incarcerated, improving their chances at a successful re-entry and securing employment.

"Since 1985, Campus within Walls has served more than 6,000 students and five facilities," said Campus Within Walls Coordinator Amanda Cox. "The VPM datacasting platform has helped improve the lines of communication between students and instructors and helps keep students from falling behind in their coursework. We are now able to continue instruction in the absence of an instructor, lockdown, quarantine or any institutional need."

“Students have been appreciative of the opportunity to receive a college-like experience with a sample of real online classes,” said Lunenberg’s Regional Principal Deborah Simmons. “We’ve also seen other students inspired to sign-up for classes after seeing their peers complete coursework through the VPM datacasting pilot.”