Dr. Kenneth Madsen is a trained OPEEP faculty member and an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at OSU Newark. His areas of expertise include political and cultural geography, borders and bordering, geography of film and fiction, and conflict between scales. Dr. Madsen taught his first OPEEP course titled "Geography 3600: Space, Power and Political Geography" in Spring 2022 at the Ohio Reformatory for Women (ORW) in Marysville, Ohio. He will teach the same course in the upcoming Spring 2023 semester, this time based at the Southeastern Correctional Institution (SCI) in Lancaster, Ohio. Read the interview below to learn a bit more about Dr. Madsen's experience as an OPEEP instructor!
What was it like teaching your first OPEEP class?
Even with all the training it was hard to know what exactly to expect, how it was all going to go down. But in the end it was a revitalizing experience. This was my first back-in-person-“post”-COVID class after teaching entirely online for over a year and it was refreshing to have students hungry to learn and jumping at the chance to participate in class discussions.
How was the experience of teaching in a prison facility different than teaching on campus?
I am not heavily dependent on PowerPoint when teaching, but it is nice to have for some conversations and as a basic outline/conversation starter. That was probably the biggest difference. Besides the expected flexibility of teaching in a new location with new rules, in Spring 2022 we were also required to have a lot of flexibility in the face of another COVID wave, quarantines, weather, etc. Prison staff were more than helpful doing what they could to facilitate the teaching experience, however. I was often surprised at how understanding the staff were and how willing they were to make things happen. Not only were students frank about the prison experience, but those same issues got a lot of nods from staff as well.
What did you find most rewarding about teaching an OPEEP class?
Definitely the students! Getting to know everyone as a person and developing a tight-knit learning community was great. I also walked away with some new skills I am already integrating into my other in-person classes. Wagon-wheel ice breakers, anyone?
Was there anything particularly difficult about teaching in this setting?
Not difficult, but certainly more challenging. Teaching with OPEEP required more advance preparation – having everything ready hours in advance with no recourse to look something up online or run to my office to pick up a forgotten item. But otherwise the class went very smoothly. I did, however, find myself way more flexible with deadlines given the once-a-week meeting time and inability to communicate with students in-between. Especially when we had to go online due to the weather or someone was unexpectedly placed in COVID quarantine.
What would you want other new OPEEP teachers to know?
Recruitment of campus students was particularly challenging. I tried hard to get the word out but it was difficult. Students who ultimately enrolled humbled me by saying they just didn’t know about the program any earlier. I ultimately got several extensions for recruitment and was cutting it very close, but in the end the class was able to move ahead. But I did not have a balanced ratio of Inside/Outside students. I hope in future semesters to have more equal numbers. Try as you might you may have the same issue, so go all out to do what you can to find interested Outside students to enroll in your course!