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Ruth McFarlane

head shot of Ruth McFarlane

Profile summary

  • Academic Related Staff
  • Senior Manager, Students in Secure Environments
  • Academic Services
  • Access, Careers & Teaching Support
  • Widening Access & Success Services
  • ruth.mcfarlane

Professional biography

I am delighted to be leading the Students in Secure Environments (SiSE) Team at The Open University supporting approximately 1800 students in prisons and secure hospitals who are working towards an OU degree. Our team works closely with the Ministry of Justice and HMPPS to agree the nature of the study support we offer; liaise with module teams and faculties to ensure that materials provided meet the security requirements and are accessible to our students, many of whom do not have access to a computer. We are currrently focused on delivering our (award winning) secure VLE via in cell technology. It has been  successfully available in classrooms via the Virtual Campus for several years.

We also offer study skills sessions and careers support for OU students in prison, and are delivering OU Research seminars in conjunction with OU academics.

In my previous role at the OU I worked in the Technology Enhanced Learning team, where I delivered Learning Design workshops for faculty teams at the start of the module production process and co-ordinated the mapping of student workload.

All of my work has a strong student focus and I am particularly interested in how we support students who have not previously engaged well in education. 

Previously I have worked as a teacher and education manager specialising in inclusion, working in Secure Training Centres, prisons and Childrens Homes to support Looked After Children to succeed in education.

Research interests

Digital Learning in a Secure Environment - leading a Prisoner Learning Alliance group to promote increased use of technology for education in prisons.

Student Voice - engaging with student learning communities in prison to improve the study experience.

Transform Ed - a "Through the Gate" project to support OU students in prison to continue their studies when they leave custody, offering study partners, a learning community, a physical space to study and support to progress into meaningful employment.

Student workload and retention - quantifying student workload; exploring patterns of workload in OU modules and the effect on student retention during the study period.

External collaborations

Member of Prisoner Learning Alliance and PUPiL network run by the Prisoners' Education Trust.

Presented at EPALE Conference 2016 on Prison, Education and Life After Release.

Presented at OU Widening Participation conference 2018 on Digital Learning in a Secure Environment

Steering Committee member of European Prison Education Association (Western Region Rep)


Developing the learner voice (2018-11)
McFarlane, Ruth and Morris, Andrew
Advancing Corrections Journal, 6, Article 13 (pp. 151-160)
Analytics in online and offline language learning environments: the role of learning design to understand student online engagement (2018)
Rienties, Bart; Lewis, Timothy; Mcfarlane, Ruth; Nguyen, Quan and Toetenel, Lisette
Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 31(3) (pp. 273-293)
Experiences of post-secondary learning after prison: Reintegrating into society (2017-10-26)
Pike, Anne and Mcfarlane, Ruth
In: Crane, Paul ed. Life Beyond Crime: What do those at risk of offending, prisoners and ex-offenders need to learn? (pp. 258-262)
ISBN : 978-1-898001-77-5 | Publisher : Lemos&Crane | Published : London