New Technology Tools for Acceleration The one-room schoolhouse had some advantages that modern schools did not have. When Adelaide Wallin graduated from elementary school in 1927, she was two years younger than the other graduates. As she mastered grade level material, her teacher was able to move her to the next level. While modern schools find new phrases to describe grouping by ability (i.e., flexible grouping), gifted children are still frequently sitting in classrooms waiting for new learning to occur. Funding for No Child Left Behind has reordered the priorities for most school districts, leaving gifted children behind. While the merits of accelerating gifted students by skipping years in school are not always accepted outside the field of gifted education, new tools are offering options that did not exist previously. Technology use in the educational setting has been significant in changing the way teachers approach learning. Beginning with Judi Harris’ work in the early 90s, teachers were exposed to a new menu of learning options. Her groundbreaking articles on network-based activity structures opened a new avenue in technology use. (For a complete listing, see 2Learn.ca Project Centre...Judi Harris's Activity Structures.) The brightest and best educators in the country were thinking of all the new ways computers could be used to excite students about learning. While the “engaged learning” package had some positive effects on education (problem solving, real-life projects and authentic assessment), heterogeneous grouping was included as part of the methodology. If students already knew the material, they were to assist others. Not all children were learning. As with all educational tools, technology’s usefulness depended on the skills and knowledge of the educational personnel. Online learning began to open up a new field of computer-mediated communication: virtual schools. Students logging on to the Internet could study courses unavailable in their local school. Originally designed with rural and low-income students in mind, some states have begun to address the needs of gifted students as well. Out of 50 states, less than half have both online learning programs and policies to guide their use. Of those, only Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Florida specifically address acceleration (Watson). Twenty-eight states have statewide programs or cyber schools that are either run by the state or private entities and most offer AP and college courses (Watson). Rural districts differ significantly from urban and suburban in the type of courses used and only 14% of all online students take AP or college-level courses (Smith, Clark, & Blomeyer). Some of the commercial resources that have been used by educators are NovaNet, a commercial secondary courseware system by Pearson Education, K12 curriculum, by K12, Inc. and ALEKS, which charges a minimal $17.95 per month for elementary math curriculum. Tuition-based courses are available at Stanford’s Education Program for Gifted Youth, which uses Northwestern University’s Learning Links curriculum, and also at Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. Other programs are available, sometimes for free. Kathi Kearney, a Project EXCEL gifted teacher in Berwick, Maine, recommended the Duke University Talent Identification Program (TIP), the BBC Learning website courses, the Homeschoolers of Maine web site, Hoagies web site, and University of Missouri, University of Nebraska, and Brigham Young University. She also found the reading list for an AP French Literature course posted by a Jesuit high school (Kearney).
Factors that should be taken into consideration when considering the placement of a student in a virtual school are the quality of the program and the personality of the student. Most states have some form of quality assessment. They look at whether the teacher has a solid background in course content, training and certification, and online experience and training. Seldom is the issue of training in gifted education considered. Statewide programs also provide curriculum and reduce the tuition if the district provides teacher support. Information about curriculum content was not available in the Watson report. Studies covered in K-12 Online Research Synthesis tend to compare online instruction to classroom instruction, but there were some important recommendations about course content and characteristics of successful learners (Smith, Clark, and Blomeyer, 2005). The characteristics of the student can have a powerful impact on the choice of programs considered. Is the student highly motivated and self-disciplined? Even graduate students sometimes have difficulty completing online requirements without frequent teacher contact. Does the student have any disabilities? Coursework must then be Section 508 compliant. “Section 508 requires that Federal agencies' electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities” (Section 508: The Road to Accessibility). Are there any cultural or gender differences that would affect an online discussion (Schallert, 2003)? Is the student physiologically young, with emotional needs far below cognitive? Tasks involved in online coursework can involve emailing, participating in an online discussion, creation of materials for online display, videoconferencing, and online quizzes and tests. Papers are submitted by email or posted online in an online community such as Nicenet or Tapped In. Students who need a high degree of interaction with their teacher may not be successful in completing the work. In addition, care should be given to address the need for higher-order thinking skills. In an article by Kanuka, five different structures of online learning were studied to see which produced the highest level of student engagement as determined by the SOLO taxonomy (Kanuka). The students involved were fourth-year undergraduate students, but the results bear mentioning. Of the five: nominal group technique, debate, brainstorming, invited guest, and WebQuest, the WebQuest produced the greatest degree of higher-order thinking. Keeping the structure of the coursework in mind when providing online instruction is a key component of distance learning. In addition to virtual coursework, two of the newest emerging technologies are virtual reality and Podcasting. Virtual reality allows students to see a celestial map from any coordinates they enter at http://www.pcsapo.com/csphere/csphere.html or dissect a pig at http://www.whitman.edu/biology/vpd/main.html. Students can view the phase of the moon one hundred years ago on this date (http://tycho.usno.navy.mil/vphase.html) or create virtual humans at the Virtual Reality Lab from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (http://ligwww.epfl.ch/About/about_index.html). These sites make wonderful resources for those developing WebQuests. Learning how to search the World Wide Web for web sites related to a particular unit is becoming an essential teacher skill. Podcasting allows students to download audio information from the Web and listen to it when they wish. They can also create podcasts for others, making them producers of knowledge as well as recipients. More information on Podcasting is
available in Lucy Gray’s column at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/friday5/. There will always be the students who will not achieve in a traditional way. These students may spend their evening and early morning hours creating worlds on ActiveWorlds (www.activeworlds.com), creating web pages, or creating cities and personalities with the Sim series by Maxis. Is it time for school districts to create independent study courses for such students or give them life credit for work already done? Required paperwork for these students should be kept to a minimum, because they are often not motivated by grades or credit. One thing we can be sure of - gifted students who love technology have already found many ways to meet their need for intellectual stimulation, creativity and community. The educational community needs to respond to their needs with appropriate learning structures. For more information about Judi Harris, see the 2Learn.ca Education Society’s web page at http://www.2learn.ca/Projects/Together/judi.html. For more about WebQuests, see Bernie Dodge’s page at http://webquest.sdsu.edu/. For more information about acceleration, see The Davidson’s Institute’s GT Cybersource, http://www.gt-cybersource.org/ArticleResults.aspx? NavID=2_0&exp=1&irec=50&page=1&NavID=2_0&catid=102&typeid=125&si d=5&rcat=Schooling&rtype=Acceleration&sc=106&st=125 Nicenet is a web site that provides tools for sharing links, documents and online conferencing. It is found at www.nicenet.org. Tapped In states it is “The online workplace of an international community of education professionals.” It can be found at www.tappedin.org. BBC online courses can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/learning/onlinecourses/. Homeschoolers of Maine web site is at http://www.homeschoolersofmaine.org/high_school_&_beyond.htm#Free %20Online%20Courses Linda Wallin teaches Technology in Education at National-Louis University and disabled preschoolers in the Special Education District of Lake County.
Bibliography ActiveWorlds, Inc., (1997). Activeworlds. Retrieved 1/2004, from http://www.activeworlds.com/. Csapo, P. (n.d.). Retrieved Oct. 26, 2005, from Celestial Sphere: The Web's Virtual Planetarium Web site: http://www.pcsapo.com/csphere/csphere.html . Fleck, Ph.D., E. W. (n.d.). Virtual pig dissection. Retrieved Oct. 26, 2005, from Virtual Pig Dissection Web site: http://www.whitman.edu/biology/vpd/main.html. Gray, L. (2005). The friday 5. Retrieved Oct. 26, 2005, from Yahoo! Groups : friday5 Web site: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/friday5/. Kanuka, H. (2005). An exploration into facilitating higher levels of learning in a textbased internet learning environment using diverse instructional strategies. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 10(3), article 8. Retrieved from http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol10/issue3/kanuka.html on 6/29/2005. Kearney, Kathi. "your CGEPNETWORK post." E-mail to Linda Wallin. 10 2005. Project Basics – Judi Harris’s Activity Structures, (1997-2005). Retrieved October 29, 2005, from http://www.2learn.ca/Projects/Together/structures.html Schmidt, R. (n.d.). Virtual reality moon phase pictures . Retrieved Oct. 30, 2005, from Virtual Reality Moon Phase Pictures Web site: http://tycho.usno.navy.mil/vphase.html. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, (n.d.). Virtaul reality lab. Retrieved Oct. 30, 2005, from Virtual Reality Lab Web site: http://ligwww.epfl.ch/About/about_index.html. Schallert, D. L., Reed, J. H., & D. (2003). Intellectual, motivational, textual and cultural considerations in teaching and learning with computer-mediated discussion. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 36(2), 103-118. Section 508: The Road to Accessibility. 30 Oct. 2005 <http://www.section508.gov/>. Smith, R., Clark, T. and Blomeyer, R. (unpublished) A Synthesis of New Research on K12 Online Learning. Naperville, IL: Learning Point Associates, North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. Watson, J. F. (Ed.). (2005). Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning 2005: A Review of State-Level Policy and Practice. Naperville, IL: Learning Point Associates, North Central