Information Age Education
   Issue Number 18
May, 2009   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by David Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. For more information, see the end of this newsletter.


About two weeks ago I was asked if I would be interested in providing a “guest lecture” in a course on Talented and Gifted education. The topic was to be roles of computers in TAG education.

I said yes before it eventually dawned on me that I was volunteering to do a full class meeting for a three-credit course that holds only one class meeting per week. With nearly three hours of class meeting time available to me, the challenge became one of preparing a half-day workshop rather than giving a lecture.

The class is a mixture of seniors and graduate students, and they have widely varying educational interests. Some are interested in special education while others are in general education. Some are oriented towards elementary education and some towards secondary education. Moreover, their computer backgrounds and interests vary, although all routinely use fundamental tools such as e-mail, word processing, and the Web. Here are some of the points I decided to emphasize.

Looking Back

HistoryThis is a quote from about 2,400 years ago that I find quite interesting:

“When you spoke of a nature gifted or not gifted in any respect, did you mean to say that one man may acquire a thing easily, another with difficulty; a little learning will lead the one to discover a great deal; whereas the other, after much study and application no sooner learns then he forgets.” (Plato; Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the western world; 428/427 BC– 348/347 BC.)

This quote indicates that educators have long known that there are considerable variations in how well and how fast people learn. In the early 1900s, Alfred Binet undertook the task of developing an easily administered instrument to divide students into three categories: slower, mid range, and faster.

More than a hundred years of subsequent research and development have led to our current IQ tests, measures of cognitive development, measures of creativity, measures of leadership, and so on, and have given us a much better understanding of capabilities, limitations, and differences of human brains.

Looking at More Current Times

CurrentWe know that typical TAG students learn with deeper understanding and two or more times as fast as average students. This faster learning and better understanding can be used to pursue a greater breadth and depth of education as compared to average students.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) brings two very important new issues to TAG education. First, ICT provides for relatively quick and easy access to a wide range of:
  1. People located throughout the world.
  2. Data, information, and knowledge; tools to help gather and process data, information, and knowledge.
  3. Distance education and computer-assisted learning.
With proper education, encouragement, and other forms of support, a TAG student can become immersed in a very large learning and experiential environment—much broader and deeper that has been available to students in the past.

Think of this of this from an Individual Education Plan (IEP) point of view. We know a lot about the value of providing slower-learning students with an IEP and special help in making progress toward the learning goals described in the IEP. I have long wondered why we don’t do the same for all TAG students. The steadily increasing availability of distance learning courses and the steadily growing content of the Web certainly makes it more feasible to implement an IEP for a TAG student.

Second, consider the following statement by David Perkins, a long time professional colleague of Howard Gardner:

"My familiarity with various software programs is part of my intelligence if I have access to those tools." (David Perkins, 1992; see http://iae-pedia.org/David_Perkins.)

The first issue of this IAE Newsletter discussed the topic, Two Brains Are Better Than One. See http://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2008-01.html. ICT provides an augmentation or enhancement to one’s brain. The capabilities of this augmentation are steadily growing.

We quite a bit about how to help students develop their (human) brain power. We know far less about how to help students learn to make effective use of the “brain power” provided by computers and other ICT facilities. Of course, some TAG students grow up in a home environment in which they receive a lot of help learning to make broad and deep use of ICT. Some learn it on their own. However, relatively few students are getting this in their regular schooling. Most TAG students are not gaining in-depth knowledge and skills in Computational Thinking as applied to the various non-computer disciplines they are studying. (See http://iae-pedia.org/Computational_Thinking.)

One reason for this is that relatively few teachers have depth of knowledge both in the traditional disciplines that they are teaching and in roles of ICT in representing and solving the problems in these disciplines. They cannot provide much assistance in helping students develop their human brains in a manner that allows them to make broad, deep use of computer brains. This represents a significant flaw in our current educational system. It is a flaw in the education we are providing all students, but I find it particularly painful in our education of TAG students.

 Looking into the Future

The FutureThe talented and gifted students of the world represent a precious resource. Some countries are doing much more than others to recognize this fact and to implement programs of study that are especially designed to help such students reach their full potentials.

At a Federal level, the United States does very close to nothing to help in TAG education. See, for example, http://giftededucation.suite101.com/article.cfm/who_provides_for_gifted_education.

Individual states have widely varying legislation and fiscal support for TAG education. My own state (Oregon) mandates TAG education but provides very close to zero financial support for it.

Over the long run, computer-assisted learning and distance education will get better and better, and become more and more available to all students. The capabilities of computer “brains” will continue to grow. With appropriate leadership at school district, state, and Federal levels, these two change agents could lead to substantial changes in our overall education system. Such changes could be designed to be especially beneficial to TAG students.

Here is a suggestion to parents of TAG children. Think carefully about what you are doing and what your children’s schools are doing to help your children become independent, self-sufficient learners who are developing their human brains and are learning to make broad and deep use of computer brains. Keep in mind that it takes many years of student time and effort to learn to make such broad and deep uses of ICT within the other disciplines they are studying.


About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. IAE is a project of the Science Factory, a 501(c)(3) science and technology museum located in Eugene, Oregon. Current IAE activities include a Wiki with address http://IAE-pedia.org, a Website containing free books and articles at http://I-A-E.org, and the free newsletter you are now reading.

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