The Limited Accessibility of Gifted Education Research

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This post:

  • reviews the current accessibility of gifted education research and finds it sadly wanting;
  • surveys and compares the nine leading gifted education journals; and
  • proposes immediate action to make a far larger proportion of the research they publish available free of charge to all potential readers.

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Background

One aim of this Blog is to make freely available to all readers the widest possible range of detailed, reliable and up-to-date information about the current state of global gifted education.

This effort is undertaken in the firm belief that – wherever they are in the world and whatever the nature of their involvement – everyone with an interest in securing effective gifted education can benefit considerably from knowing about provision and practice elsewhere.

While ‘policy tourism’ is highly inadvisable, ‘policy insularity’ is still more damaging, because it results in policy makers assessing their options from a position of comparative ignorance, without the benefit of information about how things are done in other countries.

Such myopia is outdated in a globalised environment. There is no advantage in – and much to be lost by – indulging a taste for policy xenophobia.

Unfortunately I am forced to ration the supply of this material, partly because a single human being with other responsibilities and commitments has limited capacity to devote to it, but also because many of the sources of information upon which these posts depend are severely restricted.

It is a matter of principle (and a source of some pride) that I avoid sources that are hidden behind paywalls and so only accessible to those who can afford to access them. I prefer to draw on material that is freely available online and, more often than not, to include hyperlinks to significant sources in my posts, so that readers can consult them if they choose.

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Putting Some Preliminary Cards on the Table

Frequent readers will know that I am guilty of harbouring some resentment towards academic researchers, primarily because I believe they have for too long dominated efforts to organise international and global collaboration in the field of gifted education – yet with an all too conspicuous lack of success.

As I see it, they tend to operate a closed shop which primarily benefits other academic researchers, and which restricts the availability of their work to those outside their charmed circle.

As an ex-policy maker – and now a blogger with enough idealism intact to believe that free-to-access online writing can make a real difference – I heartily dislike the restrictive practices that seem to underpin so much academic research, seemingly aided and abetted by academic publishing, its bedfellow and partner in crime.

Of course I recognise that there are pockets of good practice – and nothing I say here should be taken as applying to particular organisations and individuals, especially those mentioned later in this post.

But still I find it hard to ignore an insistent negative internal voice which marshals a superficially convincing quiver of barbed arguments:

  • The vast majority of gifted education research is only available to those who can afford the subscriptions, or else belong to an academic library, typically located in an institution of higher education, that will meet that cost on their behalves. Publishers typically charge over the odds for access to such material, so are likely to be making significant profits, out of all proportion to the relatively limited value they add to quality assurance and the dissemination process.
  • The vast majority of keynote contributions at state/regional, national and international gifted education conferences are allocated to the academics that have produced such research. They use these opportunities to present their published arguments in outline to the small minority of consumers who can afford the hefty fees, travel and subsistence costs necessary to attend the conference location. More often than not, they seize the chance to advertise the priced publications that contain their research, as well as any other materials they endorse or services they provide.
  • These researchers predominantly address each other, constantly engaged in an iterative, regenerative process whereby one research article begets another. The gifted education research industry is inherently self-obsessed, unhelpfully besotted with vacuous scholarship and research for research’s sake. Too few have anything substantive to say about effective practice or how to improve it. Too many are perpetually chasing citations, focused excessively on building their reputations and those of the institutions to which they belong.
  • There is comparatively little effort to promote fruitful partnership and collaboration, even within this research community, and still less between researchers and other more important stakeholder groups such as learners, parents, advocates, practitioners, educators and policy makers. Too often researchers are complicit in making these potential partners feel like second class citizens, while publishers are almost entirely absent from this process.

Such factors militate against the full and free exchange of information and data, especially about effective provision (and comparatively less effective provision too), open access to which is an essential prerequisite if we are to work collectively and collaboratively to improve the scope and quality of global gifted education.

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Salford Quays 1 by Gifted Phoenix

Salford Quays 1 by Gifted Phoenix

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Rant over.

It is all too easy to spout these anecdotal, impressionistic views without properly examining the evidence base (and all too easy for researchers and their ilk to criticise bloggers for indulging in such opinionated hearsay).

So what is the true position on the availability and accessibility of gifted education research and, more to the point, what action can be taken to improve matters?

Several previous posts have offered some partial solutions:

.‘Give priority to effective dissemination of high quality research, the professional development of young researchers, and collaboration between researchers and with the other stakeholder groups in gifted education. It could provide the basis for an international think tank dedicated to solving the problems that we face in contemporary gifted education.’

  • More recently I made clear my intention to host some open access gifted education research on this blog, alongside ‘An Evolving Gifted Education Key Documents Collection’ and in February 2013 I created a new section called ‘OpenGate Research’ inviting other gifted educators active via social media to send me links to open access research that might be considered for inclusion.

I soon discovered why the response was so muted. There is very little gifted education research freely available on open access terms. And what is available is also extremely difficult to locate.

So I determined to write this post, set against the broad backdrop of increasing advocacy for open access research, regardless of discipline, much of it driven by the academic research community, though not conspicuously so in the field of gifted education.

The first section analyses the contribution made by what I judge to be the nine leading specialist gifted education journals, taking them in alphabetical order.

Needless to say, I recognise that much gifted education research is published in other, smaller journals, typically with a national reach, or in different non-specialist journals. But broadly the same conditions apply, regardless of discipline. And where the international journals lead, the national journals follow.

I have attached an Appendix which contains full details of the current membership of review boards for all nine journals. Some names crop up again and again. Some journals maintain huge lists, but there is simultaneously a general sense of clique and narrowness which cannot be helpful to the field.

The mid-section of the post examines the rights allocated to authors of research articles by the publishers of these journals, as well as their emerging response to increased pressure for open access.

This provides a basis for the proposals in the final part of the post for making gifted education research much more accessible, entirely free of charge, to a much wider range of consumers

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The Top International Gifted Education Journals

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Comparison of Key Facts

The summary Table below summarises key information about the nine journals featured in this analysis. The subsequent text enlarges on this, providing further detail about editorial arrangements in particular.

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GTI GEI GCQ GCT HAS JEG JAA RR TDE
Publisher WCGTC Sage Sage Sage T&F Sage Sage T&F IRATDE
Editions per year 2 3 4 4 2 4 4 4 2
Number of pages* 176 101 147 151 72 150 70 75 199
Number of substantive articles* 20 7 6 4 4 8 3 8 7
Individual subscription $75^ £113# £141# £29 £85# £39 £39 £40# 0
Institutional subscription £263 £144 £61 £309 £111 £111 £94 0
Cost per article 0 $25 $20 $25 £23.50 $25 $25 £23 0
Cost per past issue 0 £49@ £39x £9@ £171 £13@ £13@ £26 0
Earliest edition in online archive 1982 1982 1957 1978 1991 1988 1995 1978 2009

Notes

For an explanation of the various acronyms go to the commentary below

*Most recent edition

^ membership subscription

#individual subscription only available in print format

@ individual rate for print issue

x only an institutional rate for a print issue is provided

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What can be drawn from this initial comparison? On the face of it, Gifted and Talented International (GTI) seems particularly voluminous, but this was a special edition containing responses to a target article – the two editions produced in 2011 contain only 14 substantive articles between them, so a figure of seven per issue may be more typical.

If we divide the subscription cost by the number of articles it purchases, this gives a rough average cost per article of $5.00, equivalent to £3.25 in pounds sterling.

Applying this calculation to the other publications gives an approximate ‘value for money’ indicator for individual subscribers to each journal.

Average costs per substantive article are around: £5.38 (GEI); £5.87 (GCQ); £1.81 (GCT); £10.62 (HAS); £1.21 (JEG); £3.25 (JAA); £1.25 (RR) and of course 0 (TDE). On this measure, Talent Development and Excellence (TDE) is inevitably best value for money, while High Ability Studies (HAS) is clearly the worst.

The fact that four of the nine journals still appear only to offer individual subscriptions in print format, with no online option is, frankly, amazing. It would suggest that individual subscribers are forced to purchase the significantly higher individual subscriptions to secure online access.

Where they exist, these institutional subscriptions are more expensive in all cases, but the mark-up varies enormously. Institutional subscribers have to pay just £3 more for Gifted Child Quarterly (GCQ) but a whopping £224 more for HAS.

The cost of purchasing a single article from a journal archive is broadly similar across the subscription journals, ranging from around £13.00 for GCQ to £23.50 for HAS.

There is much more variation in the cost of access to an entire past issue, with HAS being three times more expensive than its nearest rival. However (with the exception of GTI and TDE which make online issues freely available), only HAS and the Roeper Review (RR) – both published by Taylor and Francis – seem to make past issues available in an online format, as opposed to print.

GCQ clearly has the best-stocked archive, covering a period of 56 years but, with the exception of newcomer TDE, all the remaining archives span a period of between 18 and 35 years. There is, therefore, a substantive back catalogue of gifted education research, some of it now very old and much of that almost certainly superannuated.

It is time to take a look at each journal in a little more detail.

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Salford Quays 2 by Gifted Phoenix

Salford Quays 2 by Gifted Phoenix

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Gifted and Talented International (GTI)

Gifted and Talented International  is the journal of the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children (WCGTC).

It was first published in 1982 and typically appears twice a year, though the online archive contains a total of only 41 editions spanning this period of 31 years. There was only one edition in 2012 (August) and, at the time of writing (April), no 2013 edition has appeared.

Back in 2011 volumes did appear in August and December respectively, but the more recent publication history suggests that World Council members are currently not getting best value for their subscriptions.

The World Council says simply that the purpose of GTI is to:

‘Share current theory, research, and practice in gifted education with its audience of international educators, scholars, researchers, and parents.’

The online archive is described as available only to those with a membership subscription (currently US$75 per year) but open links can be found easily via a search engine, making GTI relatively more accessible than most of its competitors.

Owing to a printing error, the August 2012 edition omits the names of the editorial board, but the 2011 publications confirm that the Editor-in-Chief is Taisir Subhi Yamin of the International Centre for Innovation in Education (ICIE), lately President of the Council’s Executive Committee.

There are also five Associate Editors: Todd Lubart, Ken McCluskey, Peter Merrotsy, Trevor Tebbs and Dorothy Sisk (who edited the first edition in 1982).

A 34-strong ‘International Editorial Review Board 2009-2013’ includes several gifted education luminaries including Freeman, Gross, Persson, Renzulli, Subotnik, Treffinger, Gentry, Kaplan, Rogers, Shore and Touron. The dates suggest that the Board is refreshed every four years, with the next occasion scheduled for later this year.

More than a handful of the articles in the most recent August 2012 edition were written by members of this Board, suggesting that they are engaged to a significant extent in peer reviewing each other’s work. This is not atypical.

The submission guidelines say that:

‘Manuscripts submitted to the GTI should contain original research, theory or accounts of practice. Submission of a manuscript to the GTI represents a certification on the part of the author(s) that it is an original work, and that neither this manuscript nor a version of it has been published previously nor is being considered for publication elsewhere. If accepted by this journal, it is not to be published elsewhere without permission from the GTI.’

The sole exemption is for ‘conference papers included as part of conference proceedings’.

As we shall see, this requirement is not atypical either – none of these journals are interested in reproducing work that has been published already, presumably because they want to monopolise its supply in the market, at least in the short term, so as to maximise income.

There is apparently no demand from readers for recycled material, unless it is free of charge.

Publication seems to be handled in-house, or else sub-contracted to one of the organisations supplying the main editorial team.

As for copyright:

‘Authors of accepted manuscripts must transfer copyrights to the GTI which holds copyrights to all articles and reviews. Authors, may, of course, use the article elsewhere after publication, providing that prior permission is obtained from the WCGTC.’

Does this mean that authors are entirely free to re-use their articles whenever and wherever they wish, subject only to approval from the World Council, or does the Council adopt a set of standard permissions, similar to those operated by Sage and Taylor and Francis and set out later in this post?

If they do operate a set of standard rules, it would be helpful for them to be published. Conversely, if they do not, an explicit statement of that fact would be equally helpful.

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Gifted Education International (GEI)

Gifted Education International is part of the Sage Publications stable.

Sage describes itself as ‘a world leader in our chosen scholarly, educational and professional markets’. Sage was founded in 1965 and has 700 employees based in offices in the US, UK, India and Singapore. It publishes over 400 journals per year covering some 40 different disciplines.

The Editor of GEI is Belle Wallace, Director of TASC International UK, who has fulfilled that role since 1981. A further nine Consultant Editors are named, six of them UK-based, including Barry Hymer, Hilary Lowe, Sue Mordecai, and Ian Warwick.

GEI is described as:

‘A peer-reviewed journal that provides support, information and guidance on all aspects of gifted education. It is essential reading for teachers, parents, lecturers in education, psychologists and social workers, administrators and anyone interested in the field of gifted education.’

The 19-strong Editorial Board features names such as Freeman, Landau, Maker, Moltzen, Renzulli and Jiannong Shi. There is significant overlap with the Review Board of GTI.

The statement of aims and scope emphasises: developing awareness of the needs of gifted learners; a focus on identification, especially of underachieving, disadvantaged and minority ethnic gifted learners; the production of curriculum extension materials; good practice in schools; guidance for teachers and parents on courses and activities; and reflecting ‘current national and international thinking’.

GEI is unique amongst the nine in appearing three times a year. Issues are scheduled for January, May and June respectively, but the recent publication history suggests a more flexible arrangement. Editions appeared in January, May and September in 2012, January only in 2011 and January, May, September and December in 2010.

A small selection of a dozen ‘Editor’s Choice’ articles are described as ‘free to access until 31 December 2012’ and the text promises that more articles will be added to this list ‘throughout the year’.

None of the articles seem free at the time of writing. If the page relates only to 2012, it is unclear why the publisher has left it online some three months after the offer has closed.

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Salford Quays 3 by Gifted Phoenix

Salford Quays 3 by Gifted Phoenix

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Gifted Child Quarterly (GCQ)

Gifted Child Quarterly is also a Sage publication described as ‘the premier scholarly journal of the National Association for Gifted Children’.

The home page tells us that GCQ has an Impact Factor of 0.750 and is ranked ‘38 out of 51 in Psychology, Educational and 23 out of 37 in Education, Special’. The source for this assessment is given as ‘2011 Journal Citation Reports® (Thomson Reuters, 2012)’.

Unfortunately, this service itself requires a subscription, so further information is not freely available to consumers. There is some irony in that.

On the face of it, the performance of GCQ is nothing to write home about, compared with other journals in its classes, though it does out-perform the only other journal in our sample that admits to inclusion in these ratings, namely High Ability Studies (see below).

GCQ has joint editors – Betsy McCoach and Del Siegle, both of the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut.  An Assistant Editor and Catherine Little, one of two Associate Editors are also based there; the remaining Associate – Gail Ryser – is at Texas State.

The Editorial Review Board is colossal – well over 100-strong. It features many of the most prominent names in gifted education, the vast bulk of them located in the USA.

The statement of the Journal’s aims and scope says that it:

‘publishes original scholarly reviews of the literature and quantitative or qualitative research studies… manuscripts offering new or creative insights about giftedness and talent development in the context of the school, the home, and the wider society. Manuscripts that explore policy and policy implications are also welcome.’

The information page on NAGC’s own website adds that it:

‘offers reviews and critiques of books and tests with an emphasis on scholarly texts, texts with policy implications, or instruments with potential use in assessing gifted children and youth. In addition, GCQ on occasion publishes special issues devoted to current topics of interest to the field.

GCQ also serves an archival function for the National Association for Gifted Children, publishing position papers and other official documents of the organization.’

Unless I have missed them, there are no helpful links to publishing agreements, so one assumes that the standard Sage provisions apply (see below).

GCQ appears on a quarterly basis – in January, April, July and October. The online archive covers the full publication history. Amazingly, 56 year-old articles from the very first edition are still not freely available, costing US$20 a pop to access.

The same price applies to the articles in the most recent April 2013 edition. This fixed pricing policy for already-published articles seems ubiquitous amongst our sample.

An institutional subscription for print and e-access costs £144.00 per year, while a print-only individual subscription is very similar at £141 per year. One assumes that many individuals pay the extra £3 per year to secure online access.

However, NAGC members have free access to the electronic archive. (It costs US$ 99 per year to be a member, though graduate students pay only $US 59).

Whereas the institutional subscription for GCQ is much cheaper than it is for GEI, the individual subscription is more expensive. (It may be that NAGC has negotiated its own prices with the publisher.)

NAGC runs a ‘GCQ Paper of the Year Award’ with detailed published criteria, the flavour of which can be conveyed by this extract embodying stylistic expectations:

‘The writing style of the article is engaging and appropriate for the topic and the GCQ readership using language that takes readers to a new level of understanding.  The writing is clearly focused, purposeful and leads to key points or conclusions. The article is technically sound, but results and discussion are accessible to a broad range of GCQ readers. Language and style make the article more elegant than one would normally expect.’

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Gifted Child Today (GCT)

Gifted Child Today is also a Sage publication, though directed more at teachers, administrators and parents.

The blurb says it:

‘includes articles about topics such as teaching strategies in gifted education, building a more effective gifted and talented program, and working with gifted children with learning disabilities. The Journal also…features information about raising a gifted child, how to tell if your child is gifted, and effective strategies for parenting a gifted child…

As the leading resource on teaching and parenting gifted children, Gifted Child Today includes regular columns by the nation’s most respected experts in the field of gifted education.’

This suggests that it is designed primarily – if not exclusively – for US consumption.

The Editor is Susan K Johnsen, located at Baylor University. She is assisted by a Managing Editor and an Associate Editor, both also based at Baylor.

There are some 24 names on the Editorial Board, including luminaries such as Cross, Ford, Gallagher, Kaplan, Olszewski-Kubilius, Roberts, Siegle and VanTassel-Baska.

Rather confusingly, the notes on manuscript submission say that:

‘Authors of accepted manuscripts must give SAGE exclusive right to publish content’

which, if correct, may mean that Sage’s standard provisions do not apply and that authors retain no publication rights whatsoever. I cannot believe that this is what is intended.

The journal is quarterly, appearing in January, April, July and October. Like GEI, it offers an ‘Editor’s Choice’ collection, this time comprising some 30 articles. At the time of writing, these remain free to access and no time limit is given for the expiry of the offer.

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High Ability Studies (HAS)

High Ability Studies is the first of two in our sample published by Taylor and Francis Online, part of the Taylor and Francis Group (which incorporates Routledge amongst others).

Taylor and Francis call themselves:

‘one of the world’s leading publishers of scholarly journals, books, ebooks and reference works’.

They publish over 1,700 journals per year, more than four times as many as Sage, and are part of a bigger multinational company, Informa, which boasts 7,000 employees.

HAS is described as ‘the official scholarly journal of the European Council for High Ability’ (ECHA).

As noted above, it also has a rating from Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports 2011. The 2011 Impact Factor is 0.417 and the Ranking in the Education, Special Category is 28th of 37.

So the Impact Factor of HAS is much lower than the comparative score for GCQ, which is also five places higher in the Education, Special ranking.

ECHA’s site contains the strange (and poorly punctuated) claim that:

‘High Ability Studies is included in Social Sciences Citation Index this makes it the most important journal in Gifted Education’.

They appear conveniently to have forgotten the higher ranking attributed to GCQ.

The aims and purpose of HAS are described identically on the journal website and on ECHA’s own site:

‘It is a medium for the promotion of high ability, whether through the communication of scientific research, theory, or the exchange of practical experience and ideas.

…Far from being restricted to the traditional focus on high-level cognitive development, it also presents investigations into all other areas of human endeavour, including sport, technology, the arts, business, management and social relations.

…Consequently, the journal presents material which is relevant to researchers in the field, to managers who have highly able individuals employed, to policy makers who need to find frameworks by which to make the best use of high ability in society, to mentors, coaches, teachers, counsellors and parents of highly able children. Furthermore, the contents are not restricted to the study of manifest high level achievement, but include the identification and nurturance of unexercised potential.’

HAS also has an ‘Editor-in-Chief’, namely Heidrun Stoeger from the University of Regensburg, Germany. She is supported by an Editorial Assistant, also based at Regensburg.

ECHA’s own website (but not the Taylor and Francis website) mentions an Editorial Board, comprising Stoeger, Kurt Heller (Germany), Ernst van Lieshout (Netherlands) and Judy Lupart (Canada).

An International Advisory Board contains 37 gifted education luminaries from Europe and beyond, including Ericsson, Freeman, Gagne, Grigorenko, Heller, Moon, Sternberg, Subotnik, Tirri, Touron and Ziegler. The Editorial Board are also members of the Advisory Board.

HAS is published twice a year, in June and December. It was first published in 1996, but a predecessor ‘European Journal of High Ability’ was in existence from 1991 to 1995. The online repository contains both publications.

Although institutional subscription – print and online – cost £309.00 per year and print only individual subscriptions cost £85, ECHA members receive the journal free (presumably also in print mode). Individual membership costs Euros 60 per year.

The news and offers section of the website currently trails ‘free access to a selection of Inclusion and Special Educational Needs articles’. The initial link takes one to a page listing several articles, including three from HAS, but the links to these direct one back to the standard request for a payment of £23.50 per article.

There is however one small mercy for which to be thankful – a free-to-access ‘sample copy’, currently the July 2011 edition.

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Salford Quays 4 by Gifted Phoenix

Salford Quays 4 by Gifted Phoenix

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Journal for the Education of the Gifted (JEG)

Journal for the Education of the Gifted is another Sage title described as ‘the Official Publication of the Association for the Gifted (a Division of the Council for Exceptional Children)’.

The Editor of JEG is Tracy Cross of William and Mary College, who is also one of CEC-TAG’s Board of Directors. The Managing Editor is Jennifer Riedl Cross (presumably his partner) and the Assistant Editor is Lori Andersen. Both are William and Mary staffers.

Unusually, there is an Editorial Board – of 16 – and a parallel Advisory Editorial Board containing a further eight names. Amongst the 24 are: Yun Dai, Ford, Johnsen, Roberts, Mendaglio, Monks, Neihart, Olszewski-Kubilius, Robinson and Subotnik.

The description of the journal on the Sage website says it:

‘publishes articles that present:

  • original research with practical relevance to the education of the gifted and talented,
  • theoretical position papers,
  • descriptions of innovative programming and instructional practices for the gifted and talented based on existing or novel models of gifted education,
  • reviews of the literature in areas pertinent to the education of the gifted and talented, and
  • historical perspectives.’

It addresses:

‘topics such as the characteristics of gifted children, effective schools for gifted children, gifted children with learning disabilities, the history of gifted education, and building successful gifted and talented programs.’

JEG first appeared in October 1988 – and the first edition is included in the online archive even though the Sage home page unaccountably says the earliest edition dates from ‘January 1993’.

It is published on a quarterly basis, in March, June, September and December. While Sage is up-to-date, carrying the most recent volume 36(1) from March 2013, CEC-TAG is stuck in a timewarp meanwhile, offering as a sample of its wares the abstracts from Volume 34, now two years old.

Subscriptions to JEG cost £111 for institutional print and e-access and a competitive £39 for individual print and e-access. However, all individual articles, from the oldest to the newest, cost US$25 to access. (Why one price is shown in sterling and the other only in US dollars is not clear – but this seems to apply to all Sage publications.)

Members of CEC-TAG get access to the four annual issues of JEG plus the online archive. Membership seems to cost around US$ 140-170 per year depending on location, though the site is not entirely clear about fees.

The author’s terms are presumably the standard Sage offering (see below), though there is no link to these from the page covering manuscript submission.

There is however an additional note:

‘Submission of a manuscript implies commitment to publish in this journal. Authors submitting manuscripts to the journal should not simultaneously submit them to another journal, nor should manuscripts have been published elsewhere in substantially similar content. Authors in doubt about what constitutes prior publication should consult the editor.’

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Journal of Advanced Academics (JAA)

The Journal of Advanced Academics  is yet another Sage production. It too is quarterly, appearing each February, May, August and November.

The statement of aims and scope says that the JAA:

‘publishes articles that feature strategies for increasing academic achievement, programs that promote high levels of academic achievement and engagement, and programs that prepare students to engage in high-level and rigorous academics.

…articles may include the following topics:

  • Curricular and instructional differentiation
  • Programs and strategies for closing the achievement gap
  • Programs that provide enrichment or acceleration in advanced content areas.
  • Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and Honors Programs.
  • Advanced mathematics and high-level reading strategies.’

The Editors are Michael Matthews, of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Matthew McBee of East Tennessee State University.

The Assistant Editor is an MA student also based at East Tennessee and there are two Associate Editors – Elizabeth Shaunessy of the University of South Florida and Jill Adelson of the University of Louisville.

Another long list of academics appears on the Editorial Review Board. Several seem to be younger, less established dons, but the more august representatives include: Callahan, Ford, Gentry, Gubbins, Moon, Olszewski-Kubilius, Piirto, Rimm, Rogers, Tieso, Tomlinson, VanTassell Baska and Worrall.

Almost all of the Review Board are USA-based although, somewhat queerly, in this list Matthew McBee’s East Tennessee employer has been relocated across the border in Canada!

The Journal’s stated publication policy says explicitly that it:

‘prohibits authors from submitting the same manuscript for concurrent consideration by two or more publications… prohibits as well publication of any manuscript that has already been published in whole or substantial part elsewhere.’

Subscriptions are identical to those for the JEG. An institutional subscription – both print and e-access – costs £111 per year, while an individual subscription on the same basis costs a respectable £39 per year. In both cases, the print-only alternative for individuals is much higher at £109, suggesting that these publications are atypical in seeking to encourage online access while reducing the production of hard copies.

According to the home page, the Journal was first published in August 1999, but the archive goes back a further four years to August 1995. Either way this is a relatively recent addition to the fold. All articles cost US$ 25 to access. A note on the archive says there are issues missing however.

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Roeper Review (RR)

The Roeper Review is the second Taylor and Francis publication in our selection.

Its aims and scope are explained thus:

‘The Roeper Review is an international, quarterly, refereed journal publishing scholarly articles that pertain to practice, policy, applied research, and theory in all dimensions of gifted education. Articles are thought provoking and often interdisciplinary. The Roeper Review aims to enhance the development of gifted individuals and the improvement of the world through more attention to giftedness, talent development, and creativity guided by ethical awareness. Diverse topics include: theories and philosophical analyses pertinent to giftedness, talent, and creativity; gender issues; curriculum studies; instructional strategies; educational psychology; elementary/early childhood/secondary education of the gifted; emotional, motivation, and affective dimensions of gifted individuals; differentiating instruction; teacher education; tests, measurement, and evaluation; and program development.’

The Editor is Don Ambrose of Rider University in New Jersey. The Managing Editor is Ann Ambrose, who is presumably related. There are also two Editorial Assistants and a Book Review Section Editor – Anne Rinn, from the University of North Texas.

A seven-strong Editorial Advisory Board includes Cross, Neihart and Tirri, while a much larger list of Contributing Editors names, amongst others: Borland, Delisle, Ford, Gagne, Olenchak, Piirto, Robinson, Rogers, Silverman, Smutny, Subotnik, VanTassel-Baska and Worrall.

The instructions for authors say that:

‘Each manuscript must be accompanied by a statement that it has not been published elsewhere and that it has not been submitted simultaneously for publication elsewhere. Authors…are required to sign an agreement for the transfer of copyright to the publisher. All accepted manuscripts, artwork, and photographs become the property of the publisher.’

This Journal also appears on a quarterly basis. A personal subscription is only available in print format and costs £40 per year. An institutional subscription – print and online – costs £94 per year. The online repository stretches back to 1978. Individual articles cost £23 to access (with permanent access to the issue charged at £26).

The section of the website called ‘News and Offers’ carries links to two separate priced publications written by Ambrose, the Editor. There is however, a section called ‘Featured Articles’ giving access to the full text of six articles dating from 2011. Free access is also given to the journal’s top-cited article, originally published in 2000.

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Talent Development and Excellence (TDE)

Talent Development and Excellence is different to its rivals in that it is already fully open access and published online by the International Research Association for Talent Development and Excellence (IRATDE).

TDE’s statement of purpose says that:

‘The articles contain original research or theory on talent development, expertise, innovation, or excellence. The Journal is currently published twice annually. All published articles are assessed by a blind refereeing process and reviewed by at least two independent referees. Users have the right to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of articles.’

This is the only reference to an expectation that the material to be published is original, so TDE is noticeably less insistent on this point than its peers.

The Journal was first published in 2009 and has appeared twice a year since 2010.

There are two Editors in Chief – Albert Ziegler of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg and Jiannong Shi of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The remainder of the Editorial Board comprises Bettina Harder of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Wilma Vialle of the University of Wollongong, Australia and Xiaoju Duan of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Ziegler, Shi and Vialle are also members of IRATDE’s Executive Committee, as is Stoeger, the Editor of HAS.

TDE has an International Advisory Board with 15 members but also lists a further 21 ‘Ad Hoc Reviewers’. The Advisory Board includes: Grigorenko, Merrotsy, Porath, Sternberg, Touron and Vialle. Ad hoc reviewers include Heller, Rindermann and Urban.

While TDE articles are easily and freely accessible, the instructions for authors do say that:

‘It is a condition of publication that authors assign copyright or licence the publication rights in their articles, including abstracts, to the International Research Association for Talent Development and Excellence.’

However, this is open enough not to inhibit authors from making parallel use of their own work, since the license granted may presumably be of the Creative Commons variety. Some further clarification would be helpful.

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Salford Quays 5 by Gifted Phoenix

Salford Quays 5 by Gifted Phoenix

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More About the Rights of Authors Published in these Journals

As noted above, there is some lack of clarity about the rights enjoyed by authors published in the two independent journals in our sample and – even in the journals published by Sage and Taylor and Francis – it is not always entirely clear that the standard provisions apply in all respects.

But what are those standard provisions? The two publishers set out broadly similar arrangements, but they are not identical. In both cases they seem unnecessarily complex and are difficult to interpret.

I stop short of suggesting that this complexity is deliberate; nevertheless, it is highly likely that it hinders the full exploitation by authors of the flexibilities granted to them.

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Sage

Sage’s policy is that authors of articles sign a funding agreement:

‘under which the author retains copyright in the work but grants SAGE the sole and exclusive right and licence to publish for the full legal term of copyright.  Exceptions may exist where assignment of copyright is required or preferred by a proprietor other than SAGE. In this case copyright in the work will be assigned from the author to the society.’

This may be the source of the statement I drew attention to in respect of GTC, above, but – as we shall see – there are several exemptions to this apparently blanket statement.

Somewhat ironically, the primary justification Sage offer for this practice is that ‘we seek to bring your article to the widest possible readership’.

A secondary justification is to enable Sage to ‘ensure adequate protection against infringement of copyright’.

Author’s rights can vary according to the journal. Sage advises that authors check for any journal-specific policies (though, as we have seen above, these are not always clear and explicit). In the absence of such arrangements, one must assume that the standard provisions apply.

These are summarised in the general statement of policy, but the detailed version is squirrelled away in a Word document available from the penultimate hyperlink on this page.

Contrary to my expectations before I researched this topic, authors already enjoy a fair amount of flexibility under current ‘closed access’ arrangements.

Permission is not required for an author to:

  • Distribute photocopies for teaching purposes or to supply an article ‘on an individual basis to research colleagues’ provided this is on a ‘not-for-profit basis’.
  • Circulate or post on any repository or website the original version of the article – so without any amendments consequent upon peer review – and to do this at any time.
  • Post the final version of the article, as accepted for publication, on any repository or website at least 12 months after publication. However, the repository must be ‘non-commercial’ (which presumably means that no charge can be made for access).
  • Republish the article in a printed publication that the author, has ‘written, edited or compiled provided that this is at least 12 months after publication and ‘reference is made to first publication by SAGE/SOCIETY’.

In all these cases, Sage requires a hyperlink to the online journal where the article was first published and a standard acknowledgement. Any other requests must be forwarded for consideration by Sage.

Several restrictions are specified:

  • The SAGE-created PDF of the published Contribution may not be posted at any time’. (Why this must be the case is not explained. It seems an arcane distinction when the text is likely to be identical to the version as accepted for publication. Presumably there is nothing to prevent the author creating his own PDF using SAGE’s style guide and templates.)
  • Each time the article is used – or indeed any part of it – it must include ‘the copyright notice that appears on the issue of the Journal in which the Contribution is first published and a full bibliographic citation to the Journal as published by SAGE’.
  • Copies of the article, or any part of it, cannot be ‘sold, distributed, or reproduced for commercial purposes’ – a term explained in this context as exploitation for monetary gain, whether by the author or a third party, or ‘for indirect financial gain by a commercial entity’.
  • The Contribution, or any part of it, shall not be used for any systematic external distribution by a third party (e.g., a listserve or database connected to a public access server).’

The distinction between ‘systematic external distribution by a third party’ and posting the article on any repository or website is not explained.

It is not clear whether providers of repositories fall within or outside the definition of ‘third party’ (see Taylor and Francis’s alternative formulation below).

The distinction between a repository and a database is fine indeed and may simply be a matter of terminology. Greater clarity on this matter would be highly desirable.

It does seem though that the author has to place the article rather than a third party.

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Taylor and Francis

Taylor and Francis’s policy is even more extensive, and supported by a detailed Q and A, but is ultimately very similar.

The section on copyright says:

We recommend that authors assign copyright in journal articles to Taylor & Francis or the journal proprietor (such as a learned society on whose behalf we publish). Our belief is that the assignment of copyright…allows Taylor & Francis… to properly manage both an author’s and proprietor’s intellectual property rights (IPR) associated with the article, and to act on an author’s and proprietor’s behalf when resolving allegations of plagiarism, abuse of moral rights, or infringements of copyright…Most importantly, we believe assignment enhances the reputation and prestige of the journal, its proprietor, its editors and editorial board, its peer review processes, and the added value we bring.’

Quite how assignment of copyright enhances the reputation of a journal is not explained.

The rights retained by authors allow them to:

  • Share the original version of the article – prior to peer review – in either print or online format, provided that this is undertaken on a non-commercial basis.
  • Post this original version on the author’s ‘own website for personal or professional use, or on your institution’s network or intranet or website, or in a subject repository that does not offer content for commercial sale or for any systematic external distribution by a third party’, provided it is accompanied by a standard acknowledgment carrying a link to the relevant Taylor and Francis journal. (This is a slightly different take on ‘systematic external distribution by a third party’ to that adopted by Sage, in that it suggests that the third party is someone not linked to either the author or the author’s institutional intranet/website or any subject repository, regardless of whether that belongs to the author’s institution.)
  • Post the accepted version of the article – subsequent to peer review – ‘on your own website for personal or professional use, or on your institution’s network or intranet or website, or in a subject repository that does not offer content for commercial sale or for any systematic external distribution by a third party’, as long as this is not the pdf version prepared by the publishers and provided that ‘you include any amendments or deletions or warnings relating to the article issued or published by us; in compliance with the embargo periods detailed below’ and that there is a specific acknowledgement carrying a link to the relevant journal. The publishers will even deposit the article in ‘any designated institutional repository with which Taylor & Francis has a Deposit Agreement’.
  • The embargo periods which must expire before the accepted version is made available are 12 months for science, engineering, behavioural science and medicine and 18 months for arts, social sciences and humanities. (It is not entirely clear where gifted education journals sit, since many include material originating in behavioural science as well as social science traditions. However, there is a list of embargo periods by journal which, although it appears to relate only to open access routes – see below – specifies an 18- month embargo in the two cases in which we are interested.)
  • Share with colleagues on a non-commercial basis copies of an article in its published form as supplied by Taylor & Francis as a digital eprint or printed reprint’. It is not clear what distinction there is, if any, between T&F’s ‘digital eprint’ and SAGE’s ‘SAGE-created PDF’. On the face of it, T&F’s seems to be granting additional rights here, compared with its rival. (Moreover, there seems to be no restriction on the number of colleagues, who constitutes a colleague and how the article in this form is to be shared.)
  • Make printed copies for ‘lecture or classroom purposes’ or include the article in a thesis or dissertation if it is not to be published commercially, or present the article at a meeting or conference and distribute printed copies to attendees, or use the article ‘in personal compilations…or other publications of your own articles’, or ‘expand an article into book-length form for publication’, or ‘facilitate the distribution of the article on a non-commercial basis if the article has been produced within the scope of your employment, so that your employer may use all or part of the article internally within the institution or company’.

These provisions are chock-full of subtle distinctions, clearly subject to (legal) interpretation and not at all straightforward for any intelligent layperson to understand.

But it is clear that all authors of articles that appear in the seven journals published by Sage and Taylor and Francis are free to post the pre-peer review version elsewhere, in a place where it can be openly accessible, entirely free of charge. Moreover, they can also post the peer reviewed version on the same terms following an embargo period that is, at most, 18 months from the date of publication.

These rights exist now and, it would seem, entirely independent of any progress towards open access publishing of the green and gold varieties. Unfortunately, though, it seems that they are honoured more in the breach than the observance.

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Emerging Practice on Open Access Publishing

Open access arrangements are even more obtuse and convoluted and there is space only for a brief summary which may be misleading in some respects. I have to admit that I don’t fully understand some of the distinctions set out below.

On the Taylor and Francis side, both HAS and RR carry a badge saying ‘Routledge Open Select’. This means that they are ‘hybrid open access journals with gold open access option’.

Under gold open access:

‘You can choose to publish in a subscription journal and pay a charge [£1,788] to make your article freely available online upon publication via our Open Select program. The majority of our journals offer this option – those that do have the Open Select logo on the journal’s home page. If you don’t wish to pay the APC [the charge] then you can take up the green open access option (available on all of our titles).’

Under green open access:

‘You can make your work freely accessible by posting your Author Original Manuscript (AOM) (PDF) or Author Accepted Manuscript (AAM) (PDF) into your institutional or subject repository…You may post the AOM at any time, and you may post the AAM after an embargo period, following publication of the Version of Record (PDF) of your paper.’

These provisions can be applied retrospectively to any author who has signed a copyright agreement. Moreover, from 1 April 2013, Taylor and Francis are offering a range of Creative Commons licenses for articles published on an open access basis:

‘The author is asked to grant Taylor & Francis the right to publish her or his article as the final, definitive, and citable Version of Scholarly Record. In turn, Taylor & Francis will make the article in its entirety freely available on Taylor & Francis Group’s online platform, Taylor & Francis Online, immediately on publication, with no subscription fee or article pay-to-view fee or any other form of access fee or any publication embargo being applied. Reuse conditions will be subject to the license type chosen by the author.’

Meanwhile SAGE say that all their journals ‘offer Open Access options which are compliant with major funder mandates including RCUK, NIH and Wellcome Trust.’

They already publish some journals that are fully open access while – in the case of others:

‘Authors can choose to make their article immediately available as Open Access for an Article Processing Charge in otherwise subscription-based journals – the SAGE Choice program. Authors can also deposit articles published non-OA in any SAGE journal in their own institution’s repository (the Green OA route)’

The second option is confusingly described as both ‘non Open Access’ and ‘Green Open Access’. Are these two options really identical? If they are, then, what advantage exactly is being secured by virtue of a Green Open Access arrangement?

Under the Taylor and Francis rubric there is at least the newly-added advantage of a Creative Commons license, but I could find no reference to that in Sage’s arrangements.

‘Sage Choice’ is the alternative (so-called ‘gold’) open access route requiring authors to pay an upfront fee to the publishers:

‘For the majority of journals published by SAGE the fee per article is $3,000USD/£1600GPB in Science, Technology and Medical fields, and $1,500/£800 in the Humanities and Social Sciences. ‘

Such payment will:

‘enable articles to be immediately available on SAGE Journals to non-subscribers…as well as to subscribers to that journal…

Those authors who do not wish to use this service will be under no pressure to do so, and their article will be published free of charge, in the usual manner. All existing policies on author posting of the final version will then apply.’

It seems more than likely that, in future, an increasing proportion of open access articles is likely to appear on the publishers’ own websites and/or in repositories elsewhere, but the impact to date on the seven gifted education journals produced by these two publishers seems negligible.

I could not find on Taylor and Francis’s website a handy list of those HAS and RR articles published under the ‘Routledge Open Select’ Badge, which might suggest that few authors have yet taken up the option. Nor could I find any repository on Sage’s website containing a tranche of open access gifted education research.

So, pending the eagerly awaited open access revolution, what steps might the global gifted education community take now to radically improve access to the stock of gifted education research, before the grass grows any longer under our feet?

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Salford Quays 6 by Gifted Phoenix

Salford Quays 6 by Gifted Phoenix

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A Way Forward

I cannot pretend to have conducted an exhaustive exercise, but preliminary efforts suggest that very little of the gifted education research which appears in these nine journals – or any other gifted education research for that matter – is currently also stored in repositories that are accessible to potential readers outside the institutions that house them.

Yet, as we have seen, even before the introduction of more widespread open access, there is already provision for all articles published by Sage and Taylor and Francis to be made accessible in such fashion.

Assuming that other journals have adopted broadly the same terms – and those without clear terms do not stand in the way – we already have the makings of a system-wide solution.

How might that work?

The most obvious solution would be to set up a dedicated gifted education repository to collect all gifted education research (or to use a generic education research repository to undertake that task).

Several precedents already exist, but there would be running costs that could not be met by charging for access to the service, since that simply replaces one paywall with another (and would anyway be prohibited by the standard terms outlined above).

It might be possible to fund a free repository by topslicing, say, a 10% fee from subscription and other charges levied by the paywalled journals, though that would mean passing the cost on to subscribers in practice, since the publishers and their partners would simply raise fees to ensure that their margins weren’t affected (assuming they could be got to agree to the levy in the first place).

It is impossible to estimate the income that such a levy would generate because there is apparently no information in the public domain about the number of subscribers to each journal.

(Incidentally, such data really ought to be released by publishers and refreshed on an annual basis, since authors have a reasonable right to information to help them assess how many readers a given journal is likely to attract to their article, and which is therefore likely to be the better option.)

Without a levy of this kind – whether on journal subscriptions, or membership fees for organisations such as the World Council and ECHA, or both – a repository would be dependent on sponsorship and so not financially sustainable in the longer term.

An alternative and more sustainable approach might just work, but it would require the full commitment of all parties and a degree of flexibility and goodwill from publishers.

It would operate as follows:

  • Journal publishers might henceforth deposit the final version of any articles over five years old (so published in 2008 or earlier) in their own open access repositories, subject only to the right of any author to opt out within a prescribed period. Those opting out would need to good reason, rather than simply choosing to retain a paywall around their work. The URL from which each article could be obtained would be included in the ‘access options’ listed alongside the article in the archive of the relevant journal. (Publishers might want to negotiate a period longer than five years, maybe 10 at most, but the nearer to five the better. The fundamental justification is that articles of a certain age have limited marketability, so the income publishers can derive from them is comparatively marginal.)
  • All authors of gifted education research articles published since 2008 might be requested to ensure that those articles have been deposited in an open repository of their choice. Authors could choose the publisher’s repository or a different repository. There would be no right to opt out. In the case of articles less than 12/18 months old (whichever applies), the pre-peer review version would be deposited, to be replaced by the post-review version as soon as the embargo has expired. Journal publishers would require authors to deposit with them the URL from which the relevant article could be obtained, which they would include under the list of ‘access options’ within their archive. These actions would be encapsulated in the publishing agreement – ie they would be a condition of publication. The publisher would be responsible for monitoring links and securing from authors new links when old ones expire. Once any article is five years old, it automatically falls into the first category above and is (also) housed in the publisher’s own repository. At that point, authors can remove it from their own chosen repository if they wish.
  • All new articles submitted for publication would be subject to agreement that the author in question would store their article – initially the pre-peer review version and subsequently the post-review version – in an open repository. As before, this could be the publisher’s repository or another of the author’s choice. As before, journal publishers would include the URL in the list of access options when they publish the edition of the journal containing the article. The publisher would once more be responsible for monitoring links and securing new ones from authors. These provisions would be incorporated in the publishing agreement.
  • It would be open to any party to publish a cross-repository database of links to such documents, or a comprehensive search engine, but only on a non-commercial basis. This would ensure that articles could found easily and free of charge regardless of where in cyberspace they are located. Publishers might wish to invest in such a project as a way of drawing consumers to their priced services.

The limited additional costs to publishers attributable to the extra work involved in these arrangements would be drawn from their profits. They could, if they wished, increase subscriptions to meet those costs.

It cannot really be argued that this strategy would deprive publishers of any significant income as a consequence of declining demand for their journals, because they are essentially ensuring that existing permissions, already available to authors, are universally acted upon. But instead of those rights being optional, they now become largely compulsory.

Besides, their only substantive loss would be attributable to the removal of their capacity to sell access to articles and issues more than five years old (which must surely be limited, since relatively few will be paying the current rates). Any loss beyond that should already be built into their business planning assumptions, albeit as a worst case scenario.

Yet these comparatively slim financial losses for publishers would buy universal free access to a vast library of gifted education research ending, once and for all, the harmful and divisive practice of restricting access to those who can afford to pay.

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Gilding the Lily?

While we are about it, several additional but complementary reforms might be introduced.

Here are some ‘starters for ten’:

  • First, publishers should offer a guarantee that the information they publish about a journal on their website is fully up-to-date and 100% accurate. Any failure to satisfy the guarantee would result in a fine, the value of which would be used by publishers to offset the costs of administering the service outlined above.
  • Second, publishers should be fully transparent about subscription and purchase rates, providing annually updated data showing the number of subscriptions in different categories and the countries from which they originate. This should extend to the number of purchases of archived articles and issues of each journal. Authors and readers can then understand more clearly the reach and likely impact of each journal and the level of interest in their (currently paywalled) archives.
  • Third, no individual should be allowed to serve on the editorial/review board of more than one international gifted education journal and every board should be fully refreshed every three years. The peer review process would thus be opened up to a wider range of academics and other stakeholders, and ideally established as part of the professional development process for younger, relatively more inexperienced academics. The old guard would need to step aside.
  • Fourth, every journal should ensure that no more than 10% of the articles it publishes are authored by any member of its editorial/review board, thus opening up publication to a wider range of individuals. Journals should go out of their way to attract work from new authors in the field and should be less precious about contributions being never-before-published, particularly if the material has appeared previously in a different format, such as a dissertation or blog post.
  • Fifth, a new open access online ‘overlay’ journal should be established which would republish annually a selection of the most influential gifted education research, dissertations and the most influential posts from the blogosphere. The choice would be made by a representative committee from nominations made to them in the course of the year.
  • Sixth, further efforts to break down unhelpful distinctions between blog posts and research articles should also be actively explored, including proper citation of blog posts in research articles and the development of more open social media-driven versions of peer review, based on peer-to-peer discussion between writer and reviewers, rather than traditional assessment of a text by one or more reviewers deemed to be (more) expert in the topic.

You may have further suggestions to add to this list!

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Taken together, this basket of reforms would remove at a stroke one of my two excuses for failing to be a more productive blogger.

It would help to improve the quality of gifted education research, opening it up to wider scrutiny by a more inclusive audience with a different set of expectations, more closely attuned to meeting the needs of gifted learners, their parents, carers and educators.

And it would also establish the reputation of publishers and researchers alike as more significant, more active collaborators in our collective efforts to improve radically the global incidence of high quality gifted education.

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GP

April 2013

An Evolving Gifted Education Key Documents Collection

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Regular visitors may have noticed that I am evolving and populating a set of Key Documents Pages as an integral part of this Blog.

I envisage discrete sections for:

  • Gifted Education in the UK
  • Gifted Education in the Rest of the World and
  • Gifted Education Research

Each section will be divided by year of publication, for this century at least, with an additional catch-all category for anything published before 2000. Depending on the size of the ‘rest of the world’ section, I might sub-divide the material by continent.

Each page will carry a gallery of captioned thumbnails of the publications produced in that year. Visitors can click on the relevant thumbnail to launch a PDF of the document in question.

My first priority is to stock the pages on Gifted Education in the UK, starting with contemporary material and working back in time.

I want to create a chronological record of the work undertaken at national level in the UK, particularly in England, over the period I have been involved. It is all too easy to forget just how much was achieved, particularly since the forces of revisionism are already in play.

Most of these documents have more than historical value – they remain directly relevant to the development of national policy and practice, whether in the UK or elsewhere in the world.

Everything on these pages has been sourced online, though drawn from a host of different locations. I wanted to bring all the material into a single user-friendly online repository, for the ease and benefit of potential readers.

At this stage I am incorporating only those documents which do not seem to be restricted by copyright, though I will be seeking permissions in cases where copyright may be an obstacle.

More significant copyright problems are likely when I come to stock the pages for research and the rest of the world, though there may be ways to work round this. The last resort will be to provide hyperlinks to material located elsewhere, though that has significant ‘dead link’ downside!

The UK Gifted Education pages populated to date are:

Do let me know if these are useful, or if I can improve them in any way (recognising the limitations of the platform that hosts this Blog).

If you hold additional material that should be included in any of the three sections – particularly if you own the copyright – please send me your documents and I will add them to the library.

Leaving aside basic quality assurance, my only stipulation is that, for the time being at least, everything should be written in English. (I don’t rule out adding material in other languages in due course.)

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GP

November 2012

Can Social Media Help Overcome The Problems We Face In Gifted Education?: Part Two

 

Part One of this post was my best effort to explain the context for the arguments I will now advance, supporting the hypothesis that social media can help us to address some of the major problems we face in gifted education.

Part Two is organised around the five aspects of gifted education I identified: advocacy, learning, policy-making, professional development and research.

It is my personal assessment of how social media is already helping us to tackle some of the issues and problems that we face – and how the global gifted education community might deploy social media to make further progress in each area over the next few years.

Each section of the commentary that follows expands on the broad nature of the challenges we face in relation to the relevant dimension of gifted education, considers briefly and in general terms how social media is being used now to respond to those challenges, and offers constructive suggestions for how we might build on those foundations.

It concludes with a brief analysis of the some of the weaknesses in a social media-driven approach, some of the obstacles to progress that we face and to what extent these are surmountable in the short to medium term.

The five dimensions are again introduced in alphabetical order – no assumptions should be derived about their relative importance.

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Advocacy

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The Nature of the Problem – Challenges We Face

Advocacy is heavily dependent on the capacity to build links with other people who have similar concerns and priorities, joining forces to influence more effectively the decisions and behaviour of third parties. It depends so heavily on making connections that the synergy between it and social networking is self-evident.

Advocacy typically originates in separate, personal interaction between the parent of a potentially gifted learner and his or her teacher.

Because gifted learners are relatively scarce (however the term is defined), the parent is unlikely to have contact with others who are experiencing the same issues. The teacher may also be unused to addressing the needs of gifted learners, and gifted education is unlikely to be a top priority for the school, so a degree of persuasion may be required.

The parent typically engages with a teacher – and often subsequently with the headteacher – to achieve shared understanding of the learner’s educational needs and how those needs can best be met within the resources available.

Even though parents are the customers that schools serve, whether in the public (state) or private (independent) sectors, they may feel at something of a disadvantage, especially if they find themselves questioning school practice, challenging teachers’ professional expertise or even seeking alternative provision that better meets the learner’s needs.

Before navigating these waters, a wise parent will want to access reliable sources of information, advice and support. They can strengthen their position as an advocate for their own child through interaction with other parents of gifted learners, and with educators and other professionals who have expertise in giftedness and gifted education but are not connected with the learner’s current educational setting.

They typically secure this interaction by forming a personal support network, very similar in concept to the personal learning network explored in Part One, though the interaction may not necessarily take place online.

The intersection of many different personal support networks creates a social support network which enables support to flow through its members in different directions. The parent who sought support may be able to offer advice and support to others, at least for the period during which he or she still needs to receive it.

Critically, the social support network should also generate wider benefits, achieved through collective advocacy at local, regional or national level. This is typically co-ordinated through an organisation.

Historically, such organisations have often sought to restrict the benefits they offer to a defined membership who pay for the privilege, with the income generated used to support the continued operation of the organisation. The benefits of belonging to the organisation are not accessible to those who, for whatever reason, do not meet the membership criteria, or who cannot afford the cost.

To function effectively on the national stage, an advocacy-driven organisation must itself have national reach. Regional or local networks may succeed better in effecting localised change, but it is otherwise inefficient to rely on many smaller, fragmented networks with relatively limited access to information, advice, support and expertise.

Resources are scarce so duplication is wasteful. Small organisations struggle to survive, especially if they operate on a voluntary basis. Small networks suffer disproportionately from the departure of individuals with experience and expertise.

It seems that gifted advocacy often fails. Networks are insufficiently strong or too patchy in their coverage. Too few volunteers have too little time. Organisations are unable to secure consistently the baseline funding they need to thrive. Personal differences arise and cannot be overcome (and it may even be possible to attribute this to the malign influence of so-called ‘gifted intensities’).

Given a globalised environment and globalised gifted education, the logically optimal solution is a global network, openly accessible to everyone who needs its services, which depends principally on a large number of volunteers each making their own small contribution and receiving commensurate benefits through the free flow of information, advice and support.

But while that might serve the needs of those requiring such support, it does not address the lobbying function, ie it does not provide the leverage that advocates require to persuade key opinion formers to change their policies and/or allocate scarce resources to gifted education.

If we are realistic, we should accept that advocates for gifted education have been rather unsuccessful in this respect in many (perhaps most?) countries around the world. To be fair, advocates have often achieved small local victories but rarely have they swayed state or federal governments. If they had been successful on the bigger stage, effective gifted education would be much more prevalent than it is today.

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Current Response via Social Media

Gifted advocacy has developed a significant online presence. Originally this was used to share information and advice primarily on a top-down basis, but more interactive communication began with the introduction of online discussion forums, several of which continue to this day.

In recent years, advocacy groups have begun to make use of social networking tools. Some host their own blogs. Several have established social network pages and/or post frequently on pages established specifically to facilitate international networking, such as International Gifted Education and Mary’s Gifted Contacts, both on Facebook. A few host their own webinars or podcasts.

Twitter is particularly active with hundreds of gifted education advocates posting regularly under the #gifted, #gtchat, #gtie, #gtvoice, #2ekids, #hoogbegaafd (in Dutch) and #nagc hashtags. The vast majority of posts include shortened links to resources and news stories elsewhere on the Internet, including material made available via other platforms.

Of the hashtags mentioned above, #gtchat, #gtie and #nagc run chats – real time discussions with regular timeslots and pre-announced topics enabling Twitter users worldwide to engage with each other and to share resources.

Many advocates, especially parents, say that they rely heavily on Twitter – especially on weekly chats – to establish and maintain contact with others in a similar situation, wherever they may be located.

Connections can be made globally, so advocates can support each other regardless of nationality or geographical distance (though the time of day can be a problem). Translation tools enable one to understand Tweets in a foreign language, but are not yet good enough to support direct communication.

I use my @GiftedPhoenix Twitter account to publish analysis and commentary on English education policy and global gifted education using hashtags to differentiate the two streams. It is part of my personal advocacy effort to expose my education policy followers as well as ‘lurkers’ (those who read posts but do not post or follow others) to information about gifted education, including more detailed pieces posted on this Blog.

Some of those followers – and probably some ‘lurkers’ – are key education opinion formers and leaders in the field. I think I can detect limited positive influence through these efforts but the impact is impossible to quantify.

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How Can Social Media Improve Advocacy Further?

Social media can play a major role in developing and sustaining the personal support networks that provide the foundations of the gifted advocacy movement. Moreover, to the extent that time and language differences allow, they can have a genuinely global reach. Many social media users derive considerable personal benefit from their engagement.

But this benefit is currently confined to the small minority of parents, educators and other stakeholders who are actively involved with the relevant social media and have come to understand its value as an advocacy tool.

There is capacity to expand this activity significantly, building national and international networks to accommodate all those able and willing to communicate in this manner. Numbers are increasing and some well-known names are actively engaged, but critical mass has not yet been achieved.

Most of the leading membership organisations and centres of gifted education continue to rely principally on traditional methods of communication, notably face-to-face conferences, subscription journals and newsletters. They may host their own discussion forums but are only occasionally active on social media. The majority seem to prefer such interaction to be controlled and undertaken by their own members in a closed environment.

They typically use open social media to announce news and events rather than to interact with other participants. They can seem unduly defensive, reticent about exposing themselves to external scrutiny and reluctant to engage with any form of challenge or criticism. This serves to reinforce a silo mentality which is not helpful to the gifted education movement.

So there is currently huge untapped potential to develop this kind of advocacy through social media. The reach and quality could be significantly increased if organisations like ECHA were to place it at the core of their business rather than dabbling at the margins. They might consider switching the focus of their communications away from the traditional formats, so as to free up resource for the purpose of building their social media presence.

Were the number of users to increase substantially, these social media tools might also be utilised more systematically for advocacy directed at external players, designed to improve the funding, provision for and general status of gifted education.

With the full commitment of all the major organisations in the field, it would be possible in future to plan and run vigorous awareness-raising or lobbying campaigns but, for the time being, this is a bridge too far.

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Flower courtesy of GP Junior

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Learning

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The Nature of the Problem – Challenges We Face

Gifted learners need personalised education to meet their needs. Because gifted learners are more likely than most others to require customised provision, they are also more likely to receive education in more than one setting. The greater the number of settings involved, the greater the risk of fragmentation.

It is essential that the different elements are drawn together into a coherent programme, ideally comprising a judicious blend of acceleration, enrichment and extension – and that progress is monitored carefully. When there is an accelerative dimension, there must be a long term plan with a clear end point, including opportunities for learners to step off the fast track without loss of esteem

Because gifted learners (however that term is defined) are relatively scarce, it is often difficult to bring enough of them physically together – whether in a class, a school or a local area – to make separate provision economically justifiable.

It may be organisationally difficult for a school to maintain appropriate accelerative options, whether they involve maintaining a faster pace in specific subject areas, full transfer into an older year group, or early entry into a different educational setting.

Moreover, effective provision can place significant demands on teachers’ pedagogical skills and subject knowledge. In primary settings where the teacher is likely a generalist, they may not have the necessary subject knowledge to provide sufficient stretch and challenge.

And gifted learners are not exempt from wider problems associated with the traditional model of face-to-face schooling, especially when they live in rural settings or in urban settings where the supply of suitable school places is insufficient to meet demand.

So the education of gifted learners can be a complex matter, requiring close collaboration between parents and providers over an extended period and especially at key transition points in the host educational system. Some are fortunate to find the right learning environment which adjusts with them as they develop; others may experience periods in which there is a significant mismatch between their educational experience and their needs.

But many gifted learners are also highly active independent and online learners, relying extensively on the material they can access – and on a variety of peer-to-expert and peer-to-peer interaction – to supplement their formal learning activities.

Because social media can address so many of the problems faced by gifted learners, while also capitalising on their familiarity with the online environment, it is tempting to regard the relationship between gifted education (in this narrow sense) and social media as ‘a marriage made in heaven’.

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Current Response via Social Media

The emergence of online and distance learning has provided new options for gifted learners which can be applied in any of the contexts outlined above.

By linking learners regardless of geographical location, at least some of the organisational difficulties potentially inherent in gifted education can be overcome. Younger gifted learners can more easily access learning opportunities designed primarily for older students, including higher education courses.

Complexity of provision can be organised, managed and monitored through e-portfolios and similar online tools.

A crude taxonomy of online provision for gifted learners would comprise:

  • virtual schools specifically for gifted learners – though Hoagies currently lists just five providers, all of them USA-based
  • virtual schools that take gifted learners as part of a wider service
  • online extended learning opportunities provided explicitly for gifted learners by specialists. Several of the leading providers have invested in online services to complement their face-to-face provision. Perhaps the first to enter the field was Stanford’s Education Program for Gifted Youth which ran its first course for gifted students in 1992. Several providers are active in Europe. Those based in the UK include IGGY and OLP.
  • generic online courses, including many higher education courses which accept younger students
  • an ever-increasing range of generic learning platforms, some of them social learning environments, some of them MOOCs (these two subsets are not mutually exclusive)
  • a vast array of independent learning opportunities inherent in materials freely available online. These may be entirely self-standing, or pre-organised into a sequence or package, or accessed through an imposed framework of some kind. They may be curated and indexed, or they may be found through a search process instigated by the user.
  • the organisational and record-keeping tools mentioned above, which are sometimes stand-alone and sometimes integrated within one of the forms of provision above.

Although the concept of a PLN is typically applied to adult learners, it can equally apply to those of school age. Hence gifted learners may also be learning informally through everyday engagement with peers through generic social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

And it is not difficult to find specialist social networks that focus on particular topics where gifted learners can engage with others who share that interest. If there is no extant social network, it is straightforward to use one of the generic platforms to start a new one.

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How Can Social Media Further Improve Learning?

The supply side of the market has developed many competing online learning platforms and services, some espousing social learning principles, others adopting a more traditional didactic teacher-student learning model.

A few niche providers are catering solely for gifted learners but, rather surprisingly, I can find no evidence that any of the big players has overtly identified gifted learners as a significant sub-population amongst their users.

There is also very little signposting of the different services available from a gifted education perspective (although there are several directories of varying quality providing details of online resources for home schooling).

Although it would be a major task, an organised effort to establish and update a database of formal online learning options suitable for gifted learners would have significant value.

Such a resource could be designed for global use, cataloguing formal learning opportunities by type, subject area, language, pitch and age appropriateness. The database could be crowdsourced, so compiled from details submitted by gifted learners, parents and educators. An Amazon-style rating and review system would provide a basic quality assurance mechanism.

A search engine would allow users to find learning opportunities that match their needs, and maybe even suggest possible progression routes to related subject matter or the same subject at a more advanced level. A visual representation, similar to Khan Academy’s Knowledge Map, would allow learners to navigate easily between topics and levels.

A database of this kind could be further enhanced by recording ‘learning pathways’ taken by gifted learners through the resources it contains, enabling other learners to trace the same routes. Such pathways could even incorporate stand-alone learning resources found online.

There would be significant potential in encouraging gifted learners to act as curators developing their own ‘learning pathways’ to share with others. Mentormob is one platform supporting learning-based curation of this nature.

It might even be possible to accredit some of these learning packages as a contribution to formal education by mapping them against any set of curriculum requirements and adding appropriate assessment tools. (Online learning could be combined with computer adaptive testing for this purpose.)

Further stimulus could be given to peer-to-peer learning between gifted learners, perhaps through partnership between gifted education providers and one of the existing social learning platforms. It would be relatively straightforward to build multimedia online learning communities around any of the resources in the database.

The nearest equivalent I can find to this currently is Cogito, established and supported by CTY at JHU. But that is confined to maths and science only and members must be aged over 13. There are also similarities with Renzulli Learning Systems though that is a commercial operation with access sold through schools rather than to individual users.

Both are US-based and seem to stock English language resources only. A multi-lingual approach would have wider global reach. It would enable gifted learners to develop foreign language skills by learning other topics through the target language. Learners with first languages other than English could also form learning communities with others in countries where those languages are spoken.

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Harbour View courtesy of GP Junior

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Policy-making

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The Nature of the Problem – Challenges We Face

The global gifted education community has probably made least progress in this area, in terms of recognising and responding to the particular needs of gifted education policy-makers, whether they operate at local/district, regional/state or national/federal level.

The leading international organisations have not developed a critical mass of members who have policy making functions, nor do they offer services designed to meet policy makers’ needs.

This may be chicken-and-egg in that gifted education policy-makers have shown no great propensity to organise themselves as a coherent subset within the gifted education community, or indeed within the wider education community.

There is consequently little communication between policy-makers, or between policy-makers and the other key stakeholder groups, despite the fact that such communication would be mutually beneficial.

To undertake their functions effectively, policy-makers need access to high-quality research to provide a comprehensive evidence base. They also need access to reliable information about the way in which other districts, states or countries have tackled the problems inherent in the delivery of gifted education, plus any evaluations of the effectiveness of such programmes.

An evidence base of this kind helps guard against the worst excesses of ‘policy tourism’ and the selective use of evidence to justify contentious political decisions. It also means that policy makers do not waste time and effort in ‘reinventing the wheel’, or in replicating failed initiatives that have been tried already and found wanting in other jurisdictions.

Policy making can also be undertaken collaboratively, across local, regional and national borders where that makes sense, for example where a policy impacts on two or more jurisdictions. Those engaged in policy-making need a location, physical, online or a mixture of both, in which they can undertake this activity.

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Current Response via Social Media

Barely any gifted education policy makers are active within social media and any who are will most likely have a parallel role that aligns them with the professional development and/or research fields. (It is not unusual for the policy-making function to overlap with others in this fashion.)

Twitter provides the nearest equivalent to an education policy forum in which gifted education-related issues can be aired and discussed but, because so few policy makers are active, such discussion tends to be with other stakeholder interests.

As far as I am aware, this is the only blog that addresses gifted education issues from the national policy perspective, so providing an information source of direct use to policy makers. Some other blogs make occasional forays into the policy-making sphere, but not from a policy-maker’s perspective.

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How Can Social Media Further Improve Policy-Making?

An online Gifted Education Observatory, serving as a repository of information, research and data about gifted education worldwide would be of direct use to policy-makers and to all other stakeholder groups within gifted education.

For example, gifted learners engaged in peer-to-peer learning could understand more about the systems in which their peers are educated, parents could research provision prior to relocation or emigration and researchers could access material to inform comparative studies.

If the Observatory were designed on social media principles, policy-makers and other stakeholders could engage collaboratively with such materials, so supporting the policy-making process.

It could host collaborative effort to develop international gifted education policy, such as the roles and responsibilities of the European Talent Support and Resource Centre, now being established.

It could support all five areas of gifted education by engaging all stakeholder groups in the development of International Quality Standards for gifted education, as well as providing a forum for the development, comparison and revision of National Quality Standards.

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Flower courtesy of GP Junior

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Professional Development

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The Nature of the Problem – Challenges we face

Within any particular country, the incidence of gifted education-specific initial training and professional development will depend in part on the relative priority given to gifted education in that jurisdiction. Since the priority generally attached to gifted education is relatively low, this means that high quality development opportunities are likely to be comparatively scarce.

With initial training there is the additional problem that too many topics are vying for attention within a very limited training period. If it features at all, gifted education may be addressed with extreme brevity.

That may be no bad thing, since it is arguable that relatively more experienced teachers with a larger range of classroom experience may be better able to grasp the complexities of differentiation at the extremes of the ability range. But, if coverage is delayed until later in a teachers’ career, participation is more likely to be voluntary, meaning that a significant proportion of the teacher force may never develop the knowledge and skills they should desirably possess.

Top-down national or state training programmes are increasingly rare, because the cost is prohibitive and there is often an ideological preference for bottom-up solutions driven by schools through inter-school collaboration. It is argued that training by teachers for teachers is more likely to be relevant and satisfy identified development needs.

That may be true, but there is a concomitant risk that professional development will reflect known practice rather than best practice, and may be overly focused on what works in the classroom. By failing to provide a proper understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of effective practice, such professional development may not secure reflective gifted education practitioners.

Moreover, bottom-up strategies depend on a comprehensive and effective network comprising all schools, with sufficient expertise distributed within the network to enable every single school to benefit. There is a significant risk that some schools will not do so, especially if the network is not centrally co-ordinated. Limited investment in quality assurance can mean that some providers within the network are of questionable quality.

It is likely that most countries that have invested in professional development packages have done so without reference to existing materials already produced elsewhere. Since the issues associated with gifted education are broadly common, there is likely to be significant duplication and unnecessary expenditure. There are also relatively few examples of collaborative effort to produce jointly useful materials.

The default model for providing professional development remains face-to-face interaction between a trainer and a group of trainees, though online or blended provision is now increasingly common.

Postgraduate courses in gifted education are provided by many higher education institutions worldwide, but are much more prevalent in some countries than others. Face-to-face and blended courses are typically offered as full-time or part-time options requiring attendance at a specific location which may be geographically distant from the participant.

Face-to-face conferences provide opportunities to access valuable professional development but are fundamentally inefficient, since the number of participants is limited by the accommodation and the number of topics by the range of presenters available.

Informal learning opportunities are similarly restricted by the number of colleagues one comes into contact with so, unless there are frequent chances to move outside the normal working environment, the individual will encounter relatively few colleagues, most of whom will work in that same environment. Hence the personal learning network is limited.

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Current Response via Social Media

There are several online postgraduate courses in gifted education, most of them based at American universities. Hoagies lists about twenty providers, including five or so offering online and/or blended options, but other online postgraduate course listings seem to include some provision not covered by Hoagies.

This offering from the University of Connecticut is typical of such online provision. There is some interaction:

‘You will explore the material you are reading through sychronous and asynchronous online discussions. Some [classes] may use streaming video/audio and simulations.’

But this is not at the cutting edge of learning driven by social media.

In Europe, ICEP Europe offers an online Certificate in Teaching Gifted and Talented Students which is much the same. As far as I can establish, the ECHA Diploma and Certificate courses are not offered in online or blended format.

IPEGE, the International Panel of Experts for Gifted Education, drawn from Germany, Switzerland and Austria published in 2009 a document Professional Promotion of the Gifted and Talented that proposes common content standards for Masters level and more basic professional development courses. It does not mention mode of delivery, so should be assumed to apply to all modes, online provision included.

Gifted educators are amongst those benefiting from social media to expand their PLNs. Some educators believe that social networks have the capacity to replace old-style professional development but others are more wary.

This post compares Twitter to Marmite – because educators either love it or hate it.

This paper by the Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning sets out a more reasoned case for social media’s contribution to professional development, including several case studies.

It concludes:

‘The people and organisations profiled in this report have all found that using social media has brought rich rewards. Through blogging, tweeting and participating in online forums they have been able to access the thoughts and ideas of education professionals across the world. They have been able to reflect on their own practice, and to use that reflection to shape their teaching. They have found new ways to engage with their pupils, parents and the wider community, and to use the insights they have gained to improve the learning in their school.

Social media will not provide a silver bullet. Engaging with colleagues in this way can be frustrating, time-consuming and demanding. Challenging yourself, or being challenged by others, on the way you approach teaching and learning is not for the faint-hearted. But if school leaders and policymakers are serious about raising teaching standards, the potential of social media to engage, support and inspire teachers should not be ignored.’

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How can Social Media Further Improve Professional Development?

As long as the use of social media continues to increase, one might reasonably expect more stakeholders in gifted education to become active and persuaded of the value for their own professional development and that of colleagues too.

It is incumbent on advocates for the power of social media to make the case – and hopefully this Symposium will play some small part – but it would help if organisations like ECHA were to commit themselves fully to this cause, and preferably not by establishing closed communities available only to ECHA members, but in an open and inclusive fashion.

Perhaps the ECHA diploma and certificate should be available online – and perhaps candidates should be actively encouraged to use social media for interactive support. (The ECHA diploma network already operates its own Facebook page, though this operates largely as a news broadcaster for members of the network, which is closed.)

The idea of an observatory, discussed above, would have major benefits for professional development worldwide, first and foremost by spreading knowledge and understanding about practice in other countries. If this were linked directly with a social curation and learning platform, there would be substantial two-way benefits.

Users would be invited to submit materials relevant to professional development that are freely available online. Those materials could be catalogued according to country of origin, date of publication, language, media (eg written, video, multimedia) and topics covered. Research could be included. Users could be invited to review and rate resources, again using the Amazon model.

Users could also be invited to draw these resources together into professional development ‘learning pathways’ which could be incorporated into larger professional development programmes, or initial training, or even be accredited and used as stand-alone courses. Groups of gifted educators worldwide could learn together by interacting with these materials and with each other. Specialist tutors could be trained to lead such activity.

If this rich online professional environment was coupled with the equally rich gifted education environment outlined above, the synergy thus created would directly benefit both endeavours.

The professional development benefits could also be extended to school improvement if learning resources were linked directly to quality standards and school improvement plans derived from them. It would not be impossible to develop a whole school improvement programme driven by gifted education with built-in formative and summative evaluation.

There would also be potential to accredit formally the learning undertaken by gifted educators through other social networks. For example, a Twitter user might submit a log of his Tweets, including engagement through relevant #chats, as evidence of learning, understanding and thought leadership in the field.

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Flower courtesy of GP Junior

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Research

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The Nature of the Problem – Challenges we face

From my (admittedly biased) perspective there are several problems with the current research environment for gifted education:

  • Useful research is inaccessible because there is no single dedicated online repository of the kind described above. Much of it is located in academic journals which, although they now permit online access, typically levy an exorbitant charge for reading even a single article. Sometimes the research may be accessible after a timelag, but not always, and often the timelag is far too long so the research is outdated once it can be accessed free of charge. (There are, of course, some honourable exceptions.)
  • The other principal form of research dissemination is the academic conference, which is inefficient for the reasons I have already cited, expensive to attend and rarely provides delegates with a full record of all the keynotes and presentations given (or does so only at a price). It is pleasant to meet colleagues face-to-face once in a while – and some real value can be derived from personal networking – but these benefits are rarely lasting. Conferences are like occasional feasts, with far too much consumption packed into a tiny window, when they should ideally be staging points in a much richer continuum of engagement.
  • From an outsider’s perspective, gifted education researchers often seem to work in relative isolation from each other. It may be a caricature, but I suspect the ‘pantheon of gods’ rarely if ever convenes as a pantheon, whether physically or virtually, since that would compromise their status. Academics with seniority and big reputations may allow a coterie of younger researchers to sit at their feet, but there seems to be little systematic interaction of this kind within the research community between experienced and younger researchers.
  • Conference keynotes are invariably dominated by the pantheon. They tour the circuit dispensing the ideas on which they built their reputations, while more junior researchers and other stakeholders compete for tiny audiences much further down the bill. Conference audiences are complicit in this since they are drawn to attend conferences by the big names, apparently regardless of whether they have something new to say. Consequently, old ideas are slow to be challenged and replaced, different models are regarded as mutually exclusive and the gifted education community makes no real effort to achieve broad consensus.

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Current response via Social Media

Gifted education researchers are slowly being tempted to engage with social media, but not always for the right reasons. There is still a school of thought that advocates the use of blogs and Twitter as secondary tools for ‘marketing’ research – no doubt a means to drive an audience towards the journals and conferences where serious ideas are presented and discussed.

Several US-based centres are active on Facebook and Twitter, but this role is typically undertaken by the communications lead rather than by the academics who lead the centres. Rather than using social media to convey and discuss new ideas, they deploy it to sell places on their summer schools, or books written by their academics.

A few habitués are dedicated to sharing and discussing gifted education research, principally via Facebook and Twitter, but most of us are not academics in the strict sense. We confine ourselves largely to open access materials, since authors and publishers can do their own marketing – we are not in the business of generating profit for them. (I nearly always avoid priced resources, unless I have written them myself, and I do not follow people or retweet messages that seem exclusively focused on self-publicity or income generation.)

Several useful research-related social media tools and networks are now available, including Academia, Mendeley and ResearchGate. But few gifted education researchers use them.

At the time of writing, Academia lists 154 people with a research interest in ‘gifted education’ (though there are smaller groups associated with slightly different terms) and 39 people with a research interest in ‘giftedness’. They are almost exclusively graduate students, young academics and those already involved with other forms of social media. Not one of the ‘pantheon’ is active.

Academic conferences in gifted education remain resolutely traditional in format. I tried to introduce a different mindset when part of the Organising Committee for the 2007 World Conference in Warwick. I have made similar overtures to the 2013 organising committee, so far with no perceptible success (though they have set up a conference blog, which is a small step in the right direction).

A few of us are offering live Tweets from ECHA 2012, but there are too few to provide any meaningful coverage of the event. As far as I am aware, this Symposium is the only session offering any specific connection with social media, whether as a subject or a medium of communication.

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How can Social Media Further Improve Research?

In December 2010 I wrote a post ‘An International Online Network for Gifted Education Researchers?’ setting out the case for such an entity. Having explored the options, I suggested that it made sense to use ResearchGate as the platform, proposed further consultation and concluded with a suggestion that fell on deaf ears:

‘One option that emerges naturally from a social networking approach is to devolve, distribute and democratise the task, by inviting the gifted education research community to undertake the process voluntarily through researchgate.’

No-one took up the suggestion; nothing happened.

But if an observatory cum repository cum social learning environment could be developed, it should certainly incorporate research. It could give priority to effective dissemination of high quality research, the professional development of young researchers, and collaboration between researchers and with the other stakeholder groups in gifted education. It could provide the basis for an international think tank dedicated to solving the problems that we face in contemporary gifted education.

In the short term, we could make excellent progress if every delegate at this Conference were to commit to using Facebook and Twitter to share their presentations and papers. By such means we might entice a cross-section of delegates to experiment with social media as a means of engagement – with each other and with the wider gifted education community – between now and the next Conference in 2014.

For the concept of a PLN surely has just as much to offer the researcher as it does the educator, does it not?

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Windows courtesy of GP Junior

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The weaknesses of a social media approach and obstacles to progress

It would be quite wrong to portray social media as a panacea. It will not solve entirely the problems I have identified in this post and it may pose new problems that we do not face in our current transitional scenario.

For I am making an assumption, on the basis of the evidence cited above, that the influence and reach of social media will increase dramatically over the remainder of this decade and beyond.

It is unlikely that education – even comparative backwaters like gifted education – will be left behind, especially since huge organisations like Newscorp and Pearson have identified online education as an investment priority.

But it will be incumbent upon the gifted education community to ensure through advocacy that gifted education is at the forefront of such developments, rather than an afterthought.

There are significant problems to rectify and issues to address if progress is to be made. They include:

  • Resources: Although very significant progress can be made by relying on free software and services, the opportunities for customisation are relatively limited unless fruitful partnership can be established with companies willing to invest to capture the gifted education market. Moreover, those who run free services will often plan towards a subscription model to achieve longer-term sustainability – free services do not always remain so.
  • The pace of change: Social media is evolving with great rapidity, especially in the education market. It would be very easy to adopt an approach or a partnership agreement that led up a blind alley, so any development strategy needs to be flexible enough to permit horses to be changed midstream.
  • Fragmentation: The nature of social media is such that a huge choice of opportunities exists. Unsuccessful enterprises go quickly to the wall while exciting new services appear at the same rate. A wise social media strategy will embrace a few different providers anyway, because no single service covers every element required and users have different preferences that need to be satisfied. But that raises the difficulty of how to bind and hold the different elements of a strategy together – a difficulty that is compounded if there are too many elements in play.
  • Linguistic diversity: Although quality has improved dramatically in recent years, we have not yet reached the position where a written document can be  translated instantly and perfectly into any other language, or where two learners without a common language can communicate sufficiently to learn together (except maybe in areas like maths and music).
  • Safety: Sadly, the internet is not a fully safe environment, especially for children. While it is imperative that they are protected from harm – whether from predatory adults or from their peers, via cyberbullying – this acts as a brake on innovation, requiring safeguards to be installed that may run counter to the optimal conditions for learning. This trade-off is unfortunately inescapable and must be planned for from the outset.
  • Resistance: It is certain that participants in this Symposium are a highly biased sample. While one would like to think that everyone in the gifted education community is open to persuasion, there will be those who oppose the use of social media, or who argue that the benefits are over-rated. This doesn’t entirely correlate with age, but older people generally seem more resistant. Those who remember a largely computer-free world may be less likely to espouse social media than later generations who have grown up with it.

It is common for critics to argue that they haven’t the time to engage properly with social media, that they are too busy already. But that is often because they regard social media as a bolt-on extra, an extravagance that they must fit in alongside all other demands, rather than something they can integrate fully into their lifestyle, in work and at leisure, and so improve significantly their productivity. Engagement with social media demands a time investment, but the investment yields added value, as well as scope to save time elsewhere. The social media enthusiast gives – and receives commensurately in return.

 

Last words

What then are we to conclude about the contribution that social media can make towards resolving the problems we face in gifted education? For me, the learning points are these:

  • The problems I have identified are longstanding and significant, but not insurmountable.
  • Gifted education needs to adapt if it is to thrive in a globalised environment with an increasingly significant online dimension.
  • Social media form part of that environment and also offer one promising means to address these problems.
  • Social media will not eradicate the problems but could support progress by virtue of their unrivalled capacity to ‘only connect’.
  • Gifted education is potentially well-placed to pioneer new developments in social media but is not properly aware of this opportunity, or the benefits it could bring.
  • We have not yet effected the transition from ‘early adoption’ to mainstream practice, but we need to begin to accelerate that process very soon, otherwise we will be left behind.

In the UK we are striving to establish an online social media hub for GT Voice, intended to form part of a global network representing all key stakeholder groups in gifted education.

Progress has been painfully slow as we struggle with very limited human and financial resource, the not inconsiderable fissures within the gifted education community, sheer apathy and an enduring desire to be spoonfed by others rather than networking together to effect real change and improvement.

We will continue that struggle, but would be aided considerably by joining a bigger movement to bring greater coherence to gifted education throughout Europe. The European Talent Support and Resource Centre is an excellent opportunity to make such a connection.

But, if it is to be successful, the Centre must devote itself to a distributed model, building capacity by developing nodes in every country and relying extensively on social media to establish connections between them. It will not succeed if it is – or if it is perceived to be – a mechanism for centralising power and influence in Budapest.

The Centre could supplement its own budget through a co-ordinated bid for network funding under the EU’s Lifelong Learning Programme, but the deadline is fast approaching and this opportunity will soon have passed.

I have a nagging fear that, somewhere in Hungary, plans for the Centre are already formulated and signed off by the bodies that are providing the initial funding – whereas the better approach would be to open up the planning process at the earliest possible stage, so that we can secure collective buy-in and ownership across the Continent.

As part of that planning process, I propose a multinational working group to develop a pan-European social media strategy for gifted education, drawing on some of the ideas suggested in this Symposium, for incorporation into the business of the Centre and the international network surrounding it.

For I firmly believe that effective use of social media is a necessary condition for the success of that network.

Moreover, social media can make a substantial and lasting contribution to the scope, value and quality of gifted education, to the benefit of all stakeholders, but ultimately for the collective good of gifted learners.

No, ‘can’ is too cautious, non-assertive, unambitious. Let’s go for WILL instead!

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GP

September 2012

Can Social Media Help Overcome the Problems We Face In Gifted Education?: Part One

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This post:

  • reviews some of the key problems we face in securing effective gifted education
  • examines how – in the context of increasingly globalised gifted education – social media are helping to address those problems
  • proposes ways in which social media’s contribution might be enhanced and strengthened and
  • considers whether and to what extent social media might contribute towards the resolution of those problems.

The post is divided into two parts, with Part One providing a foundation for the arguments advanced in Part Two

It sets out my broad approach to this issue, explains the key concepts relating to gifted education, social media and globalisation respectively and provides background information and data about social media usage, especially in a European and educational context.

While I have tried to maintain a consistent and logical argument, you may find this somewhat more discursive and opinionated than my usual posts. I want to be provocative to promote discussion, but there is nothing here that I do not personally believe. I may be guilty of want of tact, in which case I plead guilty as charged.

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Background

Until now this blog has devoted little attention to the current and potential contribution of social media to gifted education, despite comprising one very small element of the social media revolution that is already impacting upon it.

The organisation of a Symposium on Social Media and Gifted Education – part of  the imminent 13th International Conference of the European Council for High Ability (ECHA) in Germany – provides the perfect opportunity to rectify this omission.

I outlined our plans for the Symposium in my last post, introducing the participants and the abstracts of our presentations.

We intend that it will explore:

  • The extent to which social media have been applied to gifted education;
  • The benefits and the risks that social media can bring, whether for learners, parents, educators or policy-makers; and
  • How this field is likely to develop over the next few years.

We will discuss what further collaborative action might be undertaken by the gifted education community in Europe and beyond, to capitalise on the potential for social media to build and maintain valuable connections between them, for the benefit of all involved.

Our treatment will be located within the wider context of research on gifted education and social media respectively, but we will be focused primarily on the development and support of effective practice.

I have invited all presenters to publish their contributions a little way ahead of the event, to allow the other participants to familiarise themselves with the arguments they advance, and so come better prepared to take the discussion forward (but I recognise that this may not be possible for everyone given that the Conference takes place immediately after the holiday season).

I will upload materials and presentations and/or post links from this Blog so that everything that is published before the Symposium can be easily found.

There will be a Twitter Wall inside the Symposium, so that – technology and reliable free wi-fi permitting – some of the power of social media can be harnessed to support the event. We will invite those physically present to live Tweet highlights of the presentations as well as their own contributions.

We have also arranged a special edition of Global #gtchat powered by TAGT (the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented) to coincide with the Symposium, so that those among the worldwide gifted education community who are active on Twitter can follow proceedings and hopefully take an active part in the live discussion.

For my part, I have decided to set out my contribution to proceedings as a fairly typical Gifted Phoenix blog post. This will provide the basis for a much briefer 10 minute presentation during the Symposium itself. But industrious delegates will have been able to familiarise themselves with the full, unadulterated version – and so be able to discuss that more substantive text if they wish.

Birds courtesy of GP Junior

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My Abstract, Biases and Hypothesis

 

Abstract

For ease of reference, here again is the abstract that summarises my contribution:

‘Within education as a whole we are only beginning to utilise the huge untapped potential of social media to revolutionise learning, professional development, advocacy, research and policy-making.

The global gifted community is starting to realise that social media can provide part of the solution to many of the issues that it has been wrestling with for decades.

But the number of enthusiastic ‘early adopters’ is still relatively small, the majority are not yet fully engaged or persuaded and a few feel excluded or even directly threatened.

This presentation analyses the problems and priorities faced by the global gifted community, as seen through a European lens. It examines how social media might be harnessed to address these and reviews the progress made to date.

It identifies concrete action that could be taken to secure further and faster progress. It also isolates some of the key risks associated with a social-media driven approach and considers how those might be mediated or circumvented.

Participants will be strongly encouraged to share their own perspectives and experience, regardless of whether they are experts, beginners or somewhere in between.’

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Biases

I bring my own fair share of subjectivity and personal bias to this treatment, and it is important that I make a clean breast of that at the outset.

This analysis of the issues faced by the global gifted community will inevitably be Eurocentric, given my geographical location, though my perspective is fundamentally the globalised view of gifted education that serves as the leitmotif of this Blog.

It will also be influenced by my background as a policy-maker: one who understood part of that function to involve promoting engagement within and across the gifted education community, drawing in all the key stakeholder groups, as well as networking with and learning from the experience of those with similar responsibilities throughout the world.

Although I approach these issues from a broadly academic perspective, I am relatively more sceptical about the contribution of ‘proper’ academics than any other group within this community. That may be because – with honourable exceptions, some involved in this Symposium – I perceive them to be rather more concerned with their personal academic theories and reputations (and sometimes the reputations of their institutions) than they are with working collaboratively to resolve the common problems that we face.

Sometimes it feels as though the gifted education community is over-dominated by a pantheon of academic gods, each demanding that we worship at his or her shrine. Of course it may be a fault in the worshippers, rather than the worshipped, that this situation has come about.

I also start from the contestable premiss that our collective efforts to secure effective transnational collaboration in gifted education to date have been sadly deficient, especially in recent years.

Hence I am rather critical of ECHA’s track record, and that of the World Council, which places me in a somewhat difficult position relative to those organisations and others like them, especially when I am utilising their conferences to advance my views!

This may be cause to label me an outsider, even a maverick. But, paradoxically, my core message is an inclusive one, for part of the problem I see with these organisations is that they rely too heavily on a traditional closed membership model, which seems to me rather outmoded and out of kilter with the more inclusive, open-access, networking principles embodied in social media (at least up to the point where they collide with an imperative to generate subscription-based income).

These organisations also appear to be over-dominated by the academic contingent, somewhat to the detriment of the other stakeholder groups within the wider gifted education community, which weakens their overall impact.

I should also warn of possible bias when it comes to the social media I espouse and those I hold in somewhat lower regard. As will be apparent from my own digital ‘footprint’ I see great value in blogging, microblogging (via Twitter), learning platforms and collaborative platforms or online ‘hubs’ (such as the low-budget option we are developing for GT Voice).

I am somewhat less convinced of the value of Facebook, Linked In, Google+ and Second Life, though I recognise that they can make a valuable contribution. I see huge potential in social bookmarking and curation tools, as well as a variety of other useful applications.

But I believe that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. The trick lies in using these various instruments as seamlessly as possible, to create an accessible, effective and supportive social media environment.

I am sure you will hold a quite different perspective, but don’t let that prevent you from engaging with what follows! I have striven to hold these biases in check during the remainder of this post, though you may still see a trace here and there.

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Hypothesis

My fundamental hypothesis is that social media may well offer our best chance of realising E.M. Forster’s famous injunction to ‘Only Connect’, so linking together socially and geographically dispersed individuals, organisations and stakeholder groups, for the mutual benefit of all.

(The referencing of Forster’s epigraph in this context is not without precedent, as this early paper on ‘Computer-Mediated Association and Community Networks aptly illustrates.)

This is important because the fundamental weakness of the gifted education community lies in its fragmentation, its over-emphasis on points of difference and disagreement rather than points of similarity, and its overall unwillingness to collaborate to achieve broadly positive outcomes.

Some parts of the community are also bedevilled by insularity, failing to recognise that their part of the world does not have the monopoly on effective policy and practice and that they can learn from the experience of other countries, provided that they avoid the worst excesses of ‘policy tourism’.

I am not messianistic about the capacity of social media to generate a new world order in gifted education. I recognise that there are significant obstacles to the realisation of this outcome, some of which may prove insurmountable. But I do think that we can make significant further progress by building firm and sustainable social media foundations that will be beneficial to the future development of the European and global gifted education communities.

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Chipmunk courtesy of GP Junior

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The Meaning of Terms

This post brings together three complex concepts, each of which can be hard to pin down, namely gifted education, social media and globalisation. Relatively few readers are likely to be fully familiar with all three, and my interpretation may be somewhat idiosyncratic, so it is important to clarify what I mean by these terms.

 

Gifted Education

I tend to use ‘gifted education’ as a convenient shorthand for all activities associated with the identification, education and support of gifted learners, however that population is defined (and of course there are multiple definitions, with huge variation in the span and pitch of abilities accommodated, as well as the evidence of their existence required).

I use ‘gifted learner’ to mean all the beneficiaries of such activity, regardless of their age and whether they are receiving formal education, though children and young people of school age are foremost in my thinking.

I intend ‘gifted education community’ to include all those with a primary interest in giftedness, as well as all those engaged in some capacity with gifted education (and we know that those two factions do not always co-exist harmoniously, even in a social media environment).

Some might argue that my use of the terms ‘education’ and ‘learner’ is misleading, because they do not apply to some activities and settings I want to include. But that reinforces a tension between two parts of the community which seems to me reconcilable, if we can accept that all of us are engaged with education and learning in the broadest sense.

This is a broad church indeed, and the definitional variations I have mentioned make this even more pronounced. Sometimes it seems that the only common feature within this community is disagreement.

But part of my premiss is that only through collaboration can we accumulate sufficient power and influence to achieve the broadly common outcomes sought by the many different elements within the gifted education community. More specific preferences may have to be sacrificed for the common good. Social media can help to support such collaboration, helping us to circumvent the fragmentation that will otherwise undermine our collective efforts.

In this post, I have divided the gifted education enterprise into five areas, each of which is (stereo)typically associated with a particular stakeholder group, shown in brackets below.

These groups feature significantly in my subsequent treatment of problems and solutions. But I have avoided categorisation by group because each area is not entirely defined by the dominant group and, conversely, the activities of each group are not entirely defined by the area in which they typically feature. For example, it is quite reasonable to accept that teachers contribute to all of the five areas below.

The list is ordered alphabetically – no inference should be made as to the relative importance of the five components, all of which are critical to the success of our collective endeavour:

  • Advocacy (parents) incorporates all activity designed to raise awareness of the needs of gifted learners and those involved with their support – as well as the full range of personal and social benefits that investment in meeting those needs can secure – and lobbying to persuade those in positions of power and influence to address those needs and so generate those benefits.

This may be undertaken through organisations and networks specifically established for the purpose, or through more general governance arrangements (whether the governing body of a single school, a national parliament or something in between).

The most basic form is one-to-one interaction, typically between a parent and a teacher. It can take place face-to-face, online, or even in a blended environment. It may be highly formal, entirely informal or located at any point between those two extremes.

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  • Learning (learners) incorporates all activities and services that contribute towards the formal and informal education of gifted learners. In the case of learners of school age, the formal dimension will likely involve some element of compulsory schooling or its equivalent, typically but not exclusively provided through some form of differentiated classroom teaching, whether in a selective or mixed ability setting. Home schooling is of course an exception.

There may also be a significant element provided through additional extended learning activities that take place outside school hours, in the evenings, at weekends or during school holidays.

The distinction between formal and informal – already blurred to some extent through these out-of-school activities – becomes even more indistinct within an increasingly significant third component, namely voluntary, independent learning, now typically undertaken online and facilitated by social media.

The degree of independence varies, in that such online learning may be entirely separate from formal education, or fully integrated with it, or loosely connected.

The balance between these components can also vary enormously. In some blended learning models – often gathered under the general term flipped classroom – the independent online component is dominant, reversing the more traditional model in which face-to-face classroom learning predominates and is supported by additional online interaction.

One might expect the educational experience of gifted learners to require relatively more customisation and so typically include more out-of-school and online activity. Given that assumption, gifted learners are an important customer group for online learning providers to satisfy.

If we can also assume that education in future will be provided increasingly through online environments, then gifted learners can and should be at the forefront of that transformation.

But regardless of the balance, it is critical that these different elements are fully integrated and mutually supportive. If any part of the educational menu is perceived as second-order and ‘bolt-on’, the learner will suffer as a consequence. It follows that the organisation and recording of learning is essential to avoid fragmentation of the individual learner’s education experience, and social media can also support this.

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  • Policy-making (policy makers) denotes the development and delivery of all services designed to meet the needs of gifted learners and their families, as well as those engaged in associated advocacy, professional development and research.

This is likely to involve selection and assessment of different policy options, resource allocation, choosing a delivery mechanism, implementing a delivery process and evaluating outcomes. Policies and programmes must satisfy the political requirements of the entity responsible for approving them. They must also fit snugly in the wider policy context, supporting broader educational and social objectives wherever possible.

The communication of policies – how they are perceived by stakeholders affected and by the wider population – is a critical factor, and much of this engagement now takes place online. Policy makers are encouraged to use social media to conduct preliminary research, to consult stakeholders and as a feedback channel to inform the wider policy development process.

Although policy-making is assumed to be owned by those formally responsible for the design and delivery of services, whether at local/district, state/regional or national/federal level, that is not always the case. Concepts such as crowdsourcing and open and contestable policy-making are paving the way towards a much more distributed model.

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  • Professional development (teachers) comprises the initial training and subsequent development of all those engaged in educating and meeting the needs of gifted learners. This is not confined to teachers, though they will form the majority of beneficiaries. Other educators and paraprofessionals will also feature, some of them working directly with gifted learners, others engaged in related activities such as school leadership or academic research. Parents and carers may also benefit and there is a ‘training the trainers’ dimension too.

As with learning, professional development incorporates formal programmes that can be undertaken face-to-face, online or in a blended format. Provision may range from a full postgraduate degree at one end of the spectrum to a module requiring an hour or so for completion at the other.

And professional development is also making increased use of social media to provide the basis for collaborative interaction in a rich, multimedia online environment. As online and blended options become more popular, one might expect traditional face-to-face models to decline in popularity.

Meanwhile, social media also host a substantial and increasing volume of voluntary, independent professional development undertaken through personal and social learning networks (of which more below). And the distinction between these two strands is becoming increasingly blurred as those undertaking both at once build links between them so that formal and independent learning become mutually supportive.

This increasing reliance on social media and social networks is congruent with a widespread shift in the delivery model for professional development, away from top-down centralised models and towards devolved, bottom-up networked solutions that depend principally on educators supporting each other. Social media can help to combat the disadvantages of this distributed approach by extending its geographical reach and helping to ensure consistent quality.

Because educators are, by definition, at the forefront of pedagogical innovation, they too have a strong interest in pioneering these developments, testing out new approaches to learning on themselves.

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  • Research (academic researchers) includes all activity devoted to the production of knowledge about how best to meet the needs of gifted learners and those supporting them, as well as evaluation of the costs and benefits of doing so.

It may be undertaken in a formal context – typically a university or think-tank – and the product may be a research paper, report, lecture, presentation or book. Such research may be expected to inform advocacy, learning, professional development and policy-making but, if it is to do so, it must be shared openly with the relevant stakeholder groups rather than remaining in locked repositories.

Through the open access movement there is increasingly pressure to ensure that the outcomes of academic research are fully and freely available online, so that knowledge is not restricted to those in formal research environments and others with the ability to pay. Social media provide the means to distribute such research outcomes widely

But research may also take place in a different organisational environment, such as a third sector organisation, or be undertaken by advocates and/or educators working individually or collaboratively (including via a social network). It may be published through social media, perhaps in the form of a blog post or a wiki.

This democratisation of research, enabling those outside higher education settings to generate, publish and disseminate their findings, parallels similar developments in the other facets of gifted education already summarised above.

Whereas roles and responsibilities were once rigidly defined and allocated to specific subsets of the gifted education community, social media are beginning to bring about a more inclusive scenario – one which calls into question the relationships between different stakeholder groups that previously existed.

This provides an opportunity for those who were once in relatively subservient positions – or felt themselves to be so. But it also poses a threat to those who were formerly in positions of greatest power and influence. If I am right that the academic element has been over-dominant in the gifted education community, then social media may provide a means to rectify that imbalance.

But policy-makers and educators will also need to resign some of their former influence in this new environment. Indeed, as noted above, none of the five areas I have defined is any longer the province of a single stakeholder group. We must all work more closely together to make progress in each of the five.

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Lizard courtesy of GP Junior

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Social Media

This term is also convenient shorthand, typically used to describe the online environment, including the various platforms and tools that people use to interact, through the publication, curation, sharing, discussion and collaborative development of different kinds of content.

In the last few years there has been a tendency to use the alternative term ‘web 2.0’, as a synonym, distinguishing social media from the earlier, non-interactive phase of internet development, but this seems now to be yesterday’s jargon, especially as various attempts have been made to delineate a new ‘web 3.0’ phase (so far without much consensus over the meaning of the term).

Strictly speaking, the human interaction undertaken via these social media is more accurately described as networking. When using social media one sees constant reference to social networks and personal networks and, in an educational context, the word ‘learning is often added. But it is hard to find straightforward explanations of what exactly these two phrases mean.

This is my current imperfect understanding:

  • Social learning network synthesises two different concepts that predate the internet and sets this hybrid in an online context. One is the idea of networked learning, achieved through communication between members of a learning community; the other is the social network, originally describing any social structure comprising individuals and groups. The latter phrase is now more commonly used to describe online interaction between a group of users who share a common interest and/or use a common platform.

A social learning network is essentially a group of users who form such an online community for the purpose of learning. There is an ever-increasing range of social learning platforms which embrace a variety of different models. Some are more accurately described as teaching networks, because they feature a fairly traditional teacher-student relationship; others are designed to support collaborative peer-to-peer learning.

A subset that receives particular attention is caught by the acronym MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). Some MOOCs are hosted by traditional universities and there has been a spate of recent high profile launches. Enthusiasts regard MOOCs as precursors of fully scalable free online higher education which could rival more traditional cost-bearing university-based courses.

Others are less sure, with some critics suggesting that a certain adherence to traditional lecturer-student relationships is out of kilter with the core principles of networked learning. Commentators are beginning to highlight more of the downside.

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  • Personal learning network (PLN) is a popular phrase amongst educators who are active social media users. Essentially it describes participation in networked learning from the individual’s perspective, being the network of other people that the individual interacts with for the purpose of learning. It can also be interpreted as including the platforms and tools the individual uses for that purpose, though that is sometimes conceived of as a separate ‘personal learning environment’.

Such learning is self-directed and typically informal. Lalonde describes it thus in his thesis on The Role of Twitter in the Formation and Maintenance of PLNs (I have removed some of the academic references to improve the flow):

A Personal Learning Network (PLN) is a network of people you connect with for the specific purpose of learning. These people may assist you in your learning by acting as a guide, direct you to learning opportunities, and assist you with finding answers to questions.’

Lalonde adds this helpful gloss:

‘…PLNs also appear to differ from similar informal learning constructs, such as a Community of Practice (CoP) or a Network of Practice (NoP) in that both CoPs and NoPs are bound by a common practice, or specific domain of knowledge or interest..

…While people may follow similar people within their PLN, the PLN is an autonomous construct that is uniquely created by each individual to serve their specific learning needs. Therefore, there is no collective intention driving the development of the PLN as there is with a community, but rather a personal intention on the part of the person constructing the PLN…’

A PLN – or, more accurately, a PLE – may be constructed on the basis of several different tools and platforms, though most people come to rely principally on one or two. It is of course preferable that time and effort is invested predominantly in the most effective routes and that one aims for synergy between the tools/platforms selected.

To take a personal example, I rely predominantly on microblogging via Twitter and this Blog, though I also make less intensive use of Facebook and Linked In. I deploy various secondary tools to support this approach – eg Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Bitly, Memolane – and, from time to time I test out other tools to see whether they would be valuable additions. Because of the development of GT Voice, I am also exploring the interaction between that social network and my own PLN.

The 2012 edition of the NMC Horizon Report for Primary and Secondary Education identifies the use of PLEs as an innovation that will become influential, entering the mainstream within the next two to three years.

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 Globalisation

My hypothesis is predicated on the argument that we are living in an age of globalisation, that globalisation is bringing about globalised education and, that being the case, we are entering a phase of globalised gifted education. Many of our former assumptions about what we can achieve and how need to be recast to fit this new environment.

Globalisation has a general meaning and a more specific economic definition. In general terms it describes a process of increasing integration and interaction regardless of geographical distance and national boundaries. The pace of globalisation has increased as a consequence of improved transport and communication, especially online communication.

Economic globalisation is the process by which national economic markets have become increasingly interdependent. In some areas of economic activity they have already merged into a single world market; in others, that is rapidly becoming the situation.

This has been attributable partly to the increased ease with which the means of production, especially human capital, can be moved physically from one place to another. But improved online communication has also meant that human capital does not always need to move physically to the location in which it is applied.

This is particularly the case in the so-called ‘knowledge industries’ which rely on highly-skilled labour. IT itself is one example; education is another. Many countries have invested heavily in the development of highly-skilled labour with a view to creating a ‘knowledge economy’ which can thrive in a globalised environment.

Education (alongside training) is both the means by which such labour is developed and one of the segments of the knowledge economy, employing a workforce that is engaged in educating the current and future workforce and the production and application of knowledge through research and innovation.

Education is no longer confined by national and geographical boundaries. Learners can more easily move to a learning environment outside their own country, learning providers are establishing bases in different locations around the world and the internet provides a mechanism for increasingly sophisticated distance learning. This applies as much to gifted learners and gifted education (and also related professional development) as it does to any other field.

Some countries have realised that they must invest significantly in gifted education to feed the pipeline of highly-skilled labour that will drive their knowledge economies. Several of the ‘Asian Tigers’ fall into this category, notably Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea. Malaysia and Saudi Arabia are other notable examples.

They have recognised the economic value of investment in gifted education in a globalised environment. Other countries, including many of the leading Western economies, seem to prefer a strategy to raise the overall standard of their educational provision while simultaneously reducing achievement gaps between disadvantaged and other learners.

Given the latter emphasis, the rationale for gifted education in those countries may be articulated more in terms of equity and social mobility than in terms of economic investment. Or, where there is no rationale and no investment, the debate may be dominated by the significant gap between the needs of gifted learners and the capacity of the education system to meet those needs.

So some countries are investing in gifted education as a direct consequence of globalisation, but gifted education is also on the cusp of globalised delivery.

As social media create an increasingly sophisticated online learning environment, international exchange will no longer be confined to traditional academic conferences, franchised operations (such as CTY) and occasional opportunities for gifted students to attend summer schools abroad.

But it is not just learning and professional development that are becoming globalised. So are advocacy, policy-making and research. The introduction of online social media is both a driver of globalisation and our most effective means of response, across all five areas of gifted education outlined above.

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Robin courtesy of GP Junior

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How widespread is use of social media?

Before we go further, it is important to offer some further context for those who are relatively unfamiliar with the current reach and sophistication of social media.

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History

This is not the place for an extensive treatment of the historical development of social media since its earliest origins, but those seeking to understand the timeline and key stages of development can gain at least a broad understanding from this selection of infographics available online:

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Scale and Scope

It is less straightforward to convey succinctly to those not closely engaged a clear impression of the current scope of social media – the vast range of tools and platforms available and the way in which they can interact to create a holistic online environment.

I can only exemplify the former by referring unfamiliar readers to this online directory which provides details of and links to several thousand different applications.

These two infographics attempt a taxonomy of social media covering some of the most-used tools and platforms:

Two further infographics give a sense of how these different services mesh together from the perspective of the user:

  • This describes six types of activity undertaken by social media users, providing details of the extent of participation by age in the USA for each of them; and
  • The Social Media Effect is a simple flowchart illustrating how different social media tools and platforms can support each other.

This final infographic – Social Web Involvement – is the best illustration I can find of the huge number of people who use social media for different purposes in different parts of the world. This data is already three years old and the figures provided are likely to have increased significantly between then and now!

(The charts show interesting disparities between different European countries and we shall investigate that further below.)

This more recent Comscore Report from Autumn 2011 provides some mind-boggling statistics illustrating the scale of use and the pace of change:

  • Social networks have 1.2 billion users aged 15+ worldwide – 82% of the global online population
  • Social networking is the most popular online activity accounting for 19% of all time spent online, up from just 6% in 2007
  • Social networking is increasing in every country surveyed – 43 in all
  • The percentage of the online population using social networking has reached 98% in the USA and ranges from 86-98% in the 18 European countries surveyed
  • European females spent an average of 8.2 hours per month on social networks; European males spent an average of 6.3 hours per month.
  • People aged 55+ are the fastest growing group of social network users with 86% of all those active online in Europe now social network users
  • Between 2010 and 2011, use of instant messenger services by 15-24 year-olds declined by 42% and use of email declined by 22%; meanwhile, use of social networking increased by 34%

This post provides statistical key facts and infographics for seven of the leading English language social networks including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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More about Social Media Use in Europe

An Autumn 2011 European Commission study on adult Media Use in the European Union (27 member states) reports that:

  • 35% of all Europeans use online social networks at least once a week and nearly 20% use them on a daily or almost daily basis. However 44% said they never used online social networks and a further 11% said they had no access.
  • There are significant differences according to age: 56% of 18-24 year-olds use online social networks on a daily or almost daily basis, as do 29% of 25-39 year-olds, 14% of 40-54 year-olds and 4% of those over 55.
  • But there are only minor differences according to socio-economic status (as measured by employment) with 23% of managers, 25% of white collar workers and 20% of manual workers using online social networks daily or almost daily. Some 60% of students fall into this category.
  •  The Netherlands reports the highest usage – 56% of people use online social networks at least once a week. They are closely followed by Latvia (55%), Denmark 54% and Sweden 54%. The lowest usage occurs in Romania (22%), Portugal (24%) and, perhaps surprisingly, Germany (27%).
  • The biggest increases in usage by this measure since 2010 are reported in Luxembourg (+11%), Greece (+10%), the Czech Republic (+10%) and Austria (+9%).

As far as children are concerned, a September 2011 Report by the EU Kids Online Network published results of a survey of 25 European countries, concluding that  77% of 13-16 year-olds and 38% of 9-12 year-olds have a profile on a social networking site.

A supplementary analysis from the same source shows significant variance between countries.

  • The highest percentage of 13-16 year-olds with a social media profile is in Norway (92%), Slovenia (91%), Czech Republic (90%), Denmark (89%) and the UK (88%).
  • The parallel figures for 9-12 year-olds are: Netherlands (70%), Latvia (65%), Denmark (58%), Poland (58%), showing that there is significant variance between these two age groups.
  • The lowest incidence of social media profiles were found amongst 13-16 year-olds in Turkey (61%) and Romania (63%) and amongst 9-12 year-olds in France (25%), Germany (27%) and Spain (28%).
  • Gender differences are small – overall, 58% of boys and 60% of girls have a personal social media profile.

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Magpies courtesy of GP Junior

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In 2010 the European Commission published Learning 2.0 – The Impact of Social Media on Learning in Europe which uses survey evidence from 2008 and 2009.

It found that:

  • In 2009, across 27 countries surveyed, an average 31% of the population aged 16-74 used the internet ‘for seeking information with the purpose of learning’, up from just 8% in 2007. The proportion varied significantly between countries, exceeding 60% in Finland and Iceland.
  • In 2009 5% of the population used the internet to pursue an online course. The percentage per country ranged from 1% to 18% (Belgium)
  • In 2008, 35% of the population and 57% of internet users made use of the internet ‘for advanced communication services related to social media’. For 16-24 year-olds, these percentages rose to 73% and 83% respectively.

A sense of how quickly things are shifting can be obtained by comparing these figures with 2011 data from Eurostat, which shows:

  • 38% of all 18-74 year-olds participating in social networks within the last three months; 80% of 16-24 year-olds and 83% of students met this criterion. The overall percentage ranges between 72% in Iceland and 25% in Romania;
  • The overall percentage of 18-74 year-olds pursuing an online course remains at 5%, but the highest national rate has reached 14% (in Finland). Moreover, 8% of all 16-24 year-olds and 10% of all students are pursuing an online course.  The countries recording the highest percentages for students engaged are: Finland (50%), Lithuania (37%) and (perhaps surprisingly) Romania (22%).

In the UK, ONS Data for 2011 shows that 57% of adults who accessed the internet in the last three months did so for social networking purposes, with the percentage reaching 91% amongst 16-24 year-olds. Seven percent of adults accessed the internet to undertake an online course, including 9% of 16-34 year-olds and 45-54 year-olds.

The 2010 Report also drew on two commissioned research studies of the incidence of learning based on social media, concluding:

‘Within formal Education and Training… a great number and variety of locally embedded Learning 2.0 initiatives have been identified across Europe, which illustrate that social media can be, and are being, used by Education and Training institutions to:

  • facilitate access by current and prospective students to information, making institutional processes more transparent and facilitating the distribution of educational material;
  • integrate learning into a wider community, reaching out to virtually meet people from other age-groups and socio-cultural backgrounds, linking to experts, researchers or practitioners in a certain field of study and thus opening up alternative channels for gaining knowledge and enhancing skills;
  • support the exchange of knowledge and material and facilitate community building and collaboration among learners and teachers;
  • increase academic achievement with the help of motivating, personalised and engaging learning tools and environments;
  • implement pedagogical strategies intended to support, facilitate, enhance and improve learning processes.

The research on learning in informal (online) learning networks and communities… concludes that social media applications provide easy, fast and efficient ways to access a great diversity of information and situated knowledge. They also provide learners with opportunities to develop their competences in collaboration with other learners, practitioners and stakeholders. Additionally, they allow individuals to acquire competences in a holistic manner, embedded in real-life contexts; and effectively and efficiently support competence building in a lifelong learning continuum.

Research on informal learning activities in online networks and communities further suggests that informal Learning 2.0 strategies facilitate the development of key competences for the 21st century.

To sum up, both research lines point to the fact that social media can lead to innovations in four different dimensions. Firstly, social media allow learners to access a vast variety of (often freely available) learning content, which supports learning and professional development in a lifelong learning continuum; contributes to equity and inclusion and puts pressure on Education and Training institutions to improve the quality and availability of their learning material.

Secondly, social media allow users to create digital content themselves and publish it online, giving rise to a huge resource of user-generated content from which learners and teachers can mutually benefit, also encouraging more active and pro-active approaches to learning.

Thirdly, social media connect learners with one another, and to experts and teachers, allowing them to tap into the tacit knowledge of their peers and have access to highly specific and targeted knowledge in a given field of interest.

Fourthly, social media support collaboration between learners and teachers on a given project or a joint topic of interest, pooling resources and gathering the expertise and potential of a group of people committed to a common objective.

These four dimensions (content, creation, connecting and collaboration) have been labelled as the four C’s of Learning 2.0 in IPTS research.’

This December 2009 presentation by the Commission’s Joint Research Centre exemplifies how the 4Cs were then being embodied in online practice.

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(Not Much) More about How Educators Use Social Media

The social media learning environment has improved radically since 2009, providing far more choice and a far richer multimedia experience.

But, while there is an abundance of material online describing how innovative educators are using social media to support pupil learning and their own professional development, it is surprisingly hard to find reliable survey information about how teachers more generally are utilising these techniques and tools.

I can find no recent and reliable survey data for Europe, or even the UK, though there is some limited material relating to US and Australian practice. The Australian sample is very small, while the US survey dates back to 2009.

 

Here ends the first part of this post. In Part Two we will examine more closely the challenges faced by contemporary gifted education, how social media is helping to frame our response and what steps we might take to maximise its contribution.

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GP

September 2012

An International Online Network for Gifted Education Researchers?

This Post is a thinkpiece on the potential development of an international online network to support research – and ideally teaching – in gifted and talented education.

Genesis

Some weeks ago, I had a very interesting conversation with an old colleague, Tony Crocker, in an Oxford hostelry.

Tony is Honorary Professor at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff and editor of an annual journal ‘Gifted and Talented’ which he undertook initially under the auspices of the UK’s National Association for Gifted Children and subsequently as an independent endeavour.

He also publishes ‘Gifted and Talented Abstracts’, originally part of the journal but later a separate entity. The abstracts were for some years funded by England’s education ministry as part of its grant to the NAGC, but the work is now undertaken by UWIC where Tony is based. The annaul cost is a small four-figure sum. The most recent edition – Volume 14 – was published in August 2010.

The ‘Abstracts’ is an annual compilation from a large number of international journals in gifted education – all those known to Tony that agree to take part – as well as hundreds of articles from other education journals. They have always been published only on paper or DVD and are currently available by order from UWIC at a cost of between £10 and £18 depending on format and postage, thus generating some limited income which is offset against the costs.

Readers who are interested can order the latest edition from Dr G Davies, UWIC, Cyncoed Campus, Cyncoed, Cardiff CF2 36XD, UK. Enquiries should be directed to Tony at tonycrok@aol.com

Tony and I met to discuss some ideas for making the Abstracts available online. As we explored how best to do this, it became apparent that there is considerable potential in positioning the Abstracts within an online network supporting research in G&T education – and particularly the work of an emerging generation of younger researchers currently engaged on postgraduate degrees.

I undertook to develop some initial thinking about how this might be accomplished, and to share this with Tony and with a wider readership through an initial mindmap and post on this Blog.

The mindmap is reproduced below and is also accessible here in case the reproduced image is insufficiently clear. It is published as a ‘work in progress’ with the deliberate intention of generating comment and contribution from others with an interest in gifted education research. The remainder of this post sets out the initial thinking captured in the mindmap.

Why bother?

During our discussion, we identified several good reasons to propose such a network:

  • The Abstracts are a very useful resource and should be more widely available. They might be particularly helpful to young and/or inexperienced researchers who are relatively less familiar with the canon, but all researchers in the field would benefit from having them at their fingertips – and preferably in an easily manageable online format.
  • There is currently limited online support for networking and collaboration between G&T education researchers. The main international organisation supporting research – the IRATDE – currently relies significantly on relatively traditional methods. It organises face-to-face conferences and symposia, an online journal and newsletter, although its published aims also refer to maintaining a database. Other organisations such as ECHA, the World Council and ICIE, which support researchers as part a wider stakeholder group, are also typically traditional in their approach
  • There is evidence online to support the argument that a social networking approach can help to meet the needs of researchers and research students, by providing them with a platform to share and discuss findings, establish partnerships and undertake collaborative activity while geographically distant. Use of an online platform also has significant cost advantages over more traditional forms of collaboration.
  • A recent EPPI study of international research in G&T education undertaken in the UK showed that the overall quality of the gifted education research canon leaves something to be desired. (The EPPI approach requires research reviews to reject studies that do not have a robust methodology including properly evaluated outcomes.) By making research studies more widely available – and by providing tools to assess and share perspectives on their relative quality – it should be possible to help lever up research standards overall
  • As the internet develops as an educational tool, there is increasing interest in making research findings freely available rather than publishing only in hard copy and/or charging a fee to readers. A social networking approach could help to ensure wider awareness of those resources that are freely available and bring pressure to bear on those who continue to charge. It might even be possible to negotiate free access to priced resources for members of such a network, many of whom will not be able to afford the sums routinely charged by publishers.

What kind of online platform is needed?

Before setting up a network of this kind, one must consider where and how it should be hosted. There are five broad options:

  • use an existing educational social network platform such as edWeb or brainify
  • develop a new customised platform, on the grounds that none of the above is ideal.

There are pros and cons for each of these and the choice will depend on factors such as: the specific objectives of the project and the relative priority attached to them; whether the research network is to stand alone or be embedded within something bigger; and a thorough assessment of the balance of costs and benefits.

We are not yet at that stage but, having conducted a fleeting review of the options, my preliminary assessment is that researchgate provides a baseline service which other options must exceed to be viable alternatives.

Researchgate incorporates the following elements:

  • a detailed profile page enabling researchers to share their personal details, including their research skills and experience
  • the means to upload journal articles, book chapters and conference proceedings – to rank and review such articles – and to import and export this library to and from the platform
  • the means to find and and import references from a publications database
  • the means to log events and to monitor the events logged by others
  • a personal blog with the option to post a microarticle – halfway between an abstract and a full article – or a general blogpost
  • a contacts list and the capacity to send messages to anyone on the list
  • a board on which to share details of available jobs
  • the option to form groups of members and join groups established by others, using discussion boards and shared files and documents to communicate and collaborate and
  • a network graph that provides a visual representation of one’s personal network

Researchgate currently has just five members who register an involvement with gifted education and no gifted education groups. It provides abstracts of 275 articles relevant to gifted education but just four journals.This suggests that there is considerable scope to expand the membership, if only by ensuring that all members of IRATDE are actively engaged.

What other services and tools would it helpful for a platform to offer?

There are four overlapping areas in which the researchgate service could be improved, by including the capacity to:

  • connect to a wide range of external services rather than being confined only to those supplied through the host platform
  • build links between researchgate and other educational services, so that a fruitful two-way relationship can be established with professional development activity and wider online learning (since research is of relatively little value as an end in itself)
  • draw in more visual and multimedia resources (since researchgate is predominantly a word-based service) which would make it possible to organise and run online conferences and workshops, webinars and podcasts
  • deploy a much wider range of tools that would help researchers to undertake their role, including, for example, collaborative mindmapping and concept mapping resources, project management tools, the capacity to design and administer online polls and questionnaires, tools to support evaluation design, even a facility to bring crowdsourcing to bear on difficult problems.

How can this be financially sustainable?

Researchgate is currently a free service, but naturally it does not offer the additional ‘bells and whistles’ listed above – and free services often have a need to acquire income-generating capacity once they have built up a critical mass of dependent users.

But if researchgate could be combined with an e-learning and professional development arm, there is much greater scope to sell research outputs in the form of learning opportunities of various kinds. As indicated above, the option of charging for research itself seems to militate against the overall aims of improving the amount of research activity, the quality of researchers and of the research that they generate.

If a customised platform was designed specifically for gifted education researchers, the costs of that undertaking would need to be recouped through a charging mechanism, possibly combined with income generated through advertising revenue. It is questionable whether the gifted education research community has the critical mass to justify such an investment.

Assuming it does, one other option could be to develop a consultancy and bidding arm of the service which might subsidise some or all of the costs, on the basis that they are utilised to support the delivery of the outputs paid for by customers.

What next?

This is a thinkpiece and not a well-wrought proposal. If it has potential for development and is attractive to others, the next step must involve asking young researchers how we can best support them, for any network must be designed primarily to meet their needs.

It would be great if, by this means, we could find a way of making Tony’s Gifted Abstracts more widely available, while continuing to cover the costs of producing them

In the short term, there may be another solution to that narrower problem. One option that emerges naturally from a social networking approach is to devolve, distribute and democratise the task, by inviting the gifted education research community to undertake the process voluntarily through researchgate.

GP

December 2010