M. Charalampidi, M. Hammond, A. Boddison

University of Warwick (UNITED KINGDOM)
This paper presents research in progress on the use of a social educational network, set up by the University of Warwick for young people across the world identified as gifted. This network, namely IGGY (International Gateway for Gifted Youth), was created with the aim of nurturing the gifted through enrichment material and opportunities for online interaction.

The idea of giftedness has been interpreted in a variety of ways over time. The literature provides differing definitions and suggests that the concept is not free of tensions. For example, major themes of debate have concerned nature versus nurture, whole round giftedness versus domain specific giftedness, giftedness as an inborn characteristic or the outcome of a developmental process, elitism versus equality. Whatever stance is taken on these issues it is clear that some young people identified as gifted do feel a sense of isolation in school and others feel they have not been stretched in their learning.

The use of new technologies, such as online networks, is one means to address support for gifted students. Key gains of participation include wider opportunities for collaborative work and peer interaction in addition to personalised routes through enhancement material, with such material accessible anytime and anywhere. In the case of gifted students online networks are particularly valuable as they may help provide both challenge and belonging in a community of peers. However, research concerning the use of networks by gifted students is limited. This study adds to the literature in that it aims to explore the blending of giftedness and online networks.

Our research has aimed at understanding the experience of young people who have been taking part in the IGGY network. In one strand of the research we carried out in depth interviews with ten IGGY members as well as investigated messages and other sources of participation data. We examined the reasons why students used the network, how they used it (for example the routes they took through material and discussions to which they contributed) and the factors that either facilitated or constrained their involvement.

Key findings that emerged during the initial phase of the research indicated that IGGY members utilised the network for a variety of reasons, among which learning, a sense of “belonging” to a community of like-minded people and communication were key. Their level of participation was affected by multiple factors and varied across time but at root social presence, time and ease of use seemed to be among the most influential facilitators.

To summarise, these early research findings suggest that this kind of international online network can support learning in a more narrow sense as well as broader social interaction. IGGY has the potential to cater for the differing academic and affective needs of its members.