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Conversations with Teachers on the Benefits and Challenges of Online Learning for Gifted Students

Gifted Resources

This article provides research involving the role of student-student interaction and the use of multimedia and technological tools in effective online education for gifted students.

Author: Thomson, D.
Publications: Gifted Child Today
Publisher: SAGE Journals
Volume: Vol. 34, No. 3
Year: Summer 2010

The opportunity to work at a pace consistent with their rate of learning, as well as expanded access to advanced-level courses, make online learning a particularly good option for many gifted students. However, online learning can also present a number of challenges. What are some of the primary benefits and challenges of this fast-growing mode of learning, as seen from the perspective of experienced practitioners, online instructors of gifted students? Are there specific strategies that can be employed by online instructors in order to help students capitalize on the benefits of online learning, overcome some of the challenges of this medium, and have a successful online learning experience? Through interviews and responses to an open-ended online survey, more than two dozen online teachers provide insight into these questions. Among the themes that emerged in these conversations were the importance of personalizing the learning experience, allowing for flexibility,individualizing the learning experience to accommodate students’ varied skills and learning styles, and fostering a student-centered approach to learning.

Background of the Study 

Nine instructors volunteered to be interviewed, either by telephone or via e-mail, for this study; and 26 instructors (including the original nine who were interviewed) responded to an open-ended online survey. The instructors who participated in this study had taught at least one online course during the 2008-2009 academic year through an accredited learning center and research facility at a large Midwestern university that offers both online and face-to-face programming for gifted students. The center’s online program is designed to provide academically talented students in kindergarten through grade 12 the opportunity to take enrichment, high school honors, and AP courses online in a flexible and interactive online setting. Students can choose from among approximately 120 courses across a variety of subjects, including English and writing, humanities and social sciences, mathematics, science, technology, and world languages. All courses are developed and taught, specifically with gifted students in mind, by “live” teachers with content-area expertise and experience teaching gifted students. Students also have opportunities to interact with intellectual peers from across the country and around the world through discussion forums, real-time online class meetings, and other online learning tools.

The program’s instructors are hired based on their subject matter mastery, teaching experience, enthusiasm, ability to differentiate instruction, approachable teaching styles, and skill at providing engaging, thought-provoking, and varied learning experiences. Ninety-eight percent of instructors are certified teachers with expertise and experience in gifted education, as well as in teaching the subject or age group they teach through the program; some instructors (8%) are college professors. The majority of instructors (75 %) teach for the Center’s online program in addition to teaching in a face-to-face classroom in their local communities. Others (15%) have retired or taken some time off from classroom teaching but are still passionate about teaching and like the flexibility that the online environment offers. Some (10%) have made a career out of teaching solely online.

The number of years of online teaching experience of the instructors who participated in this study ranged from 1 to 14, with 6.3 being the average number of years participants had been teaching in an online setting. The number of years of traditional face-to-face classroom teaching experience ranged from 4-45, with an average of 22 years. A majority of the respondents taught multiple grade ranges: 40% of the respondents taught enrichment courses for students in grades 3-5, 60% taught enrichment courses for students in grades 6-8, and 80% taught honors- or AP-Ievel courses for students in grades 6-12. More than a third (34.6%) of the respondents taught English and writing courses, slightly under a third (30.8%) taught science courses, more than a quarter (26.9%) taught humanities and social sciences courses, slightly less than a fifth (19.2%) taught mathematics courses, 11.5% taught technology courses, and 3.8% taught world language courses. Some of the instructors used a wide variety of technological tools; some focused on one type of technological tool (e.g., weblogs), and others used the bare minimum of technology. Some teachers had courses that revolved around whole-class discussion and student-student collaboration; others were based on a more individualized mentor-mentee relationship between instructor and student.

Results of the Study

In the interviews with teachers and their open-ended survey responses, three broad categories of effective instructional strategies in online courses emerged. The first category was comprised of strategies designed to facilitate teacher-student interaction, the second was comprised of strategies designed to facilitate student-content interaction, and the third was comprised of strategies designed to facilitate student-student interaction. Overall, teachers emphasized the importance of strategies designed to facilitate teacher-student interaction and student-content interaction more often than student-student interaction. Within each of these broad categories, more specific themes emerged.

Teacher-Student Interaction 

All nine of the teachers interviewed and the vast majority of the survey respondents stressed the importance of good communication between teacher and student, and in particular, the value of frequent praise, encouragement, and feedback on assignments by means of individual e-mails. For these online teachers, individual e-mail conversations between themselves and their students comprised a large and essential part of the online learning experience. One instructor explained how teaching online compared to teaching in a regular brick-and-mortar classroom as follows:

    The experience was surprising in many ways. I conduct my courses as extended individual e-mail conversations between me and each student, and I found that it was a more vital and real process than I had assumed it would be. There is more give and take. I also found that students are impressively honest in this process; they make the same sort of errors and mistakes that students in the brick classroom would make. The whole process is just more like traditional teaching than I thought it would be, but I have a more complex and interesting continuous e-mail conversation with each student than I expected.

All of the teachers interviewed and 92% ofthe participants also remarked on how, in an online learning environment, through the use of one-on-one e-mail correspondence, it was easier to address the individual needs of each student. One teacher noted, “I can spend as much time with a student as I need, and praise and encourage them without other students thinking I’m paying more attention to a particular student.” Another teacher stated,

    In a physical classroom, with a couple dozen students, a teacher must work with everyone simultaneously, and developing individual plans and differentiating instruction for two dozen individuals is the main issue in education today, in my opinion; it is simply very difficult to do.

“By contrast,” he continued, “addressing individual needs of each student is easier to do with online students, since the nature of the system is more geared to individuals.” In addition, the majority of the teachers participating in this study stated that it was essential for this sort of individual feedback to students via e-mail to be “prompt” or “immediate.”

The majority of the teachers also supplemented individual e-mails to their students with whole-class e-mails, which one instructor characterized as “the online version of eye contact,” because these sorts of unprompted e-mails were useful for the purpose of teachers’ establishing more of a “presence.” These instructors used whole class e-mails to make announcements (e.g., regarding their office hours or schedule for the week), send reminders about upcoming due dates or real-time class sessions, and let students know when a new assignment or resource had been posted. Many of them also used whole-class e-mails to share student successes, something that had happened in another class (including similar face-to-face classes they teach at their local school), or a relevant article/ link they had just come across. These teachers believed regular group e-mails helped students stay motivated and on task.

All of the teachers interviewed and many of the survey respondents emphasized that they put a good deal of effort in building relationships, establishing a connection with each of their students, and creating a “rapport of trust” and “an atmosphere of openness and empowerment.” Eighty percent of the participating teachers said they found interaction in the online learning environment to actually be “more personal than in a regular brick-and-mortar class of 30 students.” Many teachers found e-mail to be a more personal form of communication than they imagined. These teachers thought that as a result, their students were “even more themselves,” “more open,” and “more honest” than in person.

A number of teachers also mentioned that students tended to be more thoughtful and contemplative in their online interactions than in a face-to-face classroom. One teacher explained,

    Another pro is that the e-mail conversation format gives students time to think. I often respond to their assignments with questions, asking them what about this or that. They have the time to reflect, word their ideas carefully, and send their reply after contemplation. The format provides for a reflective pace.

Despite the overwhelmingly consistent emphasis by teachers on the importance of frequent, prompt, positive/encouraging, and individualized and whole-group communications between teacher and students in creating a stimulating and open learning environment, a few teachers also noted some challenges to teacher-student communication. One teacher noted that young students are not always comfortable talking on the phone with an adult and/ or writing e-rnails to their instructor and, as a result, may hesitate to call or e-mail. Another teacher noted that sometimes students can come across as a bit abrupt or even rude in their e-mail communications, while another teacher bemoaned the fact that sometimes her own e-mail feedback was interpreted by students in a different manner than she intended due to the lack of transparency of affect in e-mail communications. A few teachers said that despite their efforts to make connections with their students, they felt that the online environment was still less personal than a regular face-to-face classroom.

Student-Content Interaction

Although many of the participating teachers indicated that there was little, if any, difference between their online and equivalent face-to-face courses with respect to the development ofthe course syllabi and goals or with respect to the rigor ofthe course, they did note several major differences in how they, as instructors, facilitated the students’ interaction with the course content. One of these major differences, noted by an overwhelming majority of respondents, had to do with the set-up of the course prior to student enrollment: specifically, developing and maintaining a well-organized course site that clearly and concisely specifies the instructor’s expectations ofstudents and instructions for completing assignments. One teacher explained,

    Very specific directions are required for every task. Producing materials for an online course versus a traditional course is much like the difference between creating an exam for your traditional class and creating a nationally issued exam. In the traditional setting, materials created can be distributed and explained with the knowledge of what your particular students require in that moment. All students can ask questions at the same time, and thus the instructor answers many questions by others before they have to be asked. Patterns occur that require less explanation as the course evolves. On nationally issued exams (and in online courses), every question that may arise in the mind of a student must be anticipated and answered in the directions. Students taking the national exam, like online courses, come from a wide variety of backgrounds and traditions. Thus, it takes years to develop a national exam (and online course) compared to days or weeks to develop a good in-class exam.

Teachers emphasized that clear expectations and detailed instructions were especially important in the online environment, in which learning tends to be more self-directed, so that students have a concrete understanding, as soon as they log into the course site, of what they will need to know and do in order to succeed, and so that students are better able to manage their time.

Many of the other differences noted by instructors with respect to the sorts of strategies employed to facilitate the student-content interaction in the online environment compared to regular brick-and-mortar schools revolved around a common theme: namely, individualization and differentiation of content to address the varying ability levels, interests, learning styles, and study skills of students. As one teacher very succinctly put it, “In online teaching, one size need not fit all.”

One of the ways in which teachers individualized their courses according to a student’s needs is by providing students the opportunity for self-pacing. All of the participating teachers noted that students who take online classes often do so precisely because of the flexibility it offers. Accordingly, the teachers posted recommended due dates/deadlines, but for the most part allowed students to work through the course material at a pace that was appropriate to their learning rate and in keeping with their other commitments.

Some of the participating instructors had students complete a pre-assessment or an interest survey at the beginning of the course. Others informally conducted similar sorts of pre-assessments or gauged students’ interests and goals for the course via e-mail or phone communications. Instructors also conducted formative assessments of student progress at regular intervals throughout the course via individual phone conferences, surveys, and e-mail. On the basis of such assessments, instructors could tailor assignments to specific interests or ability levels. They could also scaffold certain assignments for individual students, allow for more choice in assignments, and/or provide some students with additional mentoring. A number of teachers commented that they felt they were able to challenge their students to do their best work. Other teachers specifically noted that that their formative assessments were designed so that “students could reflect on and evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses,”and “take more ownership and responsibility for their learning”; further, these instructors saw it as part of their job to help students become more self-directed in their learning.

In an online environment, with a format that lends itself to more self-directed and individualized learning experiences, nearly half of the participating teachers felt that learning was also more student-centered than in a traditional face-to-face classroom. One instructor said that she saw her role less as someone who gives content or imparts knowledge to the student and more as someone who opens up doors for them to discover new content, new knowledge, new ways of solving the same problem-and to learn how to learn.

The vast majority of participating teachers reported emphasizing higher level critical and/or creative thinking skills by means of open-ended, “college-level” questioning prompts in individual e-mail conversations and group discussion boards that are specifically designed to continually push students’ thinking. Many also noted that they gave their online students more choice in their assignments and control over the direction in which they took it. Several specifically mentioned that they incorporated into their online courses inquiry-based projects in which students were responsible for defining and researching a problem of importance to them, authentic labs that used commonly found household items, and/or assignments that required students to apply the concepts they were learning to real situations of particular importance or relevance to them.

Many teachers also specifically noted that in the online environment, they were more able to provide a variety of resources to accommodate varied learning styles. One teacher shared,

    Even though one may work with “gifted” students, there is still a full spectrum of learning styles and needs, just like there is in any ordinary classroom. I learned from that initial surprise and now make sure to have as many tools and options available to students from the first day of class, whether it is multiple options Conversations With Teachers for turning in work, contacting me and peers, remote labs and simulation exercises and labs, online notes, conversations on the phone, discussion boards, encouragement to get help from local teachers and tutors (live help), online help sites and “ask a scientist” type links, answer keys sent via e-mail, and solutions to old AP exams dating back to the early 1970s. As many resources as can be made available need to be available to online students so they may be able to study and learn in a manner that best suits their own learning style.

Not only can online instructors offer their students a number of tools and options within the structure of the course itself, they can also point students with more specific interests who are motivated to learn more in fruitful directions.

    For those students who have interest in something like relativity,quantum mechanics, cosmology, particle physics, and others, they can feel free in the online environment to ask about such topics. I can either answer questions directly, or point out good websites for students to investigate. I also have other options available, such as providing names of professors and other colleagues of mine so students can ask experts about what they do and for answers to questions about cutting-edge research. Through the Internet, all of these options for extra investigation and course structure modification are available for students.

Stepping back for a moment from the specific strategies teachers used to facilitate student-content interaction, a number of teachers noted that they had been surprised to find online learning to be “more effective in most ways than the traditional classroom.” The participating teachers offered a variety of reasons for this conclusion. A number of them noted that without the usual limitations that came with teaching in a brick-and-mortar school, they were able to place “more focus on the intellectual content and less on the institutional brouhaha.” Another teacher explained,

    I don’t miss the huge vistas of wasted time that inevitably become reality in a face-to-face school context. I don’t have to take attendance, I don’t have to keep track of tardies and excused or unexcused bathroom passes. Homecoming assemblies, pep rallies, and cross country meets don’t interfere with our ability to have class. We’re bell-free, too. No schedule restricts us to only 55 minures-or demands we meet for a full 55 minutes. We meet and stay as long as needed in the virtual space.

Other respondents suggested that the flexibility of the online environment, in which students worked on their coursework at a time and place that suited them best, made their learning more effective. Another teacher thought the online experience was more dynamic and that students “were enjoying the process and delving more deeply into the content available online. With a click they could surf within the project’s links and find out more and more.” Yet another hypothesized, “Online education requires more communication in writing, between student and teacher. The written word is permanent, personal, and thus, more effective (memorable).” 36 summer 2010 • vol 34, no 3

Despite these very positive views of the effectiveness of online learning, some teachers did note some important challenges that they faced in their efforts to facilitate student-content interaction. First, more than half of the teachers noted that online learning requires a good deal of self-motivation and self-direction.

    The format and nature of an online course is not for everyone, even with the best of the best students. Online work requires a large amount of independent learning…. For those students who require near daily attention and hand-holding in order to thoroughly learn advanced, college-level material, frustration can set in.

In addition, two teachers noted that “technology can be frustrating if it’s not running properly.” Finally, some teachers felt that their inability to physically observe their students doing their work and solving problems made it difficult to catch subtle but important nonverbal clues that might indicate that there is some sort of conceptual misunderstanding on the part of a particular student.

    In my opinion, the biggest challenge in online versus classroom teaching has been not being able to see what a student is doing in, say,solving a problem, where the student may have a small conceptual problem that translates into missing a step in the solving process. In a physical classroom, I would be able to see this immediately as the student writes next to me, but for online classes, there is a delay in catching this problem.

Another teacher echoes this difficulty:”I can’t tell sometimes if something is wrong. In the regular classroom, I can FACE READ, and go get those students who look distressed. The online course is blind that way.”

Student-Student Interaction

In the interviews with teachers and the open-ended survey responses regarding effective instructional strategies for gifted students in an online classroom, strategies designed to facilitate student-student interaction were cited much less often than strategies designed to facilitate teacher-student and student-content interaction. When asked specifically about ways in which they provide their students with opportunities to interact and/or collaborate with peers, just under half stated that although they did provide these sorts of opportunities for student-student interaction, they did so to a limited degree because they were not convinced that their students desired such interaction. One instructor explained, “Sometimes students don’t want to socialize but just want to focus on the task at hand, especially if they are taking online courses because of convenience in the face of other responsibilities/full schedules.” Another instructor noted that the subject area being studied and the students’ desire to self-pace, also played a role:

    In my experience, students who take on a college-level math or science course prefer to work independently and at their own pace, with some number wanting to work at an accelerated pace. When students are no longer working on the same material at the same time, it becomes more likely they see no need for communicating with each other, and prefer instead to keep contact with the instructor. Perhaps in other disciplines, student-to-student communication and discussion is more important, but in math/science, students prefer to work at an individual pace.

Several other instructors suggested that their students, like themselves, appreciated the “laser focus on learning at all times” in the online environment. “Students are taking online courses for Content not for social interaction. They are not getting the content that they want in their local schools and that is why they turn to online courses.” One of these instructors, however, hypothesized that age may play a role: “Peer interaction and collaboration is valuable for younger students, because they may have different reasons and goals for taking courses online.

Despite these doubts about the importance of student-student interaction, the vast majority of the respondents reported that they incorporated class discussion into their courses, primarily via discussion boards or e-mail lists. Some of these instructors merely encouraged discussion, while others factored participation into students’ grades. Some instructors required Students not only to post to the discussion board or electronic mailing list a minimum number of times per week or unit, bur also to respond to their peers’ posts a minimum number of times as well.

Other specific strategies reported for providing students with opportunities to interact and/or collaborate with peers included holding regular (often weekly) real-time class sessions using virtual classroom or web-conferencing technologies, creating an online class display board of student work/projects, utilizing peer review of essays or projects, encouraging students to post their questions about specific problems on the discussion board and help each other work through them, creating class wikis or group weblogs, assigning whole-class final projects/products, and establishing “study buddy” partners. On the whole, instructors who had tried a variety of strategies found asynchronous methods, in which, for example, students can post to or read discussion boards or wikis individually and at different times, to be more effective and easier to manage than synchronous methods, in which a group of students are all online at the same time. For instance, one teacher stated:

    Finding times to arrange synchronous conversations with larger groups of online students is near impossible, because the students are also involved in sports, clubs and performance groups, family activities, and in some cases, students who take online classes are traveling.

Instructors who used encouraged peer interaction reported that students were incredibly open and accepting of others in the online environment. Students, they believed, felt freer in the online environment to be themselves. One teacher reported:

    Even the most timid students were open and eager to communicate, almost joyous with the freedom to be themselves.No one was looking at them, assessing their appearance, or applying any of the other tests of belonging that sometimes hold a shy student back.

In addition, several instructors noted that the online classroom was a more global and diverse environment, and when students were encouraged to interact with one another, everyone benefited from exposure to the variety of different viewpoints discussed and questions posed. Instructors also found considerable value in the role that student-student interaction played in developing a sense of community and making students feel that they are a part of a larger classroom environment. However, instructors also emphasized the importance of teacher presence in and facilitation of student-student interaction. One teacher explained,

    I will sometimes enter a discussion and suggest avenues the discussion might take. I will contact students privately if they are not participating and try to encourage them to get more involved. I think the more students hear my voice and have the opportunity to relate to me as a teacher, the more likely they are to trust me and to do the assignments. I encourage all students to interact with one another respectfully so that no student is discouraging other students from participating by being hurtful or disrespectful.

Other teachers similarly noted that they were integral participants in discussions, especially with respect to pushing students to think more deeply or more critically about an issue, redirecting the conversation, asking for evidence for students’ claims, and modeling appropriate language and tone.

Implications and Recommendations

The current research confirms that online learning can be a particularly good fit for many types of gifted students. As previous research (Olszewski-Kubilius & Lee , 2004; Ravaglia, Suppes, Stillinger, & Alper, 1995) has indicated, online learning provides expanded access to advanced-level coursework for students whose local schools are not able to offer such a variety of courses or do not have the resources for extended gifted programming, for students who are unable to take similar offerings at their local school due to scheduling conflicts, and for students who would like to supplement their homeschool curriculum.

However, one of the greatest insights gleaned from the current research is that online learning not only allows students to take advanced courses that would otherwise not be available or accessible to them, it also opens up opportunities for new modes of learning. For example, many teachers talked about how the format of online learning seemed geared more toward the individual student, with a good deal of the instruction occurring by means of extended one-on-one 38 summer 2010 • vol 34, no 3 e-mail “conversations” between teacher and students, which allows for much more flexibility in pacing and for the tailoring and personalization of the learning experience to better fit a student’s needs and interests. In addition, some teachers also noted that in the online environment, they faced fewer of the limitations that were often part of the reality of brick-and-mortar classroom learning: In the online environment, instruction and discussion were not restricted to a 50-minute period first thing in the morning when some students might not be ready to give it their all; teachers and students seemed to be able to place “more focus on the intellectual content and less on the institutional brouhaha” of taking attendance, getting students settled, and so forth. In addition, the online environment allowed time for a more reflective pace; students tended, in the online environment, to be more open and honest and “m ore themselves”; and the online format encouraged students to take more responsibility for and ownership of their learning and to take their learning further.

The current research indicates that there are a number of benefits that the online environment can offer students above and beyond what the traditional classroom environment offers. As a result, instead of trying to recreate the face-to-face environment to whatever degree possible (e.g., through the use of cutting-edge technological tools and regularly scheduled real-time whole-group class sessions, neither of which were thought by teachers to be essential to a successful online experience), online teachers and program administrators should, instead, try to capitalize on the unique benefits that the online environment can offer students. As one of the teachers interviewed so aptly put it, “we don’t necessarily want the online experience to mirror the face-to-face setting. There are certainly instructional strategies and practices that work in both settings. But we also want to be sensitive to the fact that online learning opens up new channels of learning.”

Because the goal of developing and teaching an online course for gifted students may not necessarily be to try to recreate a face-to-face environment but rather to capitalize on its benefits and minimize its challenges, the current research suggests that the following instructional practices and strategies are important for facilitating a successful online learning experience for gifted students.

  • Developing and maintaining a well-organized course site that includes clear expectations and detailed instructions for assignments, so that students know from the very first time that they enter the course site what they need to do in order to be successful in the course and how they are expected to go about doing it. In a face-to-face classroom, instructors often provide verbal instructions while handing out assignments and students are given a chance to ask questions (or give nonverbal clues that they are confused), so that teachers can clarify, elaborate, offer examples, and specify where there may be some wiggle room in the assignments and where there is not. In an online classroom, the same details need to be provided , but they need to be written our in advance, and care needs to be taken to anticipate potential questions or sources of misunderstandings and provide answers and clarifications in advance. It may also be necessary to revise the initial instructions as unanticipated questions arise throughout the course.
  • Establishing a pattern of frequent, prompt, positive/encouraging, individualized and whole-group communications with students that are both proactive and responsive. Prompt and frequent e-mails were perceived by teachers in this study to be extremely important for maintaining student momentum, engagement,. and motivation in their online course. They also stressed the importance of the use of a positive and supportive tone in communications and of the instructor’s efforts to establish a rapport of trust and level of comfort. The teachers in this study felt personalized, one-on-one e-mail conversations were integral to a successful online learning experience. Some teachers also recommended the use of slightly more formal, proactive whole-class e-mails that served to establish teacher presence and authority, to reach out to students who are perhaps a bit shy and not in as regular communication with their instructors as they should be, to share important questions and discoveries that may have come up in conversations with individual students, and thereby to pull everyone into the conversation, establishing more of a sense of community, a sense of shared inquiry, and a sense of the course as a dynamic shared enterprise.Making an effort to get to know each student and establish a connection with him or her so as to personalize the learning experience, develop a sense of shared inquiry and enthusiasm about the subject matter, and demonstrate commitment to each student’s success. Time and time again throughout the interviews and surveys, teachers’ responses highlighted the incredibly powerful effect it seemed to have on students’ motivation to learn when they took advantage of the more individualized, informal, and flexible nature of online learning in order to really get to know their students, their overall academic strengths and weaknesses, and even the things they enjoy doing when they are not studying. This also allowed the teachers to make the learning experience more personal and meaningful to students and gave students a sense of their instructor’s deep involvement in and commitment to their success.
  • Individualizing the learning experience and differentiating the curricula to accommodate students’ individual needs and/or interests. Teachers perceived the individualization of the learning experience to be extremely important to facilitating a successful online learning experience. The ability to work through the material at a pace appropriate to one’s learning rate and provide flexibility with respect to scheduling was perceived as particularly important to students. A number of instructors also used pre-assessments to tailor assignments and engage in an informal version of curriculum compacting for individual students. Instructors found it easier to differentiate in the more flexible environment of online learning than in the traditional classroom setting. Teachers in this study also noted that the online learning environment was more geared toward student-directed learning and more conducive to instructors offering more choice in assignments, more opportunities for students to “discover” knowledge, more student-centered projects, more time for reflection, more opportunities for self-evaluation, and more opportunities for independent study and self-guided research on topics they wanted to pursue in more depth.

The results of this study are inconclusive with respect to the role of student-student interaction and the use of multimedia and technological tools in the facilitation of a successful online learning experience for gifted students. Although the literature on online learning in general and the literature on effective instructional practices for gifted students indicate that both student-student interaction and the use of varied means (often through technology) to present the content are key ingredients in meeting the needs of learners, fewer than 40% of the teachers in this study rated either of these two items as essential to a successful online learning experience. However, these lower than expected percentages may be a result of the higher proportion of honors and AP teachers who participated in the study, as well as the fact that honors and AP courses in this program were based on an independent study model with a laser focus on the content and less emphasis on student-student interaction. A limitation of the current study is that the instructors may not have had much, if any, experience with other online learning programs, and their perceptions may have been influenced by the structure of the given program. Further research on a larger scale and involving multiple online programs is needed to better evaluate the role of student-student interaction and the use of multimedia and technological tools in effective online education for gifted students.


Olszewski-Kubilius, P., & Lee, S. Y. (2004). Gifted adolescents’ talent development through distance learning. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 28, 7-35.

Ravaglia, R., Suppes, P., Stillinger, C, & Alper, T M. (1995). Computer-based mathematics and physics for gifted students. Gifted Child Quarterly, 39,7-13.

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