IGGY 'gifted and talented' service brings in technology for transformation and global reach
Warwick University’s work with “gifted and talented” young people is being transformed to take it global. Directing the project is Janey Walker who, in her former role as head of education with Channel 4, brought radical changes to its services for schools and young people and introduced multi-platform broadcasting.
The new entity, IGGY, is an online education network for gifted 13 to 18-year-olds which launches in the autumn following its first conference, “Global and Gifted 2012”, this wek (July 4) at Warwick University. The conference will help IGGY further develop its community and network before the September launch of the new website.
This website, currently under development, will feature specially commissioned interactive resources and projects and will provide contacts to top academics and industry professionals.
Students can look forward to the engaging blend of imaginative, gaming- inspired activities and social networking (students get their own profiles) that marked the modernisation brought about by Jane Walker and her team at Channel 4. Students take up subscriptions with IGGY through the website, authorised by their teachers who are an important key to the service. IGGY will be a subscription service but will offer up to half of the memberships free to disadvantaged students. The subscription price is still to be confirmed but will be in the region of £120 a year with substantial discounts for schools registering large numbers of pupils.
IGGY (International Gateway for Gifted Youth) builds on the work carried out by Warwick’s National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (NAGTY) between 2002 and 2007 when the university decided not to reapply for the contract to deliver the Government’s programme for gifted and talented young people. Since then Warwick has continued activities including IGGY summer schools.
Right now, the efforts are being marshalled for the September website launch and the service should be fully active by October. Director Janey Walker has been steadily building the organisational and commercial partnerships required for such a global operation. But the education partnerships are crucial and, in June, she visited 11 schools in the South African townships of Alexandra and Soweto to work with headteachers and offer free membership to their pupils. They will also join IGGY in the autumn. They should also benefit from links to other work that Warwick University is doing, whereby its UK maths students spend six weeks in South Africa working in schools with teachers and students.
Janey Walker operates with the openness and enthusiasm that is often enjoyed by those working with web technologies, confident that the feedback they get as their services develop will arm them with the knowledge of what works and is needed, and what does not. She’s well aware that teachers themselves hold differing views of what constitutes “gifted and talented”, but she also knows that as this body of knowledge and experience grows it will happily accommodate a wide range of views across many schools, countries and cultures. IGGY may be helped here by a growing understanding of the importance of independent outside organisations that can help and stimulate schools in innovative work that they might not bring about alone due to the pressure of work and a cramped curriculum. This advantage has been identified in the work of organisations like Apps for Good which can provide schools with a potent framework for enriching “out of school” experiences and curriculum work too.
Way to address 'gifted' unease is by commitment to disadvantaged and engagement
Janey Walker is also aware of some of the uneasiness among some educators about the nature of “gifted and talented” programmes and uncertainty about how they gel with schools’ notions of inclusion. “Elitism” is word that’s sometimes dropped into the debate. “I think that the way for us to address that is to show that IGGY is trying very hard to reach disadvantaged gifted kids who are probably under-represented on every school list of gifted and talented,” she says. “We think the opportunity for them to connect with other gifted kids and the challenging content and the fact that the website is quite ‘gamified’ and fun and you get rewards for participation – these things should help motivate students to do more.”
In the conversation it becomes clear that there will be a strong focus on countering disadvantage at a time when there is so much talk by politicians of “social mobility”. The purpose of IGGY is to develop young people with their peers, and internationally, supported by the best academics and professionals, so that they will be supported on whatever further routes they take, whether in education or employment. The buzz about the project is that everyone will be learning. “We'll have to see what the demand is, she says. “You could ask me 10 questions now that will have different answers in 12 months because we will find out and build on what works.” IGGY will get a much clearer idea of what schools want and need, even though that might not be consistent across countries and cultures.
At a time when schools are increasingly cultivating their own student leaders, IGGY will also be be developing its own forms of student voice. One of these is a Junior Commission of 10 students from different countries who will develop a project over a year, a project that will reflect their own desires for change. They hope to start one in October on technology for learning.
The research could take them down all sorts of avenues, maybe research by Google and Microsoft, or neural networks, but the outcome would include insights into how what they saw and enjoyed outside school could be used for impact within schools. “In the space of a year how will the technology they use change?” asks Janey Walker. “They could do an audit of what technology they use at the outset, followed by another audit when they finish.”
IGGY has same ambitions as for students – top quality
What’s clear about IGGY is that it has the same kinds of ambitions for itself that it has for its students. The goal is no less than a high-quality service with first-class content, projects and collaborative facilities that can be scaled up to a fully global operation. And relationships are already in in place with national institutions like libraries and museums, and with companies, to develop projects that can stretch everyone’s limits. It will keep Warwick University at the forefront of an area it has helped pioneer.
"IGGY will offer great resources to gifted students but it will also offer us the opportunity to test what kinds of interactive content work best for them" concludes Janey Walker. "We know how rapidly education and technology are changing, and we'll be working with students all over the world to see how best to use that technology to challenge, inspire and connect."
Temporry web information at www.warwick.ac.uk/iggy
Check out the opportunity for students aged 11-19 to win £2,500 and get their story published in Litro's International Short Story Award for Young People (closing date is July 24). Enter online at www.warwick.ac.uk/study/iggy/litro/