I am a huge proponent of online education. Especially in the K-12 years, online education can become one of the great equalizers — allowing all kids to learn at their natural pace. As I wrote yesterday, gifted low-income students may have the most to gain from quality, online classes.
Right now one of the complications with online education is it is difficult to figure out the quality, difficulty, and educational effectiveness of any given program. This is particularly true with the free online options. Three of the big players in the free online education game are Khan Academy, iTunes U, and Coursera. Over the last several months I’ve played around with subject matter in Khan Academy and iTunes U and now it is time to take an in-depth look at what Coursera has to offer.
Unlike Khan Academy and most classes and material in ITunes U, Coursera structures its courses as much as possible as true college classes. They have definitive start dates, end dates, quizzes, homework assignments, and online discussion forums for creating class-centered virtual communities.
I am taking a University of Pennsylvania class on ADHD Throughout the Lifespan taught by Dr. Anthony L. Rostain, M.D., M.A. Dr. Rostain is a Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Gifted children whose needs are not being met may be misdiagnosed as having ADHD. Within the gifted community, many parents and experts know that ADHD type behavior may actually be a gifted child in need of more intellectual stimulation, not, in fact ADHD. I’m taking the class to learn more about ADHD in general and to see whether this issue of misdiagnosis of gifted children is mentioned in general ADHD material. The course is 12 weeks long and started March 18th. They estimate the workload at an easy 2-4 hours a week.
Having watched and listened to numerous web videos throughout the years, the quality and ease of use of the Coursera lecture is quite solid. The slides are integrated into the video, easy to read and appear onscreen throughout the lecture in a larger window than the video of Dr. Rostain. Three or four times during the lecture, it stops for a quick quiz to make sure students are following the material. This week’s reading materials basically covered the same ground as the lecture. This week focused on the DSM-IV definition of ADHD and the statistics on how common it is in children and adults, males and females. Also covered was an overview of diagnosis and treatment.
Sadly, the only mention of IQ was that ADHD occurs equally across all levels of intelligence. ADHD is primarily diagnosed in children by adults who are observing and having to deal with the child’s behavior. Basically the child needs to exhibit 6 symptoms over 6 months to be diagnosed. Although this wasn’t at all covered in the class, a highly gifted student in a class with a teacher who is not aware of common gifted traits could easily be diagnosed with ADHD. Interestingly enough, when parents and teachers rate the same child for the prevalence of ADHD symptoms, no more than half the time do the parents and teachers agree. This can sometimes lead to teachers pressuring parents to medicate students to make them easier to handle in class. A highly gifted student in a completely inappropriate educational environment could be diagnosed with both ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Yes, gifted kids can also have ADHD and other issues but any diagnosis of mental disorders should be put on hold until the educational environment is examined. The DSM-IV ADHD diagnostic criteria states that a diagnosis of ADHD cannot be made unless there is, “Clear evidence of interference with developmentally appropriate social, academic or occupational functioning.” If a regular classroom doesn’t meet the needs of the highly gifted student, then it is the classroom that is developmentally inappropriate, not the child’s behavior. Given how we have made kindergarten into the old second grade, perhaps the increasing numbers of boys being diagnosed with ADHD has to do with how we have changed their school environments, not impairments within their brains. I hope later lectures will get into this idea of developmentally inappropriate environments. Within the discussion groups there does seem to be interest in the overlap between giftedness and ADHD diagnosis.
Overall, I’m having fun with the class. It is nice to be on a schedule with other students across the country and the world. The quick quizzes while not rigorous do help focus attention on specific points within the lecture. We will see how this next week goes.