Review: ‘The New Digital Age’ by Schmidt & Cohen

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

Review: Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business, Knopf, 2013.

The authors visited thirty-five countries and examined the Internet’s impact in each. The new digital age has a significant impact with both positive and potentially negative outcomes. They discuss both possibilities. They focus on the new level of connectivity that the digital world brings to individuals and nations.


In perspective, connectivity in mankind has always been the yeast that has led to social and collective growth. In early man, the spoken word allowed groups to share sensory experiences and form collective societies. About five thousand years ago, the written word allowed mankind to share experiences across geography and time. Knowledge could be passed from one generation to another and transferred across geographic boundaries. The printing press increased our ways of storing and retrieving experience and documenting the ways man governed himself. Knowledge was stored and retrieved in libraries.  Continue reading

Social Media Tips for Virtual Conference Attendance

By Melissa A. Venable

[Note: Jessica Knott, ETCJ’s Twitter/Facebook editor, has coordinated the publication of this article. -Editor]

Last month The Sloan Consortium’s 7th Emerging Technologies for Online Learning took place in Dallas, Texas. According to the latest Sloan-C View newsletter, there were “more than 700 onsite and 1,000 virtual attendees representing 47 states including DC and 23 countries.”

Saint Leo University provided virtual access to a limited number of instructors, including adjuncts like myself. In my formal request to attend, I made a commitment to “be active on multiple social media platforms and use the symposium hashtag – #et4online – to further engage in live sessions and network with other attendees.” I was fortunate to be selected to attend, and it was this social media commitment that made all the difference in my experience.

Recorded sessions are helpful but don’t provide the energy and interaction of real-time attendance. And there is a lot to be gained from following the social media backchannel of a conference, but formal registration allows for a different level of access to the sessions and other attendees. This article includes a few of my lessons learned as a virtual conference participant.

Prepare to Participate

Are your social media accounts up-to-date? This may be the best place to start. Take a look at the platforms that are being encouraged by the conference organizers and review your profiles before the event starts. If it has been a while since you logged in to an account, it could take some time to review and refresh the information you are providing about yourself. Keep in mind that these profiles serve as your business card in an online networking sense.

Follow the conference itself and the sponsoring organization. In addition to the conference hashtag, this Sloan Consortium event was also active with social media accounts focused specifically on this conference, including Twitter and Facebook. These accounts provided a constant stream of reminders, letting participants know about upcoming sessions, highlighting participants and presenters, and announcing schedule changes.

Set Realistic Expectations

The Sloan symposium offered fewer streamed sessions than onsite sessions, but there were multiple presentation options for each time slot. The streamed sessions took place in Dallas with a live audience and allowed virtual attendees to watch both the presenter and his or her slide presentation simultaneously. Members of the online group were able to interact with each other via text chat and ask questions of the presenter through an online session chairperson who relayed them in real-time. We also connected and exchanged thoughts and resources through our social media accounts.

Take a look at your schedule for the week and identify, in advance, the sessions you would like to attend. Add these sessions to your calendar. I was tripped up when logging into my first session (an hour early), before I realized I needed to calculate time zone differences. The website mentioned this, of course, but sometimes you have to learn on your own, and I instantly connected with other virtual attendees on Twitter who made the same mistake.  Continue reading

Retirement of Your Elementary School Students: Keeping in Touch with Facebook

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

As a teacher there always is one learner you cannot reach. You wonder why since your lesson plans seem in order, the other kids are learning but Suzy is stagnating. I had a girl who should have done well, but she had a hearing loss and was also mildly cerebral palsied. She was not a bad learner but also not really a good learner. I was never satisfied with her progress but also could not point out exactly where she fell short.

Central Institute for the Deaf, St. Louis MO

Central Institute for the Deaf, St. Louis MO

Forty years afterwards, she wrote me and asked why she failed. She never married, never worked and really never fully participated in the world. I could not answer her question, but it did not surprise me that she never became integrated into society. Almost intuitively I knew she would not make it.

I recently heard from a classmate of hers who had retired from being a school janitor. He was beloved by the teachers and students in his school. Being a janitor does not sound like a wonderful success story, but it does not surprise me that he did his work well and was socially liked by all who came in contact with him. As a kid he was hyperactive and into everything. In fact, he was so into everything people thought of him as a pest. Yet he has contributed to society and been a taxpayer rather than a tax consumer. He is a success story.

I taught multiply disabled students fifty-five years ago. It is interesting to find some of those students on Facebook. Some are very successful with good jobs and families of their own. My former students live all over the nation — even the world. It is nice to be able to find and follow them on Facebook. They are in their seventies so I must be getting a bit older myself.

I was a Scoutmaster as well as a teacher. My first Eagle Scout was a great kid. He was not the smartest, but he was the most compassionate and born leader I ever had. He worked hard to achieve but also wanted everyone else to experience what he was doing. He is close to 80 now and still a leader. He has worked in charities and still wants to help others. He has had a long and happy marriage. He says he has no intention of retiring and still believes he can help others.

Some of my students have children who have gone on to accomplish outstanding things. Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis where I taught will be 100 years old in 2014. I look forward to its reunion. In the meantime Facebook brings back memories.

My large family is spread from New Hampshire to Texas and the West Coast. I have been impressed that Facebook helps us follow one another. It would be an interesting study to examine how Facebook engages families and reconnects teachers with students.

A Beginner’s Guide to Twitter Chat Participation

By Melissa A. Venable

[Note: ETCJ’s Twitter/Facebook editor, Jessica Knott, has been working with Melissa to develop this article. Also see Melissa’s four-part series on  Twitter for Professional Use. -Editor]

A Twitter chat is a live, real-time discussion that takes place via Twitter messages, also known as tweets. Connected by use of a specific hashtag, those contributing to the discussion can add their comments in 140-character increments. While it may seem an odd way to participate in a conversation, you may be surprised at the benefits the platform provides, and at the growth of this format among educators at all levels.

As moderator of the Inside Online Learning chat (#IOLchat) since June 2011, I’ve experienced many of these benefits. It’s been a great opportunity to connect with a larger community of students, educators, and instructional designers, and to facilitate new connections among participants. It’s also an effective way to (virtually) meet leaders in the field of online education who have served as guest hosts.

If you’ve thought about joining a Twitter chat or are completely new to the concept, the intent of this guide is to provide you with the basic information necessary to successfully participate in your first live chat.

What to Expect

As in any group discussion, Twitter chats feature a general exchange of ideas, opinions, recommendations, and resources. Most are open to the public, and anyone interested in the topic is encouraged to attend. There are four common components of these live conversations you should look for:

  • Moderator: An individual or group that organizes the event and facilitates the conversation. Several chats, including @chat2lrn and @lrnchat, have their own Twitter accounts and homepages to help coordinate efforts.
  • Central topic: Most chats are organized around a central theme of interest, as well as a more detailed topic for each “meeting.” For example, one of the more popular events for educators is #edchat. This group always discusses issues related to education, but also picks a focus each week. A recent May session sought input on the question: “How important is it to teach critical thinking and how do we do it?”
  • Hashtag: The # symbol used with a series of letters and numbers is known as a “hashtag” and adding the chat-specific hashtag to each of your tweets allows you to participate. The hashtag is searchable and creates a way to filter the tweets that are part of the chat. Hashtags are also increasingly part of other social platforms, including Tumblr, Instagram, Google+, and Flickr.
  • Time and date: Many Twitter chats are recurring events scheduled monthly, weekly, or another pre-determined interval. Find a chat that meets both your interest and availability on compiled lists like these: Weekly Education Chats, Twitter Chat Schedule, Twitter Directory for Higher Education.

As you review existing Twitter chats, you may notice that some provide discussion questions in advance, while others include them during the live event. But some chats will be more open-ended, taking direction cues from gathered participants. As a participant, you should assume that your contributions will be collected in some sort of transcript, ranging from a blog post summary to a compilation via a hashtag aggregation tool like StorifyContinue reading

Impact of Facebook on Deaf Language Users?

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

It is a sophomoric question, but I will ask it anyway. Is it better to be blind, deaf, or crippled? Of course, the answer is it is better not to have any of these disabilities.

Crippled means that you will have ambulatory limitations. However, if you have lost a leg there are prosthetic legs that can allow you to walk and even to run. Or wheelchairs can restore a degree of mobility. Blindness is also an ambulatory disability. You are to an extent limited in your mobility. You are not likely to own or drive a car, but even this is being made obsolete by modern technologies that are demonstrating self-driving cars. If you are blind you may not become an artist, but even that is marginal.

Oscar Pistorius.

Oscar Pistorius.

In a sense deafness is the hidden disability. Unless a neighbor stops to talk with you, you appear as just another person in the neighborhood. You drive a car, you play catch baseball with friends, and you dance with your girl friend on the patio after eating the steak cooked on the outdoor barbecue set. For all practical purposes you do not appear any different than the average neighbor.

But you are! You did not learn the English language from your mother’s knee. Whether you use American Sign Language or speech read, your language is visual. It requires an ample light source. As a deaf person you cannot easily multitask, that is, carry on a conversation while washing your car because you must see and concentrate on the speaker. Visual-based communication has different parameters than auditory-based language. As a deaf communicator, there must be enough light and you must concentrate on the speaker.

Stephanie Ellison, "a percussionist who happens to be deaf."

Stephanie Ellison, “a percussionist who happens to be deaf.”

As a hearing person I can multitask. I can talk and listen to you while I paint your portrait. As a hearing person I can carry on a conversation with you while I brush my shoes or I can listen to the radio in the dark. Since sounds surround me globally I can carry on a conversation in many different environments. If I am deaf I must have light and I must look at the sender I am communicating with whatever system I use ASL, finger spelling or speech reading. Even captioned TV requires my full attention whereas a hearing person can multitask and still get the meaning of what is on TV. I can iron my shirt and follow the latest news on TV.  Continue reading

Twitter for Professional Use – Part 4: Participating in a Live Event

By Melissa A. Venable

[Note: ETCJ’s Twitter editor, Jessica Knott, has been working with Melissa to develop this series. See Part 1: Getting Started, Part 2: Channeling the Streams, and Part 3: Curating the Chaos. -Editor]

This final installment in this series offers guidance on using your Twitter account to join live conversations and monitor ongoing professional events. After setting up and learning to manage your account, a good next step is to join active groups and discussions that use hashtags to set their conversations apart from the rest.

What Is a Hashtag?

Adding the “#” symbol to series of letters and numbers creates what is known as a hashtag. These are searchable in the Twitter system and can function as filters to create a list of tweets that include the hashtag. By inserting a hashtag into a tweet, you add your message to the conversation, joining all the others who have chosen to add that same hashtag as well.

Anyone can create a hashtag and start a conversation. Like tags and keywords, they help you sort through the seemingly endless flow of information to identify related topics of interest. Use Twitter search to find recent tweets related to #edtech, #highered, or #election2012 as examples. Notice that searching by keyword (highered) or hashtag (#highered) allows you to see all of the messages with the hashtag, including those from accounts you don’t follow.

Join a Live Conversation

Twitter chats are real-time text chat conversations in which participants tweet their questions and responses. Chats go beyond just using the hashtag to participating at scheduled times. Anyone can join in by simply adding the chat’s specific hashtag to tweets during the session. There are several established chats focusing on education topics, such as #lrnchat and #edchatContinue reading

Critical Thinking Skills for the Digital Age

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

Until about five thousand years ago mankind was limited to communication skills in the form of the spoken word and cave drawings. With the invention of writing the word could be transported over time and space. Consequently, knowledge and events developed in one part of the world could be shared around the world and passed from one generation to the next.

Collage: on the left, a 1568 engraving of a printing press by J. Amman, , showing a pair of printers in the foreground and two compositors at their cases in the background. Then an arrow pointing to a Facebook page saying: "Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life", with picture of connected avatars.The written word was a much more stable record than the spoken word. It could be stored in libraries and retrieved from one generation to the next. However, until the invention of the printing press about 500 years ago, the written word was available only to scholars and scribes. Most people had to rely upon the gatekeepers of knowledge to interpret the record for them. Priests, scholars and scribes were the interpreters of this storehouse of knowledge in the libraries of mankind. Continue reading