Reflecting on my COETAIL experience

I have had time to reflect about my experience with the COETAIL course. If anything, the most significant benefit I got from the class was in how it helped me to see how a teacher can redefine their lessons and their teaching by greater use of technology. Using Google Docs and Google Drive has simplified things for my students, as well as myself. Additionally, I pretty much stopped using PowerPoint presentations (except for student review) and assigning Powerpoint projects. If anything I try to teach my students that Death by Powerpoint is unnecessary and cruel punishment to their fellow students (and teachers). I used Big Marker, Todaysmeet, and Voicethread to reinvigorate my lessons and give the students a more active role in how they interacted with material I was teaching. The great thing too is that my imagination was invigorated as well, so that I am able to find technology that I can adapt to previously taught lessons, but on a much higher level.

That is not to say that issues have not arisen. Because at times the internet at our school is slow or just not working right, it can cause problems with teaching, so I have had to learn to have a backup plan in case it does not work or it is too slow. I assume many other teachers have had these issues at varying times, so I am not discouraged. I know it will get better with time. Another issue are the sheer number of technological options out there! Trying to whittle down all the available options can be a daunting task, especially as I saw in the progression of this course the many options for delivering content that were out there. Trying to find the right fit has been a bit of a challenge.

So overall, it has been an enervating and interesting year and a half of course work and learning. Success I think for the creators of COETAIL is for teachers to do a major rethink of how they teach, and to bring those of us who have been a bit behind the curve back into the 21st Century. I am happy to state that COETAIL has done that for me.

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Is Technology and Maintaining our Humanity Compatible?

YouTube Preview ImageOver the past year, there has been a common theme to the material we have been reading and discussing in my English class. Whether looking at the dystopian visions of Orwell’s 1984, or the relationship between Willie Loman and his son Biff in Death of a Salesmen, the familial issues facing the protagonist in ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’, or the existential musings of the characters in Raymond Carver’s writings—they are all concerned with how we maintain our dignity—and especially our humanity—in a world that consistently challenges our faith in each other. In the end however, the connections that sustain us are what keep us human. In the class, I emphasized to the students that I was not referring only to the connections that unite us to each other, but those connections that bind us to the world around us. If we lose that, we lose at least a part of what makes us human and as a consequence, an appreciation for all the wonders that life can offer every one of us. The student’s task then, among others was to write about whether or not the believed technology has made it more difficult for people to maintain their connections; not only with each other, but in a more tragic sense, with their surroundings. I asked my students in one of their culminating assignments to consider whether or not they agreed with those who maintain that over-reliance on technology has led us to the point where humanity is losing this important social component essential for human existence, and in a larger sense, people’s ability to communicate with and experience the world around them. In other words, I have asked them to comment on whether or not technology has led us to become more isolated rather than more social, despite what Facebook might want them to believe.

To do so, I had the students first watch the above video.

I then had them read a statement from the musician Jack White [} and then had them blog about their reaction to both the video and his commentary.

While White discusses the joy of listening to records and how that element of the music lover’s experience has been lost with the advent of digital music, his larger message is this: Technology has reduced people’s need or desire to communicate on a personal level. His message is that human interaction as a result has suffered, and that the effect has been that we are losing out because of our increasing reliance on technology to fill up our time. There are even recent studies that have shown that our brains are changing as a result of our increasing use of the Internet—to our detriment—in that individuals who are heavy Internet users have been shown to have lower concentration levels and abilities to focus. This is just food for thought, and I thought it was a good way to get students to think about how they interact with technology.

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The Death of Powerpoint

The above video is hilarious, but it does bring about a good point.  Upon reflection I have seen through this course that technology does not equal Powerpoint.  Unfortunately, there are still teachers out there that believe it does, and they allow students to use them for every project.  One could argue that they have a place, but with all the alternatives out there, I am wondering whether Powerpoint really has a place in the 21st Century classroom.  I am currently using Voicethread to teach a literacy unit using the book ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and that has proven to be much more interactive and successful than any Powerpoint presentation. Prezi and Glogster, just to name a few, certainly offer better alternatives than the traditional slideshow presentation. Even Pages or iPhoto from Apple, or Animoto offer better ways to present material to fellow students. So I would propose that the 21st Century classroom teacher studiously avoid using Powerpoints as much as possible, unless they want to post it their class blog or website (as I have done with past presentations for students to review). Unless Microsoft does something to create a program that is more interactive and less dependent on text, then I do not see any strong reason for its continued use in the classroom. The teacher (and student) who relies on Powerpoints is selling him or herself short, especially now with all the alternatives out there. Even a cursory look at what some of what other cohort members have done shows the variety of approaches that have been taken to deliver material to students and to actively engage them in the learning process. I have been impressed with the quality of the presentation that have been put forth, especially with those in schools where because of terrorism or disaster, they have had to compensate for a lack of technology or resources. Hopefully others will come to the same conclusion that as the video demonstrates above, death by Powerpoint is one that all good teachers should strive to avoid.

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26 February – Managing Laptop Use in the Classroom

In past blog posts, I have written about the use of laptops before in the classroom, but I don’t see that in the future they will be the devices of choice for students.  At this point, very few of our students use tablet devices, but with the addition of external keyboards that can be connected wirelessly with such products as the iPad, I envision in that situation changing in the near future.  With Google’s recent announcement that it is going ahead with Google Glass, who knows what students will bring into the classroom in 5 years.  Regardless, the onus is on teachers to teach students to effectively manage their use of computing devices in the classroom so that it does not become a hindrance to the learning process.  Students in the future will need to learn the skills to manage their use of the Internet and the distractions that computers offer.

  1. I discuss the use of computers for research.
  2. When I am talking or students are engaged in discussion activities, I ask that students put down their laptop screens.
  3. Students who are found to be surfing the web lose the privilege of using their computers for written assignments, and must write out assignments or take notes by hand.
  4. Probably the biggest thing I do is to emphasize that chatting or surfing while instruction is taking place is disrespectful to the teacher and other students in the classroom.  I walk around, and those students who continue to use their computers inappropriately are seated closest to me, where I can see what they are doing on their screens.
  5. Probably the most important thing I do is try to ensure that students are engaged in the course material, to the extent they don’t have the time or inclination to go about playing around on the web.  If they are busy and focused on whatever is going on in the classroom, and actively involved learning new content, this tends to be a lesser problem with students.  It is the teachers who take too much time to get classes started, or who are not well organized that are the ones who continue to have issues with inappropriate laptop usage and management in general.
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26 February – Final Project 4 UBD Proposal

Unit Proposal:  The Perks of Being a Wallflower  Unit

I currently teach English Skills 12 to students with varying learning disabilities or challenges.  Their weakest areas are in reading and research, along with text analysis.  Their oral presentation skills are weak as well, so the focus of this unit will be to encourage them to speak in small groups of fellow students.  Therefore, this year I chose to focus on one text for a unit that will hopefully provide them the opportunity to reflect as well as improve their skills in the above areas.  These are ideas I have contemplated for this unit, but I still may add or take away ideas as things develop over the next month or so.

The text that we are reading in class is “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” I have already introduced a number of activities, including a TPCASST template for analyzing songs and the poems discussed in the book.  Students were to chose a song at home and then analyze it, and present their work in class.  ‘Perks’ is unique in that the author who wrote the book also wrote the screenplay and directed it. In doing so, substantive changes were made between the book and the movie.  It is from this perspective that I have chosen to approach this unit, to show students why writers and filmmakers make certain choices and how this can influence the tone of each.

-Using Voicethread Podcasts and possible visual media that will be uploaded for students to access, students will respond to podcasts provided by me outside of the classroom and then discussed in class on the content of the book.  They in turn will be asked to make their own podcasts to share in class.

-Documents that are created will be posted online on blogs (which the students have already created) with final projects to be posted on a (see below for more details).

-Text analysis:  Using the Internet, students will chose a scene from the both the book and film version of ‘Perks’ and analyze the scenes from the actual script [].  They will then approach their analysis of the scene using a text type of their choice (opinion, biography, review) to break down how the filmmaker decided to change scenes in his book from that in the movie version.

-Have students work collaboratively to write lyrics reflecting the main protagonist’s experiences throughout the book or their own

-Have students work on a documentary of life in HS at RIS (where I teach). They would then share this with fellow classmates.

-Using Google Charts have students analyze the characters in the book in real time as we discuss their place in the plot as well as their motivations

-Use programs such as Comic Lite to create a comic strip of a scene from the book

-Final presentation will consist of an (a) incorporating all work done in class into a Glog, (b) a film analysis of the film version and the book with a shared via a visual presentation such as    (Visual elements from the film either created by the students or associated with the film itself or their reaction to the film will be incorporated into the Glog.  This may include Student’s own poster for the ‘film’ or book design, or a brochure promoting the content of the book.  As part of this final assignment, students will be asked to write a short essay that will be posted along with other information about the book and film.  Students will incorporate the following into their Glog and write about how they have responded to the film:  Some potential approaches for the film might include the following:

-Straight research essay: on the making of the film version of ‘Perks’.  Students would research the making of the movie and write about how the film was produced, and how it was received.

-Comparative essay: In this case, students would compare two films of the same genre [films about teenagers] or from the same period of time (that take place in the 1990s) and compare the two from a critical perspective.  This would include considerations the effectiveness of each film in telling their stories, and then deciding which one was more effective depicting the life of a teenager or consider the story from their own school-life perspective.

-An essay comparing the book version with the film: students would write an essay looking at the book and film version and analyze both, and decide which one they found to be more effective.

I think this Unit allows the students to approach the text from a number of different angles, and allows them to use technology and creativity as they seek to define the novel and its themes for multiple levels of understanding.  The Unit is ambitious, and some of the planned activities may not be doable within the given time frame; however, I am confident that there is enough to keep the students involved in the book so that they will read the book and analyze it from a number of different levels. I must admit I am fairly comfortable with a lot of the technology that has been discussed in the Unit, though Voicethread will be a new experience for me.  I have used Todaysmeet and BigMarker to varying degrees of success, but I will be interested in seeing how it works, especially within the context of covering one book and movie from a number of different angles. My hope is that my students will develop a greater understanding of the themes and ideas presented in the book, and improve their analytical skills while becoming more comfortable with the research and writing process, something they have a demonstrated weakness in.

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21 February – The Future Classroom – What will it be like?

The classroom of the future is one that will originate almost entirely from ‘the cloud’.  Content and materials will largely be imparted electronically. Whether the classroom itself is ‘virtual’ may not even be at major consideration by that point. In fact, IK am not even sure what a classroom will look like, if in fact there is an actual brick and mortar building where students congregate to learn.  However, the more important question to consider might what will be the role of the 21st century educator in the classroom?  Will they even be necessary?  IF teachers and traditional modes of educating students are to remain relevant then teachers need to be more willing and able to quickly adapt to the realities of their student’s lives.  It used to be the one could operate in a classroom, safely ensconced from their colleagues and even from the changes that were taking place in their student’s world, while being blissfully unaware.  This is not the case anymore.  In the 21st Century teachers can no longer rely on being an island to themselves, when operating in the classroom.  If collaboration is necessary now, it will be an essential part of the learning process in the future.  The University of the People points to the future in this respect since it envisions collaboration between students and instructors to be a key ingredient for successful learning from both parties.  Rather than being the one who delivers content, the role of teachers in the future as I see it will be to facilitate learning via the use of technology.  Skills that may be of importance now may no longer need to be taught, so instead teachers will guide, share, and point students to where they need to go to prepare themselves for the working world of the next 15 years.  In a sense it is difficult to grasp an idea of what the world will look like in 15 years, but even as an abstract concept one can get an idea of where we are going.  Changes are occurring so rapidly in terms of technology that in order to be prepared both teacher and student need to be caught up on developments that occur on almost a seemingly daily or weekly basis.  Perhaps education will evolve to the point where it is completely free and available to all nations, which in itself will alter the educational and teaching experience.   The growth of Asia and the retraction of the western powers will most certainly have an impact on classrooms and teaching.  Rather than teaching to students in one’s own town or city, the widespread availability of technology (and specifically, access to a computer or tablet device—such as the One Laptop Per Child program) may allow teachers to provide instruction to thousands of students who otherwise would not have access to schools or educational institutions.  So, if I am teaching in the next 5 years or 10 or 15 for that matter, I think every one of those milestones will bring significant changes.  As I wrote above, my audience may change significantly and the content will change as well.  The nature of teaching will be the biggest innovation because I envision a different kind of relationship; one in which student and teacher operate on a more equal basis.  Students and teachers may meet infrequently, or they may not ever meet at all, but there will still be intensive interaction between all parties.  It may be that we finally abandon 19th Century educational paradigms, which are already out of date and becoming increasingly irrelevant for the world that young people must step out into.  The factory model will finally be tossed aside and teaching as it should be will take place. This is ideally what education should be about anyway if one really thinks about it, and therefore it is contingent upon educators of the future to recognize and accept their new role and responsibility.

Having said that, this morning I saw this in the news.  Imagine what a teacher (and students) could do with something like this!



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20 February – Motivating Students to Learn in the 21st Century Classroom

Courtesy of

There are several points I would like to consider with reference to the 21st Century technology in the classroom, especially by taking into account some of the ideas posed by Daniel Pink in his book ‘Drive’ as well as his recent TED talks (found online on Youtube). After doing that, for my next blog post I would also like to also consider the following questions and while attempting to come up with a consensus as to how I might envision my classroom in the future as well a typical classroom that students will enter into 5—10 years from now:

  • Will education as we know it change because of technology?
  • Where and how will you be teaching in 5, 10, 15 years time?
  • Can (or do or will) I apply any of these above theories in your classroom in the future?

First, as I’ve stated, I would like to briefly connect Daniel Pinks ideas with successful online learning and whether or not people can be motivated to be successful using online education for learning.  Daniel Pink’s ‘Drive’ certainly sets the standard for what should be happening both in education and in the workplace in terms of motivating individuals to do their best work.  Pink envisions a model of ways in which people perform best when they are given time to innovate and when they do what they love or feel that they are providing valuable input to an job, assignment, activity etc.  Carrying his ideas to education, the following why not do the same for students by allowing them to work with technology that they are much more comfortable with (such as online education and web-based activities) and they will be more successful in such an educational environment and will have a greater sense of ownership in what they do.

I like Pink’s ideas, but In terms of education, I think the issue faced by relying too much on technology for instruction is that it can potentially depersonalize the experience for the individual.  This has been one of the criticisms of the MOOC model as well, that while it does open up educational opportunities for large numbers of individuals for online education; that its success rates are not what they should be and therefore this kind of model that relies on online education may not be suitable for everyone.[1] However, (as has been noted by other writers and publications such as the NY Times) the model may not work for a number of reasons, not the least of which is to teach online may be not be as simple as one might assume.  In one specific university situation referred to by the above writer, the issue of student retention was dealt with by offering the following modifications to their program to help retain students for online classes: (a) Student Orientation, (b) Faculty Training Online, and (c) Student Advising.  All of these factors can improve student investment and help to develop an interpersonal relationship with instructors that can be missing from an online experience.  The other thing to consider is that students may come from a variety of technological backgrounds, and teachers need to realize that students may not all have the same knowledge (or discipline) that is necessary to complete an online course.




[1] (


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20 February – Reverse Instruction

First of all, it has been a long while since I posted on this blog and we are coming down to the wire for finishing Course 4.   My apologies then for the long absence, but life has been a bit strange over the past four months, and I had to make some big decisions about the next two years, which preoccupied my thoughts and unfortunately I neglected paying full attention to the course.  Here’s hoping my blog posts can help to rectify that for the remainder of this course and course 5. Having gotten that out of the way, I read the article on Reverse instruction, and I guess to an extent I do that.  For example I have been having my English Skills class read the book at home with the idea that we can discuss it in class.  As I have access to the film, I was able to assign certain scenes that corresponded with actions in the movie as we progressed through the novel.  One activity I have done was to give the students mp3 copies of the soundtrack album, asked them to listen to the songs at home, and then using a TPCASST [Title, Paraphrase, Connotation, Attitude, Shift, Title Revisited, and Theme] Template for poetry analysis, I asked them the next class period to be prepared to review the song they chose in class the next day, and to see how it related to the film and the main protagonist (Charlie). Having said that, I am not sure that reverse instruction will always work, but if it helps to cut down on the lecture approach to instruction while freeing up both students and teacher to pursue other avenues of imparting knowledge, I am all for it.  It served my purposes to assign readings and other activities (such as watching the movie or listening to music) and then spend the time to discuss the book in more detail, as opposed to reading the book in class (using time inefficiently) and discussing it then.

I think the video podcasting is a good idea, but it may or may not work for all situations.  A few years back, Bangkok experienced some major flooding and had to close school for a month.  The onus then was to provide lessons online via videos, podcasts, using Google docs, etc. so that students would not fall behind.  Given that the Internet in Bangkok varies from household to household (depending on what one pays is the determiner for speed) one can imagine the issues that came up.  Many students claimed they could not connect, some stated they did not have internet at home, the result being that a significant number of students did not get their work done.   The point here is that reverse instruction relies on students having reliable access to electronic instruction and media, which might not always work, especially given the mixed state of technology that is available in schools (and in the states as well). [1]








[1] My children attend school in Tucson, Arizona in the Vail School District, which has a pretty good reputation and where they seem to be doing quite well.  However, when I went to visit the campus last summer, I noted that the school was equipped with Apple desktop computers still using OS9.  I don’t think this is as uncommon as one might assume in the states, and even at the international school level.

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15 December – The Increasingly Irrelevance of ‘Teaching’ Application[s]

After reading “What difference might an ‘S’ make?”, thoughts came to mind of how students these days interact with the devices that are available to them. The term ‘applications’, as Dave Warlock points out, grows increasingly unnecessary as what we can do with computers becomes more interrelated. I would also say that this current generation of young people have learned to intuitively interact with computer devices so that in many ways they do not make the distinction between different operations in a computer ‘device’. For them the things that computer or mobile devices can do are not categorized. The iPad for most people, including my son who is only 8 years old, is so intuitive as I have stated that many immediately pick up one what the device and do and can figure it out by themselves. For example, a news story shared with those of us who attended the Bangkok Google conference back in November related how children in Ethiopia, given tablet computers were able to within five months not only figure out how to use the devices, but how to hack [into] them as well [!]. As one article on this experiment, done by the organization One Laptop Per Child (or OLPC) tells the story.

“‘The experiment is being done in two isolated rural villages with about 20 first-grade-aged children each, about 50 miles from Addis Ababa. One village is called Wonchi, on the rim of a volcanic crater at 11,000 feet; the other is called Wolonchete, in the Great Rift Valley. Children there had never previously seen printed materials, road signs, or even packaging that had words on them, Negroponte [the head of OLPC] said.
Earlier this year, OLPC workers dropped off closed boxes containing the tablets, taped shut, with no instruction. “‘ thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android,”’Negroponte said. ‘Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.’” []

Again, as Dave’s article points out, many of the applications that are taught to students are already familiar to them so that they do not have to learn them. These devices are becoming as smart at the people who use them. The problem really then is not so much that teaching young people ‘applications’ given the current state of technology is making these kinds of ‘skills’ increasingly unnecessary (maybe even irrelevant), but rather having the technology available in the first place. At least from what i have seen at the schools my kids attend, the computers that kids learn about technology are woefully out of date. This is a widespread problem in the United States, but to be fair I have heard similar stories from friends who teach in the international arena, though not on the same scale as in the USA. The point is that a student learning a word processing or spreadsheet program on Windows XP is not being served by the educational institution because the OS they are learning from is already obsolete. It would be better to let students access modern devices that are being used now, and as the article points out, engage in authentic and independent learning by interacting with the devices and creating assignments or projects that focus on their interests. By doing this they will gain the skills they need, given a some degree of guidance and real assessment but with enough autonomy so that they will want to keep exploring what the new technology is capable of. This in my view is the best way to prepare students for the 21st century.

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16 December – On Connecticut

Yesterday morning, I was going to write about ISTE Standards when I began putting together this post, but then I saw the news about the shootings in Connecticut (when I went to my email at and could not get my mind around that, so when I finally decided to write something about this story on my blog. I felt that it would be appropriate to discuss in this forum the media’s (and therefore by extension, our own) response to the attacks in Connecticut a yesterday.  By media I mean social media as well as traditional television and print news outlets as well.

Sandy Hook Tragedy, Picture by Shannon Hooks

As I did not have immediate access to cable television (although I was able to watch CNN and NBC News later on), I ended up navigating through the web via my iPad and computer all day; I guess trying to make sense of it all.  Facebook was the first place I turned to and followed FB friends’ reactions to what had happened.  Then onto Twitter, which was ablaze with comments, especially @prayfornewton.  It was interesting and saddening to read through the various comments that people were tweeting.  The deep sorrow and empathy I felt for the victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy gripped my being and it was difficult to digest both the news and commentary that was being put out there.  Yet, despite all these feelings that permeated my body, I did take comfort in the fact that via social media, one could share one’s thoughts and feelings with others.  It made me think that people were galvanized by what had happened and that maybe things might change with regard to the issue of guns in the United States.  As an example of the conversations that were taking place, I will bring in my own.  There were those who criticized the way the media reported the Connecticut tragedy; for example, Morgan Freeman wrote what I thought was an appropriate and measured response:

It’s because of the way the media reports it. Flip on the news and watch how we treat the Batman theater shooter and the Oregon mall shooter like celebrities. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris are household names, but do you know the name of a single *victim* of Columbine?…. Any articles or news stories yet that focus on the victims and ignore the killer’s identity? None that I’ve seen yet. Because they don’t sell. So congratulations, sensationalist media, you’ve just lit the fire for someone to top this and knock off a day care center or a maternity ward next. You can help by forgetting you ever read this man’s name, and remembering the name of at least one victim. You can help by donating to mental health research instead of pointing to gun control as the problem. You can help by turning off the news. []”

This was posted on Facebook, and so I responded because although I thought that Freeman had touched upon some important points, he had failed to miss the real point:

I wrote:

‘ I still think mental health media hype whatever are all side issues that avoid the real problem, which is the proliferation of firearms in the United States. Until the Congress or SOMEBODY takes up the cause and takes real steps towards substantive limitations on gun availability then the kind of atrocities such as the one in Connecticut will continue. Whether or not that would include outright bans on gun ownership, that might have to wait, but steps could be taken that would make it more difficult for these kinds of events to happen. Which for example specifically means asking ourselves why any civilian needs to have a weapon that can fire 100 rounds of ammunition in less than a minute.’

I disagreed as well with Freeman’s take on the media’s response to the tragedy by further writing that

‘No disrespect to Mr. Freeman, but like it or not, the media was the only outlet for individuals to even begin to come to terms with what happened. Of course the shooter was going to be discussed once this happened, but now the news outlets ARE focusing on the victims…we watch (maybe even to our own detriment) because we want to understand/comprehend, so that is why the media keeps focusing on the shooter rather than the victims (at least initially). The gun lobby likes that as well, since it steers Americans away from the real issue of gun ownership and the kinds of weapons that are out there. I suspect that after all the grandstanding that this story will fade from people’s memories and we will just have to wait for it to happen again and again until even the NRA won’t be able to put this on the backburner.’

My purpose here is not to make this blog a forum for promoting gun control, but rather the larger overall issue of how we as global citizens reacted to this tragedy.  The response that I posted on Facebook is just one of millions of conversations that took place as the details of this tragedy unfolded.  The discussions were polite, angry, rude, well thought out, superfluous, outrageous–choose any adjective, and you could be describing the kinds of discussions that were taking place online whether via chat rooms, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, blogs–everywhere on the net.  It helped to gain a foothold on what was going on.  Of all the opinion pieces posted on the internet, I found The Onion’s headline on the tragedy best summarized many individual’s reactions to this event.  I won’t reprint it here for obvious reasons if readers of this post choose to seek it out, but it encapsulated my feelings (at least initially) yesterday.  While I will not go so far as to say I was ‘comforted’ by my time spent on the internet reading and watching the news of this tragedy, I did find some degree of solace in knowing that the myriad emotions I was going through were shared by so many others.  This I believe is what has set the 21st century apart from previous generations; the speed with which we experience and process events and how we have so easily adjusted to this new role.

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