Category Archives: digital literacy

Offsetting the Fear of Digital Applications in the Classroom

While attending a recent summer workshop, I was surprised to become immersed in debate about the validity of digitally-based classrooms.  Isn’t that a topic for last century?  Hasn’t President Obama been pushing an agenda so that all schools are connected?

Yet a vocal opposition of teachers around me insisted that the digital world is only a passing trend, that it’s only young teachers who are equipped to incorporate digital tools and applications into literacy instruction.

I became a bit conscious of my gray roots and wrinkles as I responded. To me, digital literacy and learning should merge in every classroom, everyday, as authentic representations of the ways that today’s adolescents read their worlds. Digital tools offer advantages, sometimes called “affordances” (Boyd, 2010), through access to multiple modalities and participatory culture.

But I also understand how individuals who haven’t had a lot of exposure to technology in their personal lives or professional development might be hesitant, even afraid. A teacher who stands before a class of skeptical students is vulnerable.  We’re expected to know everything: Common Core content, multiple intelligences, classroom management strategies, formative assessment…. Whew!  Who has time for digital applications, anyways?

Actually, digital intersections can ease the complex demands of our teaching profession. Technology in the classroom can provide students with individualization, inquiry, and engagement that complement traditional — and proven— methods of literacy learning.  It does require taking academic risks, but the rewards can be invigorating.

Three Steps You Can Take to Gain Digital Proficiency

  • Find a trusted colleague. Learning how to navigate web applications is different than learning from a book.  Until you’ve been personally shown the series of steps to, say, set up a blog or transfer a link to a teacher website, the digital world seems daunting.  If you have a colleague whom you can trust with the raw truth that you really don’t know Instagram (or Moodle, Google Classroom, the difference among Internet Explorer/ Firefox/ Chrome: the list can be long), you’ve started on the path to digital proficiency. Set up mutually convenient times to meet and exchange ideas.  And, who knows?  Your colleague likely will inhale your content area expertise in a mutuality of collaboration.
  • Pilot your new digital lesson when the stakes are low. Once you’ve found your digital inroad, it’s time to go live. Figure out where you can embed it into a unit under way cleanly and with supporting activities. Do you have a class of tech-savvy, invested learners? They’d likely help out if something goes awry.
  • Breathe deeply, reflect, and rededicate. You’ve done it!  Your digitally-infused lesson was a roaring success, simply an adequate learning event, or mediocre at best. Whichever the case, it’s time to feel proud of what you attempted and accomplished.  But don’t stop there. 

Be curious about new digital resources, approaches to 21st century pedagogies, and opportunities for continual PD.  After all, your digital excursions can open up many new and exhilarating possibilities.


danah boyd. (2010). “Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications.” In Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites (ed. Zizi Papacharissi), pp. 39-58.

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2015 grand prize Award for Technology and Reading.  She teaches high school English in Franklin, MA and is an adjunct faculty member at Rhode Island College. If you’d like information for your school or non-profit organization about workshops in digital and media literacy and learning, contact Carolyn at


It’s Time to Stop Underestimating the Power of Women’s Sports

On Sunday, July 5, the U.S. Women’s soccer team soundly defeated Japan 5-2 in the 2015 FIFA World Cup Finals, setting “the highest metered market rating ever for a soccer game in the U.S. on a single network,” according to Fox Sports.

The U.S. Women’s win also calls into question the constantly reproduced media message that few spectators actually care about women’s sports.

Why does that perception— that women’s sports aren’t worth watching — persist?  Perhaps it’s due in part, as a recent USC study of TV news media determined, that media coverage of women’s sports has hardly changed in the last 25 years. That gap in coverage is hard to understand if we think about the progress made in women’s sports participation since the implementation of Title IX.  The number of high school girls participating in sports has risen ten-fold, and six times as many women now compete in college sports,

Recently, as reported by ESPN WSports Illustrated‘s Andy Benoit tweeted then deleted posts about women’s sports not being worth watching, igniting controversy across social media. Benoit is not alone.  andy benoit women's sports not worth watchingBarstool Sports agreed with Benoit, saying, “A lot of people feel that way, and it doesn’t make you a sexist.”

Yes, denigrating one half of the population does make you a sexist.  And, when you declare that men’s sports is inherently more interesting, or that male athletes perform at higher levels, you’re endorsing sport as an institution that reaffirms masculine privilege.

What is gender, and how do sports media contribute to gender divisions?  The term “gender” is a set of power relations where men hold and control more power than women.   Gender has culturally dominant, or what’s known as hegemonic, consequences. So, a hegemonic masculine discourse, culture, and organizational structure within sports media promotes coverage of primarily male athletes. And sports media perpetuate economic processes that hinder gender equity, as they endow commercial structures with institutional approval to give preference to male sports.  In doing so, sports media perpetuate athletic-consumer hegemonic masculinity.

Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers, of Saturday Night Live fame, reunited and performed a new “REALLY?” segment.  The segment offers comparisons between the FIFA 2015 Women’s World Cup semi-finals between England and Norway versus a missed USPGA putt. “REALLY?” They critiqued the propensity for prime channel broadcasts of, say, hours of pre-Kentucky Derby hat watching, versus a bunch of “bad-ass bitches” taking down the Columbian women’s soccer team on a secondary sports channel. “REALLY?” They gave a shout-out to Serena Williams and hammered SI for putting out “an entire swimsuit issue dedicated to women who aren’t in sports.” You guessed it:  “REALLY?”

We have to remember that sport reflects, as well as reproduces, the attitudes, beliefs, rituals, and values of the society in which it is developed. Sport as a domain has generally been labeled as masculine and reaffirms a gender hierarchy.  Importantly, sports are a way for a new generation to gain realizations about the social constructions of gender.  Young people  acquire gender sport stereotypes conveyed from the social environment of the media, which can influence their attitudes about equity in sports and life.

But many voices are emerging that may cause people to question commonly accepted viewpoints about the inherent dominance and place of men’s sports.  Dave Zirin, sports editor at The Nation, recently said, “It’s time to write more about women’s sports and be part of the grassroots struggle to do what the sports networks and sports-radio talking potatoes won’t do, and that’s tell the stories of what is happening in women’s sports.”  Instead of accepting sport injustices within compressed sound bites, we can have conversations in which we celebrate women’s performances with the same enthusiasm that we do men’s.  As we do so, we’ll start reasoned analysis as to why certain social constructions of gender are reproduced generationally.

Maybe Barstool Sports was prescient when it stated, “If it was all equal then we’d just have the World Cup where men and women played together.” Why not? If we disregard the social conventions that preference males, then we’d be looking at individual athletes and at collective team performances.  A combination of the best athletes on one team, regardless of gender, would be fascinating.

And it would be very entertaining.

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. analyzes media messages in our digital world.  She provides workshops for non-profits and schools and helps to illuminate possibilities for social justice through understanding the media.

Rhode Island Writing Project

Carolyn delivered a presentation titled, “Modeling the Digital Writing Workshop” at the Rhode Island Writing Project annual spring conference.  She demonstrated how teachers can move from pre-assessments into scaffolded learning events and onto student proficiency in digital analysis and composing. March, 2013. Providence, RI.

National Council of Teachers of English

Carolyn shared two curriculum units at NCTE.  The first was “(Re)Imagining Ibsen’s A Doll’s House with Critical Literacy.” The second was “Online Persona Role Plays: Advertisement Analysis.”  Each offered participants the opportunity to see how students can depersonalize their literacy experiences to more keenly relate to individuals, settings, and cultural practices outside what’s considered “normal.”  Digital media literacy analysis and composition helped students create critical distance from media messages. November, 2013. Boston, MA.

Give Me 5 Media Teachers Lab

Carolyn contributed her background knowledge of digital and media literacy at the Give Me 5 Media Teachers Lab as a facilitator for “Curriculum Integration.”  Topics of conversation included equipment problems, technology training, curricula design on digital platforms, navigating piecemeal school systems, navigating layers of administration, limited time, invisibility of media environment, risk-taking in online environments, and various degrees of teacher preparedness for digital and media literacy learning.  Media Education Lab in conjunction with the Rhode Island Council on the Arts.  October, 2013.

Summer Institute in Digital Literacy

Fortuna Leads Digital Assessments Workshop at University of Rhode Island

Carolyn offered a Hot Topic workshop at the 2013 Summer Institute in Digital Literacy called, “Is It Digital Art or Digital Learning?” Topics of conversations included what criteria should be considered when assessing digital compositions, the responsibility of subject area instructors to teach generic conventions, and how to help students create authentic compositions while demonstrating scaffolded learning. Providence, July, 2013.

Digital Course Composition and Teaching

Fortuna  Receives Certificate in Hybrid Online Teaching

Carolyn accepted an invitation from the  Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning at Rhode Island College to learn how to teach in the digital environment.  She is now qualified to provide combined face-to-face and hybrid online instruction to college students.

Media Literacy, Popular Culture, and Education: EDC 501

Fortuna as Guest Speaker at Rhode Island College Graduate Class

Carolyn talked to M.A.T. candidates about her experiences as a public school teacher in an “Introduction to Digital and Media Literacy as Serious Educational Discourse.” Providence, July, 2013.

Sports Literature Association

Fortuna and Hanley at Monmouth College

Carolyn delivered a critical paper: “Shifts in Perspective: Archetypal Horseracing in Hemingway, Smiley, and Gordon.” Stephen read his creative non-fiction: “Sport in Sienna.” West Long Branch, NJ. June, 2013.