Category Archives: professional development

Digital Media Literacy Opportunities Galore!

[Note: This post was originally featured on the Media Education Lab]

 The Consequences of Attending the URI Summer Institute in Digital Literacy

I peered across the dim expanse of the art space, AS220 as I participated in “speed dating.” In a whirlwind I met librarian, Brooke; media consultant, Jen; and English educator, Erica. We formed dyads, shared lots of laughter, and together experienced the first weeklong URI Summer Institute in Digital Literacy. Brooke and I collaborated on a Storify called “Upstanders, Arise!” that helped students to advocate against bullying, and I later incorporated the composition into a Sports and Popular Culture curriculum unit I had designed in my position as a secondary English teacher.

Could that fabulous Summer Institute really have happened five years ago? Padlet, Socratic, Kahoot!, Edmondo, and Animoto were the Cool Tools that year, but curricular cohesion and literacy learning were just beginning to merge with digital education then. So it was in that latter direction I ran, and so many proverbial doors opened for me as a result of the conceptual framework I obtained from participating in the 2013 Summer Institute in Digital Literacy.

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RIC Adjunct Faculty Explore Student Engagement Alternatives

Adjunct faculty member Carolyn Fortuna attends FCTL’s Adjunct Professional Development Day 2015

Adjunct faculty member Carolyn Fortuna attends FCTL’s Adjunct Professional Development Day 2015

“Our students are changing, and we need to change with them,” said Vice President for Academic Affairs Ron Pitt in his welcome remarks at RIC’s annual Adjunct Professional Development Day on July 15.

Some 49 adjunct faculty members attended the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning (FCTL) event, organized around the theme, “Alternatives to Lecture and Discussion.” Highlights from the six workshops included introducing collaborative learning concepts, incorporating autobiography in the classroom and using digital storytelling to help synthesize learning.

macdonald_300Bonnie MacDonald, FCTL’s director, shared with adjunct faculty members that the “really important thing [about the event] is the opportunity to talk with each other,” in order to find common ground and learn from each other. “We couldn’t manage without adjuncts,” said MacDonald, adding that RIC greatly values their commitment to teaching.

Marie F. Beardwood, an academic technologist for FCTL and adjunct faculty member in two departments on campus, led the workshop, “Strategies for the Successful Use of YouTube in Face-to-Face and Online Classes.” Since joining RIC in 2011, Beardwood has been instrumental in helping her peers change the way they teach classes.

Adjunct faculty member Carolyn Fortuna, who teaches gender studies, said that Beardwood’s trainings had helped her convert her face-to-face course into one that is now fully online. She said enrollment in her gender studies course, “Sex, Sport, and Society,” has since “increased exponentially.”

Concerning the topics discussed through this year’s workshops, Fortuna said, “I think we have to help [students] produce in the digital environment in which they are accustomed,” adding, “We’re helping them not only to learn the content but also to be able to use it in a real-world way.”

For Kathleen Siok, who teaches chemistry classes at RIC, technology is only part of the solution when it comes to the classroom. She said many of her students arrive with “a false vision of how quickly technology can help solve problems.”

The human element will always matter most, said Siok. For example, her students sometimes need to learn respect for each other and how to help one another. “They have to learn that you have to be able to examine, to think, to ask the right questions and to say ‘How good is this answer?’ and ‘How can I look further into this to make sure that I have a solid solution to this problem?’” she said. “[The answer] is not going to happen immediately like it does with cell phones.”

Adjunct faculty member Lawrence Wilson came away from the day inspired to engage his students through sharing their personal histories – and his own. Beginning a two-way dialogue, he said, is needed because “students are yearning to discover who they are.”

Beardwood said that, for her, student engagement in her classes is enhanced when she combines digital and human interactions. When she includes compelling YouTube videos into her online lessons, students do more work before the start of class, allowing her to “delve so much deeper” into the subject matter.

FCTL’s adjunct faculty program works very well, said MacDonald. “Adjuncts frequently feel disconnected from the larger community,” she added. In fact, she said RIC is one of the few schools in the region that hosts professional development and special events for adjunct faculty to “recognize how important they are to our mission.”

This story was originally published by Rhode Island College News. Reprinted with permission.

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

Presentations at Conferences: The Year in Review at IDigItMedia

National Council of Teachers of English, Washington, D.C. Roundtable: The Intersection of Literacy, Sport, Culture, and Society. November, 2014. 

What does it mean to ground literacy instruction in a favorite topic?  Dr. Carolyn described what that intersection could look like in a talk called, “Not the Same Old Story: Student Discourse in a Sports and Popular Culture Course.” Reviewing a media literacy intervention as a method to enhance critical distance, she demonstrated how language skills can be imparted through critical discourse, visual, and digital media analysis. Students drew upon NAMLE core concepts of audience and authorship, messages and meanings, and representations and reality to become ready to delve into their own original multimodal compositions.

Northeast Popular Culture Association, Providence, RI. New England Studies Section. October, 2014.

Film draws upon many factors–genetic, social, and cultural influences as well as the built environment—to shape viewer perception and identification. Rhode Island has been the site for many film sets, and the ways that Rhode Island has been represented in film have ranged from portrayed spaces of great aesthetic and natural beauty to that of people with malicious motivations and predatory lifestyles.  Drawing upon social constructivist orientation to understand how the meanings people associate with physical landscapes carry differing ontological and epistemological perspectives, Dr. Carolyn presented a white paper titled, “Not for Nuthin’: Rhode Island Films and the Sense of Place,” to describe how a sense of place in film is congruent with or reinforces Rhode Island identity.

Rhode Island Writing Project, Providence, RI. March, 2014 

Dr. Carolyn led a workshop in which participants followed students’ multimodal writing progress and wrote themselves in a session called, “Modeling the Digital Writing Workshop.”  They tracked progress from frontloading learning events, to online persona advertising analysis, to a digital composition with hyperlinks, audio/ video, and visual analysis. Participants learned how digital writing is more than just a skill; it is a means of interfacing with ideas and with the world, a mode of thinking and expressing in all grades and disciplines.

National Council of Teachers of English, Boston, MA. November, 2013. 

What happens when high school students meet theory? Do they rebel, regurgitate the teacher’s ideas, or relish a new opportunity?  How can teachers create meaningful literacy structures through teaching about theory as a way to interpret texts? Dr. Carolyn helped an audience to conceptualize answers to those questions by modeling “Online Personas: Advertising Analysis.”  She argued that theoretical analysis through online personas offers students low stakes practice in critical writing.

National Council of Teachers of English, Boston, MA. November, 2013.

How can critical literacy praxis create meaningful composing opportunities for students?  In “(Re)Creating Ibsen’s A Doll’s House through Critical Literacy,” Dr. Carolyn traced how, through multimodal research presentations, online discussion boards, acting company performances, inside/outside circle collaborations, and poetry slams, students can grapple with social, historic, and cultural contexts and reconcile issues of gender, socioeconomic class, and identity.

Northeast Popular Culture Association, Burlington, VT. October, 2013. 

Sociocultural processes shape and anchor individuals within specific moments of social reality.  Dr. Carolyn offered a white paper titled, “’Electrifyingly Cool and Sexy:’” The Cultural Politics of Speed in Ron Howard’s Rush” and posed several questions about the film’s depiction of masculinity.  Did producer Howard target the fearless mindset of the title contenders, their single-minded determination to win, and their teams’ elite technical engineering? Or did he reproduce Hollywood’s ritualistic pulses of insatiable sex and violence against a backdrop of speed and spectacle? The presentation offered a practical application of sports and theory as embedded in contemporary film.

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.

Promising Practices Conference

Fortuna and Shultz at Rhode Island College

Carolyn and Brian facilitated a workshop to educators and teacher education candidates called “Off the Track: A New Approach to the Heterogeneous Classroom through Multigenre, Multimodal Literacy Learning.” Providence, November, 2012.