August 2015: M-Passioned Member Carolyn Fortuna

unnamed1) What do you do?

I am a grade twelve English teacher in Franklin, MA. Most of my students are college-bound, and they’re ready to move into language study in new ways.  Critical digital media literacy is a really good pathway for these 17- and 18-year-old students to consider how media messages influence viewer and listener perceptions. I incorporate critical analysis and original digital composition into all the courses I teach so that students have the opportunity to interrogate media messages and find their own voices as composers and producers.


2) Tell me about your latest work or project in media literacy.

I was the recipient of the 2015 Grand Prize from the International Literacy Association for Technology and Reading.  I was really honored to be recognized. I attribute that success in large part to the Post-Doc work I did with Dr. Renee Hobbs of the Media Education Lab in which I designed a digital media literacy intervention.  I critically examined gender dynamics at the core of sport and how students in a senior year high school English class reacted to hegemonic media messages that perpetuate gender inequality in sport. Part of my study was described in a 2015 JMLE article titled, “Digital Media Literacy in a Sports, Popular Culture, and Literature Course.”

I’m also the founder of a new digital media consulting space where I offer personalized workshops to schools and nonprofit organizations about the digital and media culture in which we live.  My goal is to help people of all ages to better read their 21st century worlds. Digital media development can become part of school action plans, community outreach, youth advocacy, senior citizen projects, non-profit initiatives, or higher education scholarship and research. More than anything, I want to help create spaces where people from divergent viewpoints can work together to better understand the power and place of digital and media learning and literacy in today’s society.


3) Why is media literacy important to you?

Media literacy may be the most important type of literacy in our world today.  Media messages are everywhere!  The influence of media on each of our lives is vigorous and often invisible.  When we as cultural workers help others to step away from media persuasion, which is sometimes called gaining critical distance, we infuse empowerment into others’ lives. That can translate informed decision-making about media consumption, controversies, and justice.

For example, some students are initially resistant to deconstructing media. After all, they’ve been surrounded by media entertainment since birth, and mass media are fun.  But, after my students and I experience media texts and pose NAMLE critical questions together— such as How might different people understand this message differently than me? or Why is this message being sent?— I begin to see student glimmers of recognition and meaning. In fact, in my Post-Doc, I determined that a combination of media literacy, mentors, and mentor texts really can inspire critical distance from mediated messages. It seems to be a matter of getting the right fit of texts, topics, and issues and then letting the students do the difficult but satisfying cognitive work of media analysis.


4) What are you most excited about in the media literacy field?

I am intrigued by the intersections of digital and media literacy and learning.  Because barriers are often hidden in our daily lives, digital media literacy opens up new worldviews and extends to disciplines such as politics, celebrity, current events, career exploration, or scientific research.  Whenever we look to a curriculum that might disrupt hegemonic ideologies, we have an opportunity to use lenses of interpretation to describe progress and continued challenges, working together to make visible the everyday experiences of others.

I do have a specific interest in critical sports studies.  Media sports are dynamic, due to the high number of composers who contribute to the production and transmission of electronic, visual, video, audio, and print sports sources.  Media composers are motivated to represent sports reality in several ways: to make profits, shape values, provide public service, build media reputations, and express in technologically artistic forms. Yet, because media coverage offers only one of many possible sets of images and messages related to an event, sports media coverage limits and defines the experiences of spectators. Media literacy curricula can be designed to help students identify how intersecting identities and subject positions may be at odds with dominant depictions in sports media texts, due to prevailing constructs like race, sexual identity, national unity, or socioeconomic status.


5) Why did you become a NAMLE member – what benefits do you see to membership and how will it support your work?

As a longtime member, NAMLE offers me the support of a community of like-minded educators and advocates who recognize the necessity for explicit media deconstruction and production among today’s youth.  With the backdrop of constantly shifting legislative agendas, it’s often difficult for those of us who present a digital media literacy praxis to collaborate on the media as a reflection and predictor of society and norms.  NAMLE illuminates the continual need for us all to gain communication competencies, and it celebrates the multimodalities that comprise our literate lives.  I’m a particular fan of the monthly e-newsletter, as it keeps me current on important people, events, and issues in the world of digital media literacy.


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