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Offsetting the Fear of Digital Applications in the Classroom

by Carolyn Fortuna
 | Aug 21, 2015

shutterstock_104842412_x300While 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, what Danah Boyd called “affordances,” 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, anyway?

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.

Here are three steps you can take to gain digital proficiency:

  1. Find a trusted colleague. Learning how to navigate Web applications is different from book learning. Until you’ve been 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 with whom you can trust 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 can start on the path to digital proficiency. Set up mutually convenient times to meet and exchange ideas. Who knows? Your colleague likely will inhale your content area expertise in a mutuality of collaboration.
  2. 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 underway cleanly and with supporting activities. Do you have a class of tech-savvy, invested learners? They’d likely help out if something goes awry.
  3. 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. 

carolyn fortunaCarolyn Fortuna, PhD, is the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2015 Award for Technology and Reading. She teaches high school English in Franklin, MA, and is an adjunct faculty member at Rhode Island College.


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