By Way of Introduction: Becca Tarsa

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Incorporating digital tools and ideas into our teaching comes with many rewards – but also with surprises and a fair amount of work, particularly for those of us who don’t feel especially “in the know” technologically speaking. And that’s a bigger group, I think, than many of us would expect or admit. For all I’m a digital rhetoric fellow, I frequently feel intimidated by the prospect of pulling popular or emerging digital tools and concepts into my classroom. While I’ve had some great success implementing some types of digital lessons, I continue to feel intimidated about using things I’m not as comfortable with personally. From conversations with my colleagues, it seems this is not an uncommon feeling. We may know intellectually that teaching is learning, and that being open about learning alongside your students and owning your missteps is part of the process – but when added to the challenges of crafting a lesson on something you don’t know as much about and matching that lesson to specific needs of your course and current students, it can become a significant (and understandable) deterrent.
Plus there’s a practical barrier to planning and carrying out digital lessons, even on topics that are familiar. I’m fairly comfortable with blogs, having kept one myself, in some form or another, for many years. But I had a rocky start bringing them into my teaching, struggling to match the affordances of the form to the goals of my course and the character of my class. Even with a strong lesson plan to start from, every course is different. Tweaking and personalizing an existing lesson plan, however comprehensive, for a particular situation can prove challenging (especially the first time).

With this project, I hope to provide a resource to help lower that barrier to bringing digital tools and concepts into the classroom. My plan is to create a series of entries, each centered on a different type of digital lesson – for example, remediation, blogging, website creation, etc. For each topic, I’ll provide a brief overview of how its use in writing-[focused]courses has been discussed within the field, and a basic “template” lesson. This lesson will serve as a starting point for comments from three or four instructors who’ve used a similar lesson on how they tailored the idea to their own individual situations. The idea is to create something like you’d see on a cooking blog – a basic recipe built around a key ingredient, with comments from those who’ve tried it out on ways they adapted it to suit their own tastes and needs. Hopefully connecting these individual experiences with other types of digital lesson resources will lighten the practical challenges of teaching great digital lessons!

Right now, my plan is to start with entries on remediation and blogging. I’ll be sending out an invitation to participate on the WPA listserv soon, but if you’ve experimented with lessons in either area and would be interested in participating, please let me know! I’d also love to hear ideas for future topics, or anything else you’d like to see included in a project like this. I’m excited to hear about and share the teaching experiences of others – and maybe gain the confidence to finally teach a lesson with social media myself one of these days!

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