By Dr. Melissa Wehler, Dean of Humanities and Sciences
We all know the benefits of inviting experts into our classroom space: abstract theoretical concepts become more relatable and concrete; difficult, contentious topics have a knowledgeable spokesperson; essential skills and ideas are given professional application; different perspectives on discussed topics, just to name a few. When teaching online, however, we tend to forget about these ‘guests’ and the rich experiences to our onsite classrooms.
Online classrooms, whether synchronous sessions or asynchronous lessons, can benefit from inviting experts to speak about topics. Here are a few ways to invite experts into your online course:
For onsite classes, many of us already use guest lecturers as a way to put a face to a debate, theory, or idea. The same thinking should apply in an online course.
In my online courses, I use the guest lecturer in two different ways. First, I might use an internal guest lecturer for a particular topic. This might be another faculty member or a staff member (such as Career Services, Counseling, Library, or The Writing Center). Another way to use a guest lecturer is to invite an external expert. This might be someone who has particular knowledge or experience that will enhance the student’s understanding of the topic.
In either case, I will embed the video into Blackboard and surround it with directions on how to view it (“Please pay particular attention to this question/answer.”) as well as critical thinking questions (“What did you notice about the emphasis placed on this concept?”). I will ask the students to follow up on these points in a discussion forum, a journal, or a blog.
Interviewing an expert helps students to learn more about the topic by interjecting the ‘human element’ into the conversation. Moreover, by watching you interview an expert on the topic, students learn how 1) to engage in critical thinking and analysis, 2) to ask probing, thoughtful, and respectful questions, and 3) sustain a collegial discussion and debate with a peer.
Obviously, when taping an interview, it is important to have the written permission of all involved and let them know the terms and conditions of recording process.
For an online course, there are several ways to use this recorded artefact: 1) to augment a particular topic, 2) to lead off a discussion board forum, and 3) to provide a starting place for a blog or journal. You can also students the opportunity to do a synchronous ‘Q&A’ if the participant is available.
If you want a less formal format than lecturing and interviewing, storytelling is a more informal approach. When you invite an expert to ‘tell a story,’ you are giving your students an opportunity to apply their observation skills and synthesize examples with topics. I use storytelling in my courses as ‘case studies’ when I am trying to highlight a particular topic as well as give students an opportunity to hear examples from experts in their field.
When you ask a guest to ‘record their story,’ you want to provide them with the class topic and perhaps present them with a certain scope. This will help them frame their experiences and provide you with applicable material.
Much like interviewing, you can use this artefact 1) as a ‘case study’ to augment a particular topic, 2) as a prompt for a discussion board forum, and 3) to provide a starting place for a blog or journal. You can also students the opportunity to do a synchronous ‘Q&A’ if the storyteller is available.
Are there other methods that you use to ‘invite’ expert voices into your classroom? How do you frame these experts in an online environment? Have you ever tried a ‘Q&A’ session? What has been your students’ feedback about these ‘guests’?
Melissa Wehler, Ph.D. serves as the Dean of Humanities and Sciences and Professor of English at Central Penn College. Her academic writing has been published in several essay collections including Demons of the Body and Mind, Transnational Gothic, and A Quest of Her Own: Essays on the Female Hero in Modern Fantasy where she discusses topics including the gothic, feminism, performance, and culture. She enjoys teaching classes about writing, literature, culture, and film and has won two teaching awards for her student-centered approach.