One of the most interesting aspects of edtech is not necessarily the technology itself. Rather, it’s the way schools and teachers are utilizing it to enhance the educational experience. After all, tech doesn’t help on its own, it’s a creative tool to solve problems. Remote technology has a variety of uses, but one of the most useful in the classroom environment is supporting virtual guest speakers.
Teachers are using this technology to solve the practical problem of bringing engaging experts from vast distances across the country or even the planet to connect with students. It is a tool for providing learners with equal access to role models and ideas. Yet, this approach is certainly not without its challenges.
So, let’s take a moment to review a few of the key points of focus to get the most out of engaging with virtual guest speakers in your classroom.
Your first port of call is actually establishing who should visit your class and understanding who the most relevant guests might be. Of course, you want them to be entertaining, but it is also generally wise to tie this to relevant aspects of your curriculum. Don’t just invite a speaker from a vague subject-based perspective. You’ll find a more relevant — and frankly, more interesting — guest if you focus on a specialist subject.
As much for yourself and your class as for the guest, try to understand what you hope to bring to that aspect of your curriculum by including them as a part of it. Will they provide insights into the theory behind a certain aspect of a project? Are you trying to drive interest in a topic at the beginning of a module? Approach it not just as an avenue for a presentation, but a virtual collaboration. When you can better understand how you see your guests fitting into your lesson plans, you can research which guests can offer the best expertise and experience.
When actively reaching out to your guests, make it clear what element of their expertise and personal approach you think would provide value for your class. Some guest speakers will receive multiple inquiries each week; make yours more personal. Write it in a way that shows you’ve considered their strengths and how they can play active roles in your students’ enthusiasm for their field. Be clear from the outset that this is a virtual class visit, too — if there is no travel involved they may be more willing to find space in their schedule.
Classrooms today include an increasing amount of technology. Knowing how to utilize it effectively is vital to your and your students’ ability to gain access to the many benefits it offers. There are various apps and tools available that help to gamify lessons, assist in collaborations, and facilitate interactive discussions. The same goes for technology that helps to connect your students to unique guest speakers — you’ll need to understand which interactive platform is best suited to the situation.
Your best first step is to establish which software matches the format of the virtual session. If your students are going to be using their own computers to contribute to the discussion, it may be worth utilizing a platform like Zoom or Google Meet which allows multiple screens in the video conference. This also allows students to take turns to ask questions of the guest, or even post them in a text chat section. If you’re taking the approach of a single projected screen, Skype or Facetime might be the most appropriate option. It’s also wise to include the guest in this decision — they may have a preference for a platform and may have some insights from past experience on what works best.
Importantly, even if you have hosted guest speakers before, you need to take time to set up and test well beforehand. You don’t want to be floundering for solutions during the limited amount of time your guest has available to your class. Prepare every piece of equipment, and do a practice call with a colleague that isn’t in the same room as you. Indeed, it’s also worth preparing backup applications and devices so that you can quickly respond in the event of technical complications.
Making the Most of the Experience
While it’s true that simply having a guest speaker talk to your class can be beneficial, you need to think more holistically. The value you get from virtually inviting someone into your classroom depends on how you work it into the current direction of your curriculum.
As such, you should consider the following:
– Combining Tools
Your students are already likely to be using tech tools in class as part of their lessons. Think about how you can interact with your guests while leveraging these. English as a Second Language (ESL) classes in particular are already supported by games and apps to help students grasp the language more effectively. Alongside the tools aimed at individual learners, there are some which are intended for entire class use which you may be able to include your guest in. Encourage them to demonstrate how a native speaker approaches the challenges presented.
– Collaborative Preparation
Don’t just put your students on the spot to engage with a guest speaker. Expecting them to come up with questions on the fly can be awkward for everyone involved, and cause further delays when video calls may be lagging. Make it an activity the day before the visit to prepare your students for their guest — help them to learn about who their visitor is, and talk together about what they would like to find out. This gives students the confidence to contribute and the guest gets an interactive audience.
The technology of the classroom helps to bring diverse guest speakers across vast distances to interact with your students. However, it’s important to commit to finding relevant guests, performing technical preparation, and considering how the activity fits into your curriculum. These are valuable experiences for everyone involved — with some planning and thought you can all make the most of it.