I am a big fan of bringing in guest speakers for my classes, but particularly so for my Politics of Reading class. The politics class is just full of interesting topics, and I am not an expert on them all. It’s just not possible. One of my favorite things to do is bring in people we have read. This semester, I’ve been able to get John Kuhn (Fear and Learning in America), and coming up we have Anthony Cody (The Educator and the Oligarch: A Teacher Challenges The Gates Foundation). We have had (and will have) others as the semester progresses.
Currently, all but one of my speakers lives in another state (I managed to get a faculty member at UNC to come in to give a talk in March in person). Obviously there are ways we can bring in people to speak virtually with skype and google hangout and what not. The challenge becomes getting students to interact with the speaker. I can easily get a person to skype with me. I can use the computer in the classroom and get your face on the big screen, and we can all see and hear you. The challenge becomes getting you to see and hear us.
So, after messing around with different configurations over the years, I’ve landed on something that is a bit different that I thought I would share. This particular approach is working very well for us, but I imagine it is a bit weird if you’re the guest speaker.
Here’s How It Works
My guest speaker skypes in just like you would imagine. We can all see and hear you just fine. The thing is, you cannot see or hear us. I’m sure I could point a camera at myself or my students, but I choose not to do that because it doesn’t add anything to the situation (except some confusion at times).
The day that the speaker comes students come in to the room and split up into small groups. They come up with a set of questions for our speaker. Students do get XP:
- XP given as follows (given out to each group)
- Three questions – 200 XP per person
- Five questions: 400 XP per person
- More than five questions: 800 XP per person
Note: Make sure all group members names are on the paper. You will give your paper to an organizer, but I will need it for XP credit. The above XP assumes that questions are relevant/appropriate for the topic. Questions do not have to be used on Today’s Meet or answered by the speaker to get the XP.
Now, you’ll notice I’ve got an organizer, and I’m also using Today’s Meet. For each speaker, I create a special page in Today’s Meet. All the students have a link to it, and I send the link to our speaker a day or two in advance. Two students in the class can sign up to be organizers. I give them 500 XP for their job.
As groups finish generating their questions, they pass their sheets to an organizer. The organizers are in charge of putting questions into Today’s Meet. Typically we have 2-3 going at a time. I did this intentionally because:
- the speaker does not become overwhelmed with a long list of questions
- students do not have to worry about if/when they can enter a question. they can simply enjoy the talk
The organizers get to identify which questions they want to use to launch the discussion and how they want to progress from there.
Speakers don’t prepare presentations. Well, my one in-person speaker is going to, but that’s a rare event. In general, when I invite speakers I tell them that we have been reading their work and we have questions for them. It’s a Q&A. They don’t have to prepare anything. I know these are busy people, and I am simply grateful to have them come in and speak with us. I do not want to add a presentation to their work load. I assume I get a good return rate because I don’t ask them to prepare a presentation.
Speakers are also with us for 15-20 minutes. Sometimes we get through a nice chunk of the questions the students have developed and sometimes we don’t. It depends on how much a person has to say in response to a question. I’m sure the whole experience is strange for the speakers as they are talking into space, but I assure you it works.
Tweet the Questions
My in-person speaker noted that he would welcome questions from my students in advance to help prepare and refine his presentation. He’s on twitter so I suggested that about a week out from his talk I’d have students tweet their questions directly at him. I’ll award XP for this too, but I haven’t figured out how much yet. My speaker was totally down with this idea.
In this case, we won’t worry about generating questions in class before he comes in. Any questions should be sent directly to him in advance or students can bring them to class and ask in person.