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Remote Guest Speakers

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Guest speakers can provide valuable perspectives or expertise in any course, and Zoom now allows for much more flexible scheduling without requiring busy speakers to visit the classroom in person. Consider the following tips and suggestions to ensure your virtual guest lectures run smoothly and effectively.

Instructor preparation

While Zoom offers some advantages over traditional guest speaker arrangements, it also necessitates some unique considerations due to its virtual format. The following suggestions may aid you in your preparations for these class sessions.

Choosing a guest speaker

Thanks to the virtual nature of Zoom, it is now possible to host guest speakers from across the country or the world. Don’t be afraid to aim high and consider a diverse cast of potential speakers, including industry leaders, colleagues, or even former students of the class. However, make sure you communicate your interest to potential speakers with sufficient advance notice, and don’t forget to remind them about the details of the commitment.

Set up a practice or check-in Zoom session with your speaker

Doing so will ensure that you are both comfortable with using the technology so that it will be less of a barrier during class time. A short check-in is an ideal time to confirm the duration of the speaker’s presentation and Q&A sessions, as well as preferences about how to share media and slides, answer student questions, and record the session. For more information on how to set up a meeting with a speaker, this guide provides step-by-step instructions.

Student preparation 

Student participation is critical in almost any learning setting, and guest lectures are no exception. To maximize the effectiveness of a guest speaker session, consider communicating the following expectations to students.  

Do relevant background reading or research

Consider providing students with a short biography of the speaker and directing students towards resources related to the speaker such as their LinkedIn profile, background information about their organization or company, and relevant videos or media. If the speaker is an author, encourage students to read their works or other relevant scholarship. 

Prepare a question before the session

By asking students to think of questions for the speaker, you set the expectation for an active discussion, which is critical to the success of most Zoom-based learning experiences. If your course will include multiple guest speakers, consider creating an assignment for students in which they draft multiple questions which they can ask each of the speakers, which itself can form the basis of a class discussion.

What to do during guest speaker sessions

Due to Zoom fatigue and the potential awkwardness of virtual learning, a Zoom guest speaker session may require more instructor mediation than a typical in-person one. Consider the following tips for guiding speaker discussions and ensuring the most effective learning experience for students.

Keep speaker lectures short and on-topic

Students’ attention spans during virtual learning tend to be shorter than in a typical classroom session, so it is your responsibility to actively facilitate the engagement of a session. If a speaker seems to be spending too much time on a less important subject, consider gently reminding them or steering the lecture back towards the most critical points. For 90-minute class sessions, 30 minutes of active speaking is generally enough. The remaining time can be used for speaker introductions, student questions, and activities or discussions.

Ask guiding questions if there is limited participation

If students are hesitant to engage in discussion, you can begin the process by asking leading questions to the speaker. Oftentimes students are not comfortable with starting a conversation but will happily contribute information or their opinions after one has been established.

Research, scholarship of teaching & learning, and online resources consulted