Making the most of guest speakers

Watching one my children go through university, I picked up on how her instructors were using guest speakers as part of the course methods of assessment.  The guests were not just there to fill time and hope students were listening, but the guests’ presentations were built into the assessments.

The instructor had designed the course so that after each guest speaker students had to write a reflection paper on that presentation.  These papers were short, less than a page long, with students tasked to answer questions such as:

  • How does the speaker’s presentation connect to our course topic?
    • Sometimes that prompt would be very specific, with students directed to reflect on how a specific topic was encapsulated by the guest speaker
  • How does the speaker’s story reflect your experience with the topic?
  • What further questions would you ask the guest?

I found the last task particularly useful for our students.  Part of our program goal is to get students prepared to enter the job market.  Many employment interviews end with the question “what would you like to ask us?” or something similar; getting students used to asking follow-up questions to a guest speaker can help strengthen that skill. 

Using guest speakers within the course assessments does take planning to ensure availability.  One way around that is to pre-record those guest speaker presentations.  Zoom is an easy way to meet with a speaker and record the interview.  The instructor can then control the conversation to help tie it to the course topic.  Students can pre-submit questions that are used in the interview, or the follow up questions could be responded to later with either a second recording or written response.  

When we return to in-class delivery, guest speakers could even appear on Zoom rather than driving to campus.  That could help increase availability and make delivery easier for many guests.

Guest speakers present the opportunity to bring in other perspectives to course topics.  With some pre-planning, those perspectives and lessons can be tied into assessments and help build a broader understanding of the topic for students. 

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