3 Ways to Advance Virtual Guest Speakers in the Classroom

My First Time Chatting:

The first time I attempted to video chat with someone, it was, of course, the end of the semester in a Senior English class titled “Research Your Life”. I had asked students to research careers of their interest and promised to get guests to Skype in that aligned.

So, I was ecstatic to find a children’s book writing Zoologist, no joke, that was located across the country in California to be our first experience. It felt groundbreaking and exciting. The times aligned and the day worked out. We were good to go. My students laughed at how awkward I would be upon the initial answering of the call, as I projected my screen to the board and waited anxiously.

They had prepared questions and were also “ready”. When no call came in, we waited, and then messaged, and then waited some more. It was an impossible feeling to disappoint already judgmental Seniors, and I was angry at the lack of communication on the other end.

Well, what a lesson did we learn when a few days later I received an email, that our poor guest speaker was involved in California wildfires and had to be relocated (imagine how my kids felt for complaining). We rescheduled and completed that Skype-call later on in the year, maybe around two or three into our excursion.

Don’t Let the Tech Speak for Itself

After you have completed a few video chats as a teacher, they feel natural – but I’ll be honest, they also almost feel quite boring depending on what you’ve prepared.

If you’re like me, maybe you have thought that having someone from across the country, or even world, is engaging in concept. Let me warn you teacher friend, for students, it can turn out to be a snooze-fest. I mean that in the most respectful way possible to those on the other end of the call. Especially if you Skype a neuroscientist talking brain pathways with no models or visuals (no offense neuroscientists).

As someone who sets these calls up for teachers weekly, I have learned how to create an engaging experience for all.

Three Ways to Succeed with Video Chats

1. Prep your students beyond asking them to come up with questions. 

Though, I’ve been in foreign language classes where students are being asked to specifically ask questions in the language that they are learning.                                                        

But if you can help it, decide specifically what students are supposed to get out of the experience other than just a great discussion that they may potentially sleep through. Consider having them answer a question you’ve been asking of them based on the content, or ask them to write a letter to a parent or someone else about what they learned after. In some of my favorite examples, students are actually presenting work to these guests as an authentic audience – amazing, am I right?

2. Before Booking ask yourself: why this person, why this content?

If there isn’t direct student interest or application at the end of a video conference call, chances are no amount of busy work you provide your kids will help engage them. Make sure you have thought good and hard about what this adds to your lesson/unit. Because at the end of the day the technology we use and choose should engage and access our kids.

Can this guest speaker provide authentic examples of how your specific content is used in the real world?
Can this experience frontload information, such as a Virtual Tour/Field trip?
Can this guest speaker deliver a pre-planned lesson on something that you aren’t as much of an expert in?

3. Use the Platform that Suits your Need

Every day there are more apps, sites, and platforms that are making it easy for classrooms to reach beyond their brick and mortar to access professionals.

Microsoft Skype Education has created a great database of individuals, lesson plans, and field trips to take that are live and operated by people who are safe for classroom use.
-Their Skype a Scientist program allows for classrooms to connect with scientists in their fields that apply content and show students examples of careers that they may not get to see otherwise.

Nepris is a paid subscription service, but for schools heavy on the career-focused educational track, it is a great investment. I would highly suggest showing the School Counseling Department or Career Center of any school.
The best part about Nepris is once you have a license you have access to request live discussions with many more individuals than Skype, but you also have access to pre-recorded chats from classrooms and professionals as well.

If you have professionals in mind that you can connect with, any discussion platform works from Zoom, WhatsApp, Facetime, to Google Hangouts and Skype.

One Last Thing: it Can Change the Culture of your Class

If you create a space where video chatting has rules, standard operating procedures, and understanding, you may even see this other funny thing occur.

Kids will ask to Call into the class when they can’t be there. I’m not kidding. It happened to me more than once. I’d prop my device in the corner and we would continue on with our day.

If you know me, you know the learning doesn’t stop, so trust me when I say this is a big deal if you do it, right friends.

Interested in other tech tools for the classroom? Check out my page Edu-Tech Tools for Teachers.

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