September - October
2001 - Guest
Lecturers in the Online Environment (Part 2 of 2)
E. Varvel Jr.
Lecture, Online Education, Lecture, Alternative, Quality; Content
Delivery; Collaborative Teaching
In the last article, we discussed the many advantages that a guest lecturer
can have on your online courses and how to bring out those advantages. But
where can one go to find an effective guest lecturer. Furthermore, how can
you know that it will be effective. From our experiences, we have found several
valuable sources of guest lecturers and the studies that we have done to
date have shown that it may not take as much as you think to make these experiences
effective and valuable to the students. To bring these points out, two topics
will be discussed in this article. First, we will discuss where to find good
guest lecturers. Second, we will look at how effective guest lecturers have
been in our program in a variety of circumstances. Finding the Guest
Recruiting a good online guest lecturer can be the hardest challenge when
considering to use a guest. Where can such a guest be found and how can you
know that he/she will help the class? To begin answering these questions
and others, keep in mind that to help insure a successful guest lecture,
the guest must meet a variety of criteria. In this section we will discuss
these needs and how they can be met.
Requirements of a Guest Lecturer
There are suprisingly few requirements of a guest lecture. Sure, we would
recommend that the guest be fun loving, energetic, talkative (or writative
to coin a new word), etc., but such are not really requirements. The list
below outlines a few of the musts though.
- The guest must be able to communicate well in writing.
Most online courses will make wide use of written forms of communication
(both synchronous and asynchronous). As we said in part 1, the lecture
can be more than simply a one hour online presentation that everyone attends.
It can involve a week of asynchronous interaction with the guest or other
activities. Even if it is only 1 hour, this communication may be in writing
and there may be a presentation (comprised mostly of words) to go along
with the lecture. Thus, ability to communicate well in writing is important
on some level.
- The guest must be a content expert. If (s)he is not an expert on the
topic, then there is no reason to bring them into the course. This may
sound obvious, but in an online course involving asynchronous long term
communication, the students will have potentially greater access to the
guest. Questions can arise on a variety of topics, and you do not want
the guest to be overwhelmed with subject matter (s)he is unfamiliar. [As
a side note, let the students know that the guest is an expert in the particular
topic to enhance their interest in the lecture.]
The following topics are listed more as recommended wants than necessities.
- The guest needs to be willing to participate in an online course (or
at least prepare materials). Obviously, the guest must at least prepare
some materials as a necessity to create an online guest lecture. Otherwise,
you are just putting his/her name on someone elses work. But you really
want a little bit more than just the preparation of materials. Preferably,
you want the guest to be willing to actually take an active role in the
online course discussion, to answer student questions, and to reiterate
important points among other things.
- In order for the guest to be able to actively participate, the guest
must be available. Fortunately, for any online asynchronous component,
this is related more to willingness. As long as the guest is willing to
log into the course at least once a day, things will go easier for the
- In order to fully share his/her knowledge with the course, the guest
needs to be familiar with the online environment at least to the extent
that (s)he can navigate around the course management system used. As a
minimal requirement, the guest should understand email.
There are probably other recommended items that you will think of such as
the fun-loving energetic comment above, and these will most likely add to
the enjoyment of the guest lecture. But that is not to say that they will
not be enjoyable without it. You will see from the next discussion, that
even when a guest lecture is completely uninvolved with the lecture and somewhat
bland in writing style, the students may still find the lecture to have a
positive impact on the course.
Finding the Guest
O.K., so you know the qualities that your guest lecturer needs to have,
but where can you go about finding such a lecturer for an online course (or
any course for that matter). You can break your resources into 3 categories
to aid your search. These categories are the field, the course, and the book.
Let's discuss each of these and how they can be used to find a guest.
The field is probably the most common source for the guest lecture. It includes
anyone that you meet in your professional life. Often people think about
the person down the hall or in the same department when thinking about in
the field, but there are a few more sources to think about that may be overlooked.
First, everyone attends conferences and meets people as they go to talks.
How many talks have you been to that you thought would go great in a course
you were teaching? Well, approach the person. You'd be surprised how often
you'll receive a yes response when the person is available. Another resource
did not exist as little as 10 years ago, but now may be one of the best resources
out there. This resourse is the online listserv. Many people subscribe to
various mailing lists and information sources. After a while, you will begin
to notice who the experts are on various topics if you pay attention to the
posts. You will also see that many people disagree on a number of topics.
You could even go so far as to invite two guests with varying viewpoints
to both present the variety and to spark discussion. A related resource are
the various Ask-an-Expert Web sites out there. A few of them are linked below.
Through these sites, you can quickly find experts on a given topic. Basically,
the key to the field source for guest lecturers is to keep your eyes and
ears open. You never know when an interesting individual will cross your
Within your teaching practice, you will often have the student(s) that excell.
Have you ever wondered what happened to those students later on in life?
In the online course, you have a unique opportunity in that you will often
develop a more thorough understanding of your students through the online
discussions that take place. You can also sometimes develop professional
relationships that can continue after the course. You may also lose contact
with the student and then hear about him/her later on at a talk or such.
The point is that if they were good then, they are probably good now. If
you come across a special student, don't be afraid to bring that student
in later if a good relationship exists.
Finally, we all read some resources that we find especially informative
on one topic or another. Authors are rarely told but often flattered to hear
that someone has found their materials effective and useful. Why not go one
step further and ask them to be a lecture in your course?
The unique lack of geographic boundary makes the online course an excellent
opportunity to bring in just about anyone to your course. Hopefully these
tips may have given you an idea for how to increase your own list of potential
guests. What Do Students Think?
We've been discussing throughout these articles our own impressions of the
effectiveness of the guest lecture and given many reasons why that is so,
but what about one of the most important reasons, the students. As part of
our course evaluations, we have been posing questions to students about their
experiences with the guest lecturers. We have also pulled comments from within
our courses that deal specifically with the guest lecture. Overwhelmingly,
the responses have been positive.
In our Online Learning: Overview course, evaluations were performed at the
end of the course asking as one of the questions, "Did the guest lecture
make a positive contribution to this course?" We looked at responses
from 10 different sections of the course taught by 2 different instructors
over a 2.5 year period utilizing 6 different guest lecturers (several gave
more than one lecture). Course enrollments ranged from 11 to 17 students.
Our return rate on these evaluations was from 30 to 100 % of students depending
on the section. Within this setting, all returned evaluation responses
to the above question were positive (although some contained both positive
and neutral comments together).
Let's look at some of the comments students have returned to this open ended
question that support some of our earlier discussion. You will see that there
are many different reasons that students feel that the activity was positive,
even if it was something as mundane as simply supplying one more resource
to consider. In the list below, we have tried to list a few examples of comments
that pertain to points made earlier in this report. We should note that there
are also many comments that have been returned regarding the actual content
of the lectures as well as numerous comments within the course (not part
of the evaluation) such as "I really appreciate the help" etc.,
but these have been omitted. Often, key items that were returned for the
course as a whole or for the week that pertained directly to the guest's
topic would also contain comments about the guest. Once again, these were
all positive or neutral in nature but did not directly relate to the topic
of this report and have been omitted. Here is a collection of comments in
no particular order. Names are replaced with bracket descriptions and additional
notes that are not part of the quote are added in brackets.
- [Comments pertaining to the additional perspective and information resource
(either new or similar to that already displayed) added by the guest.]
- "I enjoyed the information [the guest] provided."
- [Here we see a somewhat neutral comment that still supports that
the guest can be yet another resource to be utilized.] - "Yes,
but...I don't think that I saw [the guest] to be any different than
any of the other assigned readings..."
- "Most definitely, the guest lecturer made a positive contribution
to this course via sharing [the guest's] insight, experiences, culture,
- "Yes, added new ideas/thoughts to the mix."
- "Very nice to add another 'live' voice to the discussion."
- "It's always nice to have the perspective of another expert."
- "[The guest] gave us another course to look at, and some more
- [Comments pertaining to the value of a variety of experiences within
- "Yes, that was a nice touch and something I had not thought
of before as part of an online course."
- "Yes, particularly for breaking the routine of the course."
- "Yes, an excellent change in the course dynamic..."
- "Highly positive. This was a great addition and got me thinking
about ways to incorporate collaborative TEACHING as well as collaborative
learning in my own online courses."
- [Comments pertaining to the way in which the guest interacted with the
- "More so in [the guest's] interaction and comments and sharing
of ideas than [the guest's] notes."
- "One thing I found interesting was that you could tell [the
guest] had a different 'style' of responding - positive..."
- [Comments pertaining to the connections that the guest can make with
the real world that might have been missed by the instructor.]
- "Yes. The guest lecturer helped illustrate the applicability
of what we have been discussing."
- "[The guest] gave us a full range of issues to think about
and [the guest's] contributions were very concrete."
- [And lots of these comments.]
- "Yes, it was helpful."
- "Very positive
- "I think I should incorporate something similar in my online
So as you can see, the students enjoyed the guest lecture and found it useful
in our context. I should add that the comments for all of our various courses
dealing with the guest lecturers are primarily positive, but only this course
has been thoroughly analyzed. Comments, in addition to those above point
out that the guest lectures are "great" and "enjoyable",
etc. Additional Comments Regarding Student Responses
Interestingly, the positive student feedback is independent of the opinion
of the facilitator / instructor of the guest lecturers contribution to the
course. There have been guest lecturers in our courses that have had little
involvement with the course other than to post the original materials, and
yet positive responses are still returned by the students. The question then
becomes, is a "good" guest lecturer even necessary, or just one
that meets the minimal criteria mentioned earlier.
Well, we usually ascribe the positive responses with inactive guest's to
our instructo'rs ability to compensate as one possibility. A good instructor
who is prepared and knowledgeable about the topic can make up for any short
comings of the guest, even total absense. The instructor can spawn discussion
of the topic and try rewording questions directed at the guest so that they
can be answered by the instructor or redirected at the students. But such
actions take time away from the instructor that could be used elsewhere.
Thus, even though the students may not notice a bad lecturer, the instructor
may and then have to compensate. Avoid these situations by insuring ahead
of time that you have all of the materials, a good relationship with the
guest, and acknowledgement of guest participation (among other topics discussed
in part 1 of this paper). In this way, both the students and the instructor
can come away with a positive experience. Conclusion
Guest lectures enhance online courses in unique ways and present a useful
resource towards the enrichment of online courses. In this report, we began
by discussing several techniques that can help towards the creation of an
effective guest lecture that will be enjoyable to both the students and the
instructor. We then backed this discussion with student data showing that
the use of guest lecturers can indeed enhance an online course from the student's
perspective. We feel that the same is true for the instructor when properly
applied. We hope that you find our suggestions useful, especially comments
on how to locate a guest lecturer for your own practice.
One final note. We spent some time looking for outside resources on this
topic and were hard pressed to find anything relating to actual research
on the use of guest lecturers in the online environment. Most if not all
references to the topic are simply "we use them" or "we don't
use them" with several non-research backed arguments for the conclusion.
While this paper does not itself constitute an in depth study on the topic,
we hope that it will ignite the interest of future studies into the topic.