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Video Platforms Bring Guest Lecturers to the Classroom
Thanks to platforms like Skype, Google Hangouts, and Apple FaceTime, instructors can break up the routine by bringing in a guest or two.

The guest lecture is a go-to technique in education because it works. In-class guests break up the routine and let students engage with fresh perspectives. More importantly, a good guest delivers a more authentic expression of ideas and experiences than can be captured in a book.

Logistics have long been a barrier to having visitors in class. Simply put, your guest had to be able to be physically present at the right moment. While teachers have been using conferencing technologies to bridge these gaps for years, access to a videoconference codec or conference phone—either for the class or the guest—was often too much to ask for.

The proliferation of platforms such as Skype, Google Hangouts, and Apple FaceTime now enables instructors to conquer space like never before. Although none is perfect, I am constantly amazed at how seamless the experience can be, with surprisingly effective echo cancellation—something that required expensive dedicated hardware only a few years ago. It’s become so effortless that several times a week, I encounter someone on the sidewalk or in a cafe having a video chat on a smartphone.

While conferencing tech overcomes distance, time is another factor. It’s hard to ask someone many time zones away to get up at 3 a.m. to Skype into your afternoon class. That’s where recording becomes instrumental.

Almost all major desktop conferences can be recorded, using a software plug-in, screen capture utility, or a native feature. Google Hangouts makes this easiest with Hangouts On Air, which will save the video directly to your YouTube channel, and provide a downloadable file as well. The bonus of Hangouts is the ability to have more than one person in the conference for free.

Now, recording a guest lecture is not quite the same as having a live person in the classroom, or even on a live online session. Most obviously, there can be no live interaction with students. Yet, there can, and should be, live interaction with you, the instructor. Use this to your advantage.

Think about television and radio. Notice that there are very few lecture shows, and the popular ones tend to be highly produced. As any experienced teacher knows, giving a good, polished lecture requires a significant investment in time, effort, and practice.

At the same time, media is awash with interview programs. That’s because it’s easier for just anyone to answer good interview questions than prepare a presentation or speech. So, instead of asking your guest to give a lecture, turn the conference into an interview. Not only will you put your guest more at ease, but you have the opportunity to keep things lively.

This does put the burden on you, the teacher, to prepare for the interview (and, frankly, that’s something you should do for an in-class guest, too). Minimally, this means putting together a list of questions in advance. Sharing those with your guest also lets her prepare. However, you don’t necessarily want to rely on the questions too much. It’s good to keep things loose enough to follow up on a fruitful tangent. Remember, you can always edit out any discussion that turns out to be less pertinent.

Also, recorded guests and live guests don’t have to be mutually exclusive. If you have someone lined up for a live appearance, you could record a short preview ahead of time to introduce students to the topic and get them primed, with the hope they will come to the live session with more considered questions.

A video conference can be used to bring together two or more guests who can’t be in the same place at the same time. Imagine hosting a debate between two experts with opposing interpretations, then asking students to pick a side and defend their choices.

The great thing with the recording is that you can use it repeatedly. As long as the subject matter and information remain relevant, your guest lecture turned video interview builds your personal library of instructional materials, with barely any more effort than a one-time visit.

This article appears in the May/June 2015 issue of Streaming Media as "Guest Stars.”

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