Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Preparing for guest speakers

I think it is nice to have guest speakers in my classes because they offer different perspectives on topics, and are often much better equipped than I am to talk about how things happen and work in the professional world for which the students are preparing.

However, I have found that it can also lead to a lost opportunity if students don't prepare ahead of time. Guests are only with us for a limited amount of time, and they are coming to class on their own time as a service to the community of practice. It is no fun for guests to feel that their time and expertise is not appreciated. So, I have students prepare in one of two ways:

  1. Prepare the top 5 questions. I usually have students work in teams of 3-4 to come up with a list of 3 questions they would like the guest to address. I collect the questions, compile them into one master list, and give them back to the students. Then I have the students create categories of questions. I have them reflect on whether the questions are best addressed by this particular guest, or better addressed by someone else or via another resource. This reflective activity usually leads to us eliminating several questions. The students then vote for their top 3 questions. I track the vote on the board. Often this vote narrows it down to the top 5 questions. If not, then I ask for volunteers to defend why we should select a particular question, or why we should drop it. Once we have the 5 questions, we forward them to the guest.

    What questions should students ask guest speakers? What I tell students is to think of questions that will lead to unique responses from the speakers -- responses they wouldn't find in a text or via a Google search. They can ask them about their particular jobs, research, areas of interest. For example, students can ask speakers to talk/tell a story about:
    • The challenges of successfully developing and implementing [a computer system, a new curriculum, a new incentive system for the sales force -- fill in the blank]
    • The most rewarding project they worked on, and why it was rewarding
    • The project they consider a classic "war story," why it was so difficult, and what they would do differently now
    • Why they became a [systems analyst, professor, HR director -- fill in the blank]
    • The future of their profession, and what they see as being cutting edge in 5, 10, 15 years

    The most enjoyable guest speakers tend to tell great stories, so I ask students to think of prompts and questions they can present to guest speakers that encourage dramatic sharing of past, current, and future events.

  2. Determine the topic. Sometimes it makes more sense to interview a guest instead of asking her or him to prepare a presentation. When this is the case, I ask students to determine a focused topic that is shared with the guest in advance. Then, we do a similar activity as #1 where students develop their interview questions. They also select 1-3 students who will serve as the interviewers.

The added bonus of having the students prepare, is that we can share our questions/main topic with the guest speaker in advance, helping the guest prepare for her or his time with us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the helpful activity summary! I was looking for a brief overview like this so I could get my students to prepare for a speaker this week. I'm going to try it today.