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Guest Speakers in Asynchronous Online Courses: Use a Video Discussion Board

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 34 seconds

You might think that teaching asynchronously makes it impossible to invite a guest speaker to your class. A pandemic-era teaching innovation in my class has convinced me that not only is it possible to bring in a guest speaker asynchronously, but, with some considerations, it can result in a really engaging and connective learning experience between a guest speaker and your students. 

I hosted my guest speakers on the free educational tool Flipgrid, a video discussion board. Here is the University of Windsor’s 2:50 min video about Flipgrid from their Tool Parade, which is a useful resource to learn about education tools’ uses, benefits for students, and most importantly considerations about data privacy. Flipgrid, unlike some other tools, does not have a steep learning curve; here are the help guides for educators that show how simple it is to adopt in your class.

Here are the steps to host an asynchronous guest speaker.

  1. Use a video discussion board like Flipgrid.
  2. Give your students background on the guest speaker.
  3. Choose a date by which students will post a question for the guest speaker.
  4. Choose a date when the guest speaker will respond to the students.
  5. Choose a date by which students will respond to the guest speaker. 

In my class, we have weekly discussions due on Tuesdays with responses due on Thursdays. The main work in my class is in these discussions because, as I tell my students, the one who does the work does the learning. To get students engaged with the course themes and ideas, I ask them to interact with readings, to make arguments from primary sources, or to use information from online databases, like map collections. I discussed this teaching approach in “Digging in the Digital Archives: Engaging Students in an Online American History Survey.”

When I decided to try asynchronous guest speakers, I mapped the speaker assignment onto our regular week. So I opened a module on Thursday, with background information about the guest speakers, directing my students to Flipgrid and asking that they post before Tuesday midnight. The guest speakers responded on the Flipgrid on Wednesday. And by Thursday I asked my students to respond to either the guest speakers or to each other. 

A few tips:

  • Flipgrid allows you to give guest passwords to guest speakers. 
  • I tell my students, and the speaker, that the guest speaker will respond to some, probably not all, of the questions. 
  • The second deadline for students to reply is important so that students come back to hear what the guest speaker has to say.
  • I encourage students to enter a few words into the Description field, to help the guest speaker identify their questions.
  • Students’ comfort with being on camera is always a consideration so I offer students the option to pixelate, use stickers, point their camera at an inanimate object, use a puppet, or whatever is most comfortable for them.
  • Video discussion boards might also be useful in synchronous and in-person courses when the guest speaker lives in a different time zone. 

While the give and take in a classroom is one of the best parts of a synchronous guest speaker, don’t let the fact that you have an asynchronous course deter you from hosting speakers. With the video board strategy, I found students really engaging with the guest speaker in productive and thoughtful ways. During an in-person event, some students will be tuned out, sitting in the back of the room and disengaged from the conversation. With a video board assignment, every student has thought about the speaker’s work and distilled it into a good question. I thought my guests might feel detached but they engaged deeply with the students’ ideas. In order to protect the guest speakers’ time, as mentioned above, I warn students that the guest speakers may not answer every question. However, during the six different guest speaker events I have hosted, five of the speakers answered every one of the questions from my students in classes that ranged from 24-30 students, which I take as a sign that the process is not onerous for the guest speakers. The guest speakers told me that they appreciated what the students had to say and enjoyed the overall experience. 

This semester most of my students kept their cameras off, which I worried was not welcoming to the speakers. I gave my students an anonymous survey to find out what had happened and they mentioned video/camera burnout and also discomfort with their appearance or the room’s setting. Others said they simply saw that students before them had their cameras off so they followed suit. They recommended that I be more clear about the reasoning for turning cameras on for willing students; I intend to take their advice while also maintaining the policy that students are not required to have cameras on. 

A pandemic-era accommodation has become not just one of my favorite assignments, but also the favorite assignment for some of my students. Many of my students mentioned the guest speakers not only in their end-of-semester evaluations but also in letters that they wrote to my future students. Guest speakers specifically, and video message boards generally, helped humanize my asynchronous online course, resulting in students reporting that they felt connected to me and to each other. 

Because you might, like me, prefer to work from models, here is a sample assignment for a Flipgrid guest speaker. When you want to incorporate this into your course, either try out the sample assignment or set up an appointment with a Hub staff member

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