Leverage Virtual Expert Guest Lectures to Upgrade Learning & Enrichment for K-12

March 24, 2020

Educators can leverage virtual expert guest lectures to upgrade learning & enrichment during this period of remote and online learning.

In the first two decades of the 21st century, K-12 schools spent significant time and capital equipping educators with technology, often without a strategy for how these tools would add value beyond tool practice. I witnessed an experience like this that began while I sat in a well-intended PTA meeting just a few years ago. As members debated reallocating budget, historically used for class trips, to equip the school with new technology, an engaged parent inquired on whether there was a strategy that accompanied this request. I was glad for the question as I shared the interest, but unfortunately, no strategy.

Thankfully, against my judgement, the PTA favored the idea anyway. At that time, I wasn’t involved in the education industry except as a parent, and I thought for sure this investment was going to replicate the tragedy that all investments without plans found. Instead, I witnessed something different. The educators jumped in to leverage the technology with good intention to enhance their curriculum. Admittedly, some classrooms more slowly than others and sometimes without significant differentiation, but it was the start of a transition and an opportunity. Perhaps it was a true “build it and they will come” experience, or just the lack of an assigned individual with a title like “innovation lead,” but the missing strategy didn’t mean that the individual classroom teachers lacked intention. 

As we open the third decade of the 21st century, the dialogue has matured considerably with educators and parents understanding that leveraging technology to replace traditional learning does not add value or elevate comprehension. Most students get plenty of tool practice at home and we all have learned that reading from an iPad instead of a textbook doesn’t differentiate a lesson. Thankfully, as this discussion on technology as a curriculum enhancer grows, so do the options to support the educators in their quest to elevate learning. 

Virtual guest lectures provided by experienced professionals in various fields are one new curriculum enhancer now easily accessible to educators.  There is significant evidence across the education industry noting how a guest lecturer elevates classroom lessons and there are many ways to incorporate experts into activities depending on the topic and activity. However, educators haven’t often leveraged this learning tool in past years describing expert lecture opportunities as difficult to secure due to high cost, geographic proximity and availability of expert time. Technology has lowered these barriers enabling virtual lectures that are still highly engaging via simple to use but sophisticated in experience virtual conferencing technology. Hosting a guest lecturer now only requires classrooms to have a computer and internet access and sites like www.lessonalive.com support a catalog of guest lectures for use by classrooms of all grades, subjects and budgets. Guest lecturers can appear in the teacher's virtual classroom or the class can visit them in the expert's virtual classroom.

 Consider for example a high school economics teacher arranging for an accountant to provide the class a lesson on income taxes. This relatively complex but critical topic is less intimidating and more relatable when presented by a professional. Not only could the accountant break down the material more simply, but the command of the topic would allow students to dive much deeper. A future tax preparer might even be stirred.   Another similar opportunity is reflected in an intermediate classroom inviting an entrepreneur to cover the challenging topics of investment and entrepreneurial risk-taking, as well as the important subject of creative thinking. While those topics could surely be covered in a vocabulary lesson or with other activities, adding a guest lecture to the lesson engages the students in real-world context, enhancing their comprehension of these complicated subjects. Meeting an entrepreneur can offer added value including challenging the class to engage in a discussion on entrepreneurial character traits or even inspire a student to start a business of their own.

Virtual expert lectures can also fill gaps in educator knowledge so that students don’t miss a subject in an emerging field or because of complexity.  For instance, just because a teacher doesn’t have command of the complex topic of blockchain technology (or a local friend who does), doesn’t mean the class should skip this important topic when learning about 21st century technology.  In this scenario, the educator can engage an expert and learn alongside the class. The lecture can be booked once with the intention to teach the lesson in the next quarter or the educator can decide this lesson is best taught by the guest expert again next semester for the engagement reasons noted earlier. 

School districts can also leverage virtual guest lectures as a partnership opportunity with local employers and higher education institutions to support workforce development activities. Imagine a local employer’s training department offering high school students a skills-based training lecture to ensure students come to interviews with the proficiencies needed to secure a job.  In this model, students gain new skills and employers start valuable relationships with potential job candidates. While it would have been challenging and therefore unlikely to coordinate such a program in the past, the same technology makes this model simple and accessible via sites like www.lessonalive.com.

Good news to K-12 administrators concerned about budget, prominent experts are willing to share their expertise with students via virtual lectures at a significantly lower cost than if they were asked to similarly support businesses or higher education institutions, or of course if they were asked to visit the school in person. It has become easy and inexpensive and the evidence is prominent in support of leveraging outside experts. Virtual guest lectures should be a key component of every educator’s toolbox when contemplating how to elevate learning for their students.