Students benefit greatly from Teaching that is reinforced by guest lecturers or teachers. These guest interactions can fill specific experience gaps in teaching and content diversification. Presenting guest content in courses can also be stimulating, provide authentic learning, and promote student engagement.
There are multiple modes for integrating guest lecturers into the programmes, such as speakers from other university departments or external organizations. Likewise, there are multiple ways to incorporate guest content into individual courses.
Here, we provide examples from a long-term online MSc program Biodiversity, wildlife and ecosystem health Where we have succeeded in integrating graduates as guest educators. The program has been running for 12 years, creating a file Diverse alumni community. We draw on this set of experiences to enhance our students’ learning through a range of paid Guest – private lessons Formats:
- Organizers of the joint training course. These are experienced teachers with whom the teaching team works closely and have developed long-term relationships. They are usually responsible for providing core course content and some assessment, as well as interaction with students. We use this format in a limited way, especially to fill in the expertise gaps within the teaching team (eg, marine knowledge).
- Course content. Instructors provide course content on a specific topic for a specific week. This content can be either core or additional material, and teachers have the option to engage interactively with students – eg, a case study and participate in a related discussion board – or provide content and case studies that form the basis of assignments without clashing. We use this format in its various configurations across many of our courses.
- Practitioners advice. In a more informal form, teachers provide non-core content (such as blogs or videos) about their professional experience in a particular field, with the option to participate in a question-and-answer discussion board. We use this format in a few courses.
- summer school. We invite graduates to give a guest lecture at our personal summer school, usually focusing on their professional experiences. The teacher will also interact with the students during the summer school week.
We also invite alumni to contribute to our program through informal, non-paid activities for teacher roles:
- Thesis year. We invite a small number of students who graduated from the previous year to give advice to current students on surviving the thesis. They typically participate in a Q&A discussion board over the course of a week to share their experiences and practical advice on balancing study, home and work life.
- Alumni certificates. Alumni provide testimonials about their experiences in the program and how it has affected their lives, providing a non-interactive opportunity for current and potential students to be inspired.
These activities increase teaching by enriching the student’s experience and providing subject matter knowledge, practitioner advice, and networking opportunities. While our teaching team has a wide range of expertise across multiple disciplines and geographies, any small team will have Gaps in specialist knowledge and represent fewer student voices.
An important factor in our success is how our graduate teachers are selected and interacted with. We focus on filling subject-specific gaps in our teaching team and engaging a wide range of practitioners. As an interdisciplinary programme, we select graduate teachers to provide real-world applied examples. By drawing on alumni from across our global community, we expose our students to an increasing diversity of backgrounds. In fact, evidence indicates that students learn more than those who have had similar experiences, thus representation issues.
In practice, our teaching team works closely with graduate educators, setting clear expectations about what their participation will look like, sharing relevant course content and providing feedback on their content and support as they participate in the courses. We also prepare students at the beginning of the course by introducing the guest tutor, informing the students to coordinate their participation and encouraging them to interact with the tutors.
Aside from academic content, our guest tutors are voices of inspiration for students. Students are motivated by the graduates’ shared experiences in completing the program, overcoming the challenges of part-time study and building their careers. Networking opportunities between current and former students strengthen the alumni community.
The advantage of being an online program is that we can engage alumni from all over the world. The typical profile of our educators is someone who not only did well academically while in the program, but who was enthusiastic and engaged in our community. Most importantly, our graduates are eager to give back to our program, and engaging our graduates in teaching increases the capacity building that is inherent in the ethos of our program.
Ellie Devenish-Nelson is Teaching Fellow and Sharon Ogle is Program Director, both MScs in Biodiversity, Wildlife and Ecosystem Health in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Edinburgh.
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