I love bringing guests into my classroom. I’ve noticed that I can say something over and over and it falls on deaf ears, but if students hear a guest say it they will finally start to listen. So here are my top tips for maximizing guest speakers in your classes.
1. Admit you’re not the expert.
I know that I don’t know everything about my industry, so an outside perspective helps both me and my students dive deeper into a topic. Guests are particularly important in the classes I teach department-wide, like ethics or intro to mass comm. I hosted multi-person panels for my intro class last fall to talk about journalism, PR and advertising, which helped bring a range of ideas into the room. You can have too many guests are once, but I think three or four is the sweet spot to have a lively discussion.
2. Think outside the box.
A lecture or panel discussion is fine, but sometimes students need more than a talking head. I have brought in videographers from local TV stations to give one-on-one critiques of student work at the end of a semester. I bring in a local makeup expert who does work for ESPN and Fox Sports talent. I created a film fest for my digital communications students, and local journalists served as judges. The experts were able to give constructive comments in a fun venue and the winners took home Starbucks gift cards, just in time for finals all-nighters. I discovered two Happiness Engineers- yes, that’s a real job!- who work in town doing technical support for WordPress, and brought them into my class to give students free hands-on help with their web portfolios. And guests don’t have to visit in person- I use Skype if an expert lives outside of New Orleans.
3. Be transparent about your relationship with guests.
I’m lucky that I worked for 11 years in New Orleans before teaching, so I know folks in every newsroom in town. Sometimes our history stretches back years, but sometimes the guest is someone I never worked with but comes highly recommended by a former colleague. I always tell my students how I know the guest. This was particularly important when my husband spoke in my ethics class. One semester, I asked at least eight advertising professionals to speak and they all declined for one reason or another. Finally my husband agreed to fill the slot. He has worked in TV ad sales, as well as underwriting for NPR, for more than 15 years so he was pretty qualified to speak. We ended up having a great class discussion about his experience with an advertiser and an ethical problem they had with the NFL.
4. Not everyone should be a class guest.
The flip side of knowing a lot of media folks in town is that some of them volunteer to speak in my classes. And while I am grateful for the offer, not everyone is suited for the gig. In some rare cases I may not respect that person’s work or work ethic. Some guests have talked down to students. Some have spoken negatively about the news industry and its future. That’s not the message I want my students to hear. So if someone offers to visit campus and I’m not sure they will be a good fit, I often ask them to instead serve as a mentor to a student or to provide feedback on student work. I’ve found that for the most part, behind-the-scenes work doesn’t appeal to them so they don’t follow up with me.
5. Former students are often the best guests.
College students can be anxious about what happens after graduation. Recent grads make awesome guests because they have survived that transition and thrived since leaving campus. And they are much cooler than I am. They also talk more candidly about salaries and shift hours than industry veterans. And students often find them more approachable.
6. Leave time for one-on-one interaction.
It’s one thing to hear someone drone on at the front of a classroom. It’s another to shake their hand and get their business card- and maybe even a selfie. I try to leave ample time at the end of each guest’s visit to give students the chance to ask questions face to face. Sometimes they want specific job advice, or just don’t want the entire class to hear their question.
7. Be diverse.
44 percent of Loyola’s School of Mass Comm’s student population is a racial minority, so I work to bring in guests that reflect that diversity. It’s important to me that students hear voices besides mine. So I have built a bench of people who can present not only topical content, but also their viewpoint on that content based on their experience as a person of color or other under-represented group. This allows students to gain a unique perspective on a topic that is different from my position as a white heterosexual cisgender woman.
8. Prep your students.
I get the best interaction between students and guests when I spend time preparing the students for the class visit. I will instruct them to follow the guest on social media and show examples of the guest’s work. And I remind them that many guests are looking for interns and employees, so their visit to campus should be considered a job interview for students. Unfortunately I also have to remind students that they should not use their phones or laptops during guest visits.
9. Cast a wide net for experts.
I have found guests at donut shops, on Twitter and holiday parties. I am always on the lookout for people who are doing innovative things with media. And the nice thing about living in New Orleans is that once you’ve lived here, you tend to return, even if you move away. So former colleagues who have moved on to other markets are often happy to stop by campus when they’re in town.
10. Say thank you- privately and publicly.
I give all my guests a small token of appreciation. Sometimes it’s a Loyola can koozie or water bottle. If someone does me a big favor I get them a nice Loyola coffee tumbler or Starbucks gift card. If my schedule allows I will take my guest to lunch at the faculty dining room (fried catfish Fridays!). And I make sure to thank them on social media, usually posting a pic from their visit on Twitter or Facebook.