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June 1, 2007

E-Coaching Tip 46: Experts -- A Touch of Spice!

Experts -- Adding a Touch of Spice to Your Course

As a popular idiom observes, "Variety is the Spice of Life" and invited experts can add a bit of spice to your course -- both for you and for your students!

Since we must develop courses ahead of time, most learning experiences in a course are preplanned around a textbook, set of readings or content that is seminal for a field or discipline. This means that content and packaging is at least 2-3 years old. And of course, course processes and dynamics of a course work best if they are predictable, explicit and well-planned.

Yet many of our most exciting ah-ha experiences occur when we see the application of content to current and/or novel conditions. And this is what guest experts can bring to your course -- custom and authentic application of your course content as embodied in a real person and personality.

Expert guests also provide a change of pace; and a novel voice and perspective. Most faculty bring expertise from a particular field of knowledge; other authoritative voices come from the textbook and other resources, such as readings or podcasts. Bringing in an expert provides another perspective that helps "round out" some of the core concept knowledge.

Another benefit is that bringing an expert into your course creates learning opportunities prior to, during and after the experts' participation. Prior to the expert's visit, learners can research the person, organization, and subject of that person's expertise; during the event students have a chance to inquire and dialogue; and after the visit the knowledge can be integrated with the other course content. Experts often have wisdom (or war) stories that clarify why and how the content matters!

Expert events often help in the community-building process of a course as well. We are often an "event-driven" world, and we enjoy the feeling of anticipation and novelty prior to an event, getting ready to be good hosts and preparing challenging intellectual inquiry, sharing the event experience and then following up with the specific application of that inquiry to the course content.

The virtual world of Second Life -- that online international world -- regularly uses events to create community. They recently (5-31-07) had a guest expert - -- James Paul Gee from the University of Wisconsin-Madison --host a session for teenagers on avatar representation, online identity, and the embodied nature of learning. (For more on this, check out Global Kids' Online Leadership Program at www.globalkids.org)

By now you may be saying, "Yes, sounds like a good idea! Just how do I go about incorporating experts into my course?

Here are a few questions that you might have and some starting points for answers! Maybe you will want to add an expert to your next course!

Common Questions about Experts

1. Is there a preferred time in the course to have an expert event?

Usually sometime in the second half of a course is good. By this time students have developed both understanding and curiosity about a topic to prepare good interview questions for the expert and to place the expert's comments in context for a useful conversation. However there are few hard and fast rules about experts!

2. How do I go about finding an expert?

Experts are plentiful and often very willing to participate -- so long as it doesn't take too much time. I have had experiences both in inviting guest experts and serving as an invited expert and it is usually a pleasant and rewarding experience.

Where to start? Friends and colleagues are always a good place to start! Over the longer term as you get more experienced with using experts, you can search out national and even international experts. With Live classroom technology, plain old telephone conferences and asynchronous discussion tools, experts can come in from anywhere.

Another excellent source of experts are program graduates. Alum often have warm feelings for "their" institution and a natural affiliation with future graduates. Such invitations build "ties" back to the institution which are beneficial to all.

3. What type of content is good for an expert?

You can set your own criteria of course, but a good place to start is by focusing on one of the following areas:

  • A core concept application. If you are working on scenarios with difficult leadership challenges, you may want to invite an expert who has personally experienced a difficult leadership challenge and can share some lessons learned and next steps.
  • A current trend or development in the field. If a significant development in your particular field has occurred in the last 8 to 12 months, possibly in the area of impending legislation or significant events such as Katrina and the subsequent support leadership, or new technology developments, you may want to invite an expert in to share their perspective or analysis of that trend, event or development.
  • An area that you have a particular strength/weakness in. If you have a colleague that you have worked with closely over time and with whom you share expertise, it may be possible to hold an event where you and your students can probe areas in greater depth with dialogue and debate. On the other hand, if you have an area of relative weakness and can identify an expert in that area, you can invite an expert in to provide greater depth in that area.
  • Or you can invite an expert in to listen/judge/evaluate one or two key team projects.

4. How do I set up the expert event?

The best type of event is one both experts and learners feel comfortable and challenged by. Some of the possible structures are a mix of one or more of the following:

  • A simple question and answer format. If the expert is sufficiently well known, the preparation can consist of students preparing a set of questions and sending them to the expert in advance, simply posting the questions on the discussion board.
  • A magazine, journal or other content or media resource that has been authored by the expert or features the expert combined with the question and answer format.
  • A short PowerPoint presentation -- about 10 minutes -- that forms the basis for the conversation and dialogue.
  • Also consider a podcast as a base resource and then a conversation and discussion with the expert after all the students have listened to it and prepared questions.
  • Experts can also be invited to serve as discussion board or seminar leaders for a week. In this scenario you serve as host or moderator and support the dialogue of the expert with the students.

Generally it is important to prepare for the types of "Gotchas" for an event. Something can always go wrong, so having a backup plan is recommended! The backup plan might be as simple as moving to a later day/time or substituting an article authored by the invited expert or a related resource -- such as an equally relevant article, podcast, etc.

5. Are there other resources on using experts in my online course?

Here are the links to a two-part resource on "Guest Lecturers in the Online Environment" by Virgil Varvel of the Illinois Online Network.


1. James Paul Gee is the Tashia Morgridge Professor of Reading at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His book Sociolinguistics and Literacies (1990) was one of the founding documents in the formation of the "New Literacies Studies", an interdisciplinary field devoted to studying language, learning, and literacy in an integrated way in the full range of their cognitive, social, and cultural contexts. More about his work combining "games + learning + society is at his website at http://website.education.wisc.edu/gls/people_gee.htm.

2. A full index of articles from the Illinois Online Network is at http://www.ion.uillinois.edu/resources/pointersclickers/pindex.asp

E-Coaching Tip 46: Experts -- A Touch of Spice!



Ecoaching Table of Contents



Revised May 20 2013
Copyright Judith V. Boettcher, 1997-2013