by Alexis Harrison
One way to bring material alive in a section discussion is to invite a guest speaker to talk directly with students about the material you are covering. In practice, it is hard to arrange for “experts” to visit classes in person, but many people are willing to take the time to talk to your class via skype.
I have seen this done in a couple different science classes, where students were asked to read research papers and then had the chance to talk to the scientists behind the research. The students gained a greater appreciation for the challenges of conducting research than they would have through reading and discussion alone. They were also able to see that science is a human endeavor, shaped in part by the personalities of the people involved. Both of these aspects of science are often glossed over in discussions of research.
If you decide to bring a guest into your class or section using skype, I have a few suggestions for you to keep in mind:
1. Test your equipment and your internet connection ahead of time in the classroom! It is frustrating and embarrassing to spend class time working out technical difficulties.
2. Ideally, this will happen in a room where your screen and audio can be projected so that everyone can hear and see the expert.
3. Have a brief discussion of the material before you bring in your expert. This way you can make sure your students have a basic grasp of the material, and students will have greater confidence when asking their questions.
4. The expert will probably not be able to see everyone in the room on their computer. Swivel your camera around the room when you start so the expert can see the whole group.
5. Have students asking questions sit in front of the camera so the expert can see who is talking.
6. Recap the discussion in section after the skype call is over to solidify and clarify what you’ve learned.
– Alexis Harrison is the Bok Center’s Departmental Teaching Fellow for the Organismic and Evolutionary Biology.