Pedagogical Perspectives: Guest Speakers in the Classroom

For a variety of pedagogical reasons, faculty often bring guest speakers into their classes. We’ve rounded up a few perspectives on this tactic, below.

From Wayne-Daniel Berard: I invite guest speakers because the Humanities calls for an infusion of . . . Humanity! Especially in Religious Studies, we want to take all this out of the books or power points and meet real adherents, with real life experiences of their faith and its journey! So, for example, two guest speakers came to the Islam section of World Religions. One was a convert to Islam, who spoke about what had called him to this faith; the other was a young, very recent alumna, who spoke about being a Muslim woman. They were both fascinating!

Another example: Last term I taught a course on new and emerging concepts of God. One of these was “The Divine Feminine.” A dear friend came to speak, who is in the very new “Cohenate Program,” which seeks to bring about a priesthood for women in Jewish life! Very cutting edge, to say the least!

So, for me, guest speakers are an integral part of a Humanities curriculum. To do without them would be like teaching auto shop, but never getting in the car and actually taking a ride! What is the Humanities without actual humans?

From Dorrie Nang: This semester in my Storycorps class, I had a guest speaker during the second week of classes. Reverend Jonathan Scott, the chaplain at Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam, CT talked to the students about how to listen actively and make your subject feel heard. The students really valued his input and were curious to know what it is like to be with someone during their last moments of life. He was a captivating speaker and will be invited back to the class! I think he played a part in how well the students’ projects are developing this semester.

I also recently had a guest speaker come in to my piano class. Kayla Daly is a board-certified music therapist and licensed mental-health counselor. She talked to the students about the uses of music therapy with patients dealing with: brain injuries, memory loss, PTSD and various other challenges. The student response is always very positive as required readings have dealt with music therapy and its advantages.

From Lisa Taylor: An author has a unique relationship to his or her writing, influenced by both life experience and personal aesthetic. Even when I’ve used the work of international authors, I’ve invited them into my classes via Skype. Most authors are happy to discuss their work with college readers. Because my students consistently enjoy this unique opportunity to peek behind the scenes and gain a different perspective, I try to do it every semester. Next week, the author, Ellen Meeropol (Kinship of Clover, On Hurricane Island) will visit my fiction class and a nonfiction class. We are using her book On Hurricane Island this semester. Students come up with questions to ask her–about the style of the book, the characters, the language, and the plot. This book is a thriller told from a multiple point-of-view. The author usually shares a bit about the writing process and the theme of the book. Since my students are working on their own stories, it is valuable for them to hear a different perspective. When I invited international writers on Skype, the students would also get a glimpse at cultural differences that included both traditions and language.

Learning isn’t static. When students are able to interact with authors, it removes the mystique. They are not as intimidated by literature because they come to see that authors are people with lives and interests that are not so different from their own. Although they may not become writers themselves, it serves to make literature more accessible and engaging. There are always a few surprises–like the time my students engaged in a discussion about Irish sports with an Irish writer’s spouse who was called in from the next room, or the time a student challenged the author’s choice about a character’s particular quirk and she changed his mind by explaining her motivation. Last year’s Poetry Gala surprise poet (Frederick-Douglass Knowles) resulted in a return visit for Nichols Reads because he resonated with students.

From Allison McDowell-Smith: I invited Dr. Ardian Shajkovci onto campus Friday, October 20th and he spoke to a variety of my criminal justice classes in regards to countering violent extremism, the radicalization/recruitment process, and his overseas research experiences. He is also currently a faculty member within our new Master of Science in Counterterrorism program here at Nichols College. I find it crucial to provide my students with expertise from well-known practitioners in their fields. This allows students the opportunity to ask questions from leading experts who have engaged in career routes similar to their own future ambitions.

Dr. Shajkovci is the current Director of Research and a Senior Research Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE), whereas I previously conducted research as well. He has been collecting interviews with ISIS defectors and studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism as well as training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals on the use of counter-narrative messaging materials. He was able to speak with students regarding their futures and answer questions about his experiences. Several students understood that they would need to obtain a M.S. degree in order to pursue their career goals. It is important for me to help my students pursue their goals both at Nichols College and upon their graduation when they enter into the real world.

From Jean Beaupre: Over the years, I have brought guests into communication and marketing classes, typically in upper-level courses. In these subjects, it is so useful to hear the perspectives of professionals working in the field. The industry changes quickly, so hearing stories from the “trenches” helps validate course topics and allows students to more clearly envision career paths. Recently, the vice president of public relations at a health care system visited my public relations class. The class was set up in a round table format, facilitating an open conversation and questions. Our guest’s real-world stories of crisis management brought to life many of the concepts we were delving into at the time, and underscored the significant stakes when organizations experience challenges in the public eye.

Finally, here are some resources on the topic, courtesy of Central Michigan University.

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