Spotlight, March 2013
As a pioneer in distance learning, Curt Bonk strives to provide students with helpful and valuable experiences that foster motivation, participation, and learning. A full-time faculty member in the Instructional Systems Technology department at the School of Education, Dr. Bonk uses the videoconference capabilities offered through the Internet to invite several guest speakers into his face-to-face and online classes. Students’ participation and engagement are highly promoted by giving them the opportunity to interact directly with the authors of the articles and books they just read and discussed about. By having guest speakers, students do not just read the research, but they actually hear from the people in the trenches, Dr. Bonk says.
Dr. Bonk explains that among the multiple advantages of having guest speakers in a class are: increasing cultural awareness, promoting social cognition, getting students to listen perspectives of someone else, and validating the relevance of the class content. Students realize that it is not only the instructor providing the content but that other people around the world are applying these concepts in successful ways. By getting exposed to the importance of the concepts through guest speakers, students understand that what they are learning is worthwhile and will be useful to them after they graduate. They can see how professionals in their field are already impacting, assisting, and benefitting peoples’ lives and the community in general. They can also realize that there are jobs in their area of study. Moreover, students are able to clarify concepts and theories by asking guest speakers questions and expressing their concerns. On many occasions the guest speaker sessions are so engaging and interesting, that several faculty members walking by the classroom, decide to join and sit in to see what is happening.
Regarding the possibility of increasing cultural awareness through guest speakers, Dr. Bonk mentions “there is a lot of research about adding a multicultural component to one's class. Having opportunities to learn and take the point of view of someone else… The research out there points to the fact that students are pretty one-dimensional in their perspectives of other cultures. When they think of Egypt, they think of the Pyramids and that's it. There's much more that people, like us, can bring into your class… that students can benefit from and should benefit from. So, you're expanding the multicultural aspects of students' perspectives, their perspective taking, their ability to see someone else's point of view. So, the research indicates that those are strong components in motivating students in your class, adding to students' satisfaction but also to enhance their depth of learning, to push them into new territory that they hadn't been at before and my research looks at levels of perspective taking.”
Through these years, Dr. Bonk has used diverse videoconfencing technologies to bring guest speakers into his face-to-face and online classes, such as Adobe Connect, Skype, and Google Hangouts. By having to rely on these additional technologies, he recognizes that sometimes he has experienced some technical difficulties when conducting some of these sessions; thus, he stresses that it is critical to test all the equipment and software applications with the guest speakers in advance. He also suggests being prepared for any technical issues that might arise during the videoconference session, warning students and guest speakers prior to the session that something could go awry. He proposes having some back up plan such as using an alternative technology or rescheduling the session.
For those considering bringing guest speakers into their classrooms via videoconferencing, Dr. Bonk provides the following recommendations: (1) reflect in the content to be covered during the different weeks or modules of the class, (2) identify the strengths and weaknesses of each unit or class, (3) from your circle of friends and colleagues, invite those who might be able to complement some of the classes, (4) have students do the readings, discuss them asynchronously, and then prepare some questions for the guest speaker in advance, and (5) record the session so students who missed it can watch it later, and perhaps, save the recording so that students from future semesters can watch the recordings as well. Find thoughtful ways to reuse open content whenever possible.
Curt Bonk is a professor in the Instructional Systems Technology department in the School of Education in which he teaches several face-to-face and online courses. He holds a Ph.D. degree in educational psychology from the University of Wisconsin. He has authored several books in the field of educational technology including The World is Open, Empowering Online Learning, The Handbook of Blended Learning, and Electronic Collaborators. He is an avid blogger and can be followed at TravelinEdMan on which he talks about emerging learning technologies and his multiple speaking experiences around the world.