A method that is often used in teaching, that helps enhance material covered in lectures, is bringing a guest speaker into the classroom. Guest speakers are typically experts in their field and can convey current and realistic information and knowledge about a subject that is not typically found in a textbook. It also allows students to see how the theories learned in the classroom transition into the workplace and gives them the opportunity to ask questions to someone in the industry.
Until somewhat recently, guest speakers had to physically come to campus to speak to a class. Physically brining someone to campus can have its limitations and could potentially lead to logistical nightmares. It may be hard to invite and coordinate with someone from across the county or overseas and the price of travel and hospitality can add up quickly. Because of this you may find that you are only able to work with folks who are local.
With the emergence of the web and online video calling software inviting a guest speaker has never been easier. There are a number of free applications that can be used to conduct an online video call; the most commonly used is probably Skype. At minimum, all you need to conduct this is a computer and a webcam with a built in microphone. Because of its simplicity more and more video calls are being used to allow guests to speak to classes. In fact, I was involved in two just last week. One class had a guest speaker from India while the other class involved two different speakers, one in Atlanta, GA and the other in New York City.
The call to India was very simple to set up. Simply install Skype, plug in the webcam/microphone and “dial” the guest speaker. As long as the guest’s internet connection is stable you should have a seamless experience. The second example above was a little more involved to setup and conduct but I wanted to walk through the steps on the chance that someone else would like to try this in their course. The task at hand was to run a conference style video call with callers from three different locations which could be presented to a classroom. One of the callers would be sharing/displaying content that consisted of PowerPoint slides and videos. With permission from the speakers, they also wanted the call streamed online live as well as recorded so folks not in attendance would have access.
Caller 1 – Students in Wachovia Auditorium, classroom at CofC.
Caller 2 – Steve Koonin, President of Turner Entertainment Networks , Atlanta, GA.
Caller 3 – Dave Morgan, President and CEO of Litton Entertainment as well as the instructor for the course, New York City.
Video calling software:
The video calling software that was used in this instance was Polycom Telepresence m100. This was used because it is compatible with Polycom video conferencing appliances that the folks at at Turner Broadcasting already had and wanted to use. You could just as easily run this with Skype, WebEx, and other video calling software.
Streaming and recording software:
Ustream and Livestream are two very good, free, web based applications that can be used to stream a webcam or your desktop. Both have very similar functionality but from a preference standpoint I chose to use Livestream and their downloadable application called Procaster, which allows you to stream as well as record your desktop or webcam at the same time.
There are a number of different quality options to choose from when streaming through Procaster. I found that when trying this on a Windows machine I had to drop the quality down to the lowest option (mobile devices) because the combination of programs was using up too much memory. This in turn produced pixilated stream. Unfortunately, increasing the memory (RAM) on the computer didn’t seem to help much. I had much better success with this when running from a MAC. I was able to stream and record at a normal or higher quality.
If you would like to invite a guest speaker to your class, but physically bringing them to campus wont work, I would highly suggest trying a video call. We are seeing this method used more and more here on campus so I believe the outcomes are satisfying to Faculty and Students.
The video calling portion of this is a piece of cake. If youd like to try and stream it to the web and/or record, I would highly suggest testing thoroughly. TLT has webcams for checkout and your Instructional Technologist can always lend a hand.