At a Rice University graduate-level College of Education course titled "Integrating Technology into the Curriculum," virtual guest speakers/experts were invited to address a variety of educational needs through web-based conferencing and discussion forums, providing unique opportunities for higher education faculty to rethink the resources that are available to them and re-envision their pedagogical techniques. The virtual guests hosted asynchronous interactive discussions with students in the course for a specified period of time. These technologies provided students with the ability to interact with guests in new ways by expressing individual concerns and discussing them without time and place constraints.
How this practice supports access: Guest hosts were invited into a graduate level "Integrating Technology into the Curriculum" course for masters and doctoral students in the College of Education at Rice University, which is a large public urban university in Houston. The group of 15 students enrolled in the course consisted of 12 teachers in local elementary and middle schools, two full-time graduate students, and one student who worked in higher education. This semester-long course consisted of eleven weekly four-hour face-to-face sessions. All of the course materials were available online since this course was being offered as an entirely online course the following semester. Guest hosts were invited to address a variety of educational needs. The primary goal was to connect students to other teachers in the community who have successfully integrated technology into their classroom and could provide students with real-life examples. Students were able to articulate their concerns about integrating technology into the classroom. The instructor also used the guest hosts to introduce topics in which they had particular expertise. Special attention was paid to preparing guest hosts to be effective online discussion moderators although there are no established guidelines for virtual guest-hosts. All three hosts were e-mailed an inquiry about their interest in hosting the discussion group for a week. Upon agreeing, each host was contacted for an in-depth discussion by email, telephone or in-person. The general agreement was to try to adapt as needed to unanticipated outcomes. Time commitments of hosting were discussed and each host was asked to independently decide how often they would post and whether they would respond to each post. The hosts were also provided with a technical introduction to the web-based software used. They were provided general information about the students in the course and guidance about moderating. This experience was valuable for students, guest hosts and the instructor in this graduate course. Students were engaged in discussions about topics that were highly pertinent to the course. They were introduced to new topics and were provided with opportunities to discuss real-life examples of integration. The instructor benefited by the presence of three hosts who addressed topics central to the course in meaningful ways.
Quantitative analysis provided evidence that the guests were very accessible and responsive to students. Student postings were fairly well distributed and no one student dominated among all guests. Average number of responses to guest-initiated versus student-initiated discussion topics indicated that the guest hosts created a discursive environment rather than a transmission model of information dissemination. Informal feedback from graduate students indicated excitement with being able to hold discussions with the three guest hosts during the semester. All of the guest hosts reported enjoying the experience and noted that it was not a load on their time commitments. In fact, they expressed disappointment in having to leave the course after their guest appearance.
None, guest hosts appeared pro bono for the course.
Kumari, D.S., Connecting Graduate Students To Virtual Guests Through Asynchronous Discussions - Analysis of an Experience - Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, Volume 5, Issue 2, September 2001.