Dr Pignatta with postgraduate students at the end of the Landscape and Technology 2 course
FULT Alumni Good Practice Case Studies
Engaging students through interaction with international speakers in a remote learning and teaching environment
Guest speakers working in the discipline of Landscape Architecture at the Australian and international level contribute to creating a stimulating and active-learning virtual environment.
Dr Gloria Pignatta, with student colleague Mr Oscar Evison.
LANDSCAPE TECHNOLOGY 2 of the third (final) year of the UNSW Master of Landscape Architecture program (MLArch)
Demonstration of good practice
Inviting national and international experts from academia and industry into synchronous courses to provide face-to-face lectures on a specific topic (Davis 1993), a common practice in education (Li & Guo 2015), helps students enlarge their professional networks, fosters their critical thinking, and facilitates their engagement if well planned (Fulton 2020; Cloud & Sweeney 1988). In February 2020, when most courses were moved online in response to COVID-19 (Donitsa-Schmidt & Ramot 2020; Mogaji & Jain 2020; Fulton 2020), I needed to replace face-to-face activities while still engaging students in practical learning. After extensive reflection, augmented by consultation with students, I invited experts to give synchronous lectures (Fulton 2020) (not asynchronous, as is more common (Kumari 2001; Hemphill & Hemphill 2007)) on their real-world experiences (van Hoek et al. 2011).
Benefits to removing the need for face-to-face contact included a wider choice of potential speakers and backup speakers, and increased course credibility (Eveleth & Baker-Eveleth 2009). However, additional effort was required to ensure that the speakers’ content aligned with the course learning outcomes and students’ knowledge, and that the speakers could use the remote platform (Blackboard Collaborate Ultra). In cases where speakers would have been obliged to join the class during their night or extremely early morning, I asked them to provide video recordings of their lecture in advance, and to join the class only for the last 30 minutes to an hour to interact with the students, answer their questions, and provide contact details for further questions (Dalakas 2016).
Cloud, B, & Sweeney, J, 1988. Effective guest speakers require thought and care. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, pp. 30-31. doi:10.1177/107769588704200412.
Dalakas, V 2016, Turning Guest Speakers' Visits into Active Learning Opportunities, Atlantic Marketing Journal, vol. 5 no. 2, art. 7.
Davis, B G 1993, Tools for Teaching, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
Donitsa-Schmidt, S, & Ramot, R 2020, Opportunities and challenges: teacher education in Israel in the Covid-19 pandemic, Journal of Education for Teaching, https://doi.org/10.1080/02607476.2020.1799708.
Eveleth, D M, & Baker-Eveleth, L J 2009, Student Dialogue with Online Guest Speakers, Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 417-421.
Fulton, C 2020, Collaborating in online teaching: inviting e-guests to facilitate learning in the digital environment, Information and Learning Sciences, forthcoming.
Hemphill, L S, & Hemphill, H H 2007, Evaluating the impact of guest speaker postings in online discussions. British Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 38, no. 2, pp. 287-293.
Kumari, D S 2001, Connecting graduate students to virtual guest through asynchronous discussions – Analysis of an experience. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, vol. 5, no. 2.
Li, L, & Guo, R 2015, A Student-Centered Guest Lecturing: A Constructivism Approach to Promote Student Engagement, Journal of Instructional Pedagogies, vol. 15.
Mogaji, E, & Jain, V 2020, Impact of the Pandemic on Higher Education in Emerging Countries: Emerging Opportunities, Challenges and Research Agenda (June 8), https://ssrn.com/abstract=3622592.
Van Hoek, R, et al. 2011, Embedding insights from industry in supply chain programmes: the role of guest lecturers, Supply Chain Management: An International Journal, vol. 16, no. 2, pp.142-147.
A tip for other educators
Planning is key. First, the maximum number of speakers should be determined and the guest-lecture dates distributed along the course. Invitations (including the date, topic, and lecture type) can then be extended to experts with an important perspective on the field. It is extremely important to have a backup plan in case the guest lecture cannot take place, to inform the speakers about the course learning outcomes and the number and level or type of students, to ensure the speakers know how to use the remote platform, and to verify their internet connection before the lecture starts.
In my final year of the master’s in Landscape Architecture at UNSW, Dr. Pignatta taught me Landscape Technology 2. As part of this course, she invited several international and national guest speakers to present on the topics we were covering in class: Scientia Prof. M. Santamouris and Dr. R. Paolini from academia and Dr. B. Goodwin and Dr. N.V.S. Kumar Manapragada from the industry. Each of the guest speakers provided us with real-life case studies relating to their design specialism. It was very valuable to understand how industry professionals apply theories in practice. Each guest lecturer provided us with a broader understanding of the topic and allowed us to contextualise what we were learning via real-life case studies. Due to COVID-19, lectures were moved online, and therefore we did not have the opportunity to meet these impressive speakers in person, but nonetheless, the remote lectures ran very smoothly and were very insightful. The guest speakers undoubtedly enhanced my enjoyment of the course, and I strongly believe that it is good practice in teaching to have external guest lecturers, as they provide a crucial insight into the practical application of academic theories.