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Learning Library Blog 8 tips for creating an extraordinary virtual experience
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8 tips for creating an extraordinary virtual experience

By Hayley Hutchinson
July 28, 2016
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Remember when experts would come to your classroom to speak to your students in person? Or when you were able to take your class on field trips?

The bad news is, thanks to chronic shortages in time and money, those days are largely over.

The good news, however, is you can reach nearly anyone, anywhere via platforms like Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangouts. That means you have access to an even wider world of possibilities for exposing your students to new ideas.

Want to give it a try? Here are some steps that will help you make your virtual speaker experience the best it can be — for you, your guests and your students.

Finding an expert

First thing’s first. Here’s what to keep in mind when you’re looking for a virtual interaction.

What’s the objective? When seeking out guests, always keep your learning objectives front of mind. For example, are your students working on a project? Find experts in that field. Do you want to work on their critical thinking skills and collaboration? Try a Mystery Skype, which addresses the Creative Communicator standard in the 2016 ISTE Standards for Students. Whatever the goal, seek out people who will help you meet it.

Cast a wide net and see what happens. I send out way more invitations than I get responses to. Once I decide on an objective, I write up a detailed invite that includes the type of discussion or presentation I am looking for. Next, I search for companies and people I think will be a good match, then send them emails and tweet out invitations. I also post queries on Google groups related to the topic. Sometimes nothing comes of it, but the responses I do get are worth all the effort. You never know who will respond, and it might turn into a great experience for your students!

Be flexible. Once someone gets back to you, offer them all the available times and platforms you can.

Ask for a practice call. This will allow you to test your connection and give your guest the opportunity to ask you questions. It will also help work out the bugs and ease any anxiety either of you may have.

Preparing your students  

Once you’ve scheduled a speaker, help your students get ready so the experience runs smoothly.

Do some research. What can your students find out beforehand? Have them research and formulate the questions they want to ask ahead of time. Maybe they can read an article about the visitor or the topic, which will also help them meet the 2007 ISTE Standards for Students on research and information fluency. Once they’ve brainstormed some questions and you’ve vetted them, create a handout with the questions they can use during the call.

Discuss proper etiquette. Make your expectations clear before the call. Students should always keep their heads up and pay attention. Other than that, my big rules are no laptops, no phones and no breaks. I also discuss how the audio is more sensitive than they might think, so it’s important to stay quiet unless they are responding or asking a question.

After the call

Wrap up the whole experience on a positive note and get the most out of it for your students.  

Have a follow-up discussion. Always ask students what they thought about the call, or give them time to share their thoughts with each other. Reflection will help cement their learning.

Send a thank-you note. Whether they do it through email, on paper or via video response, your students should share their gratitude. After all, someone has just given their time for free to help them expand their experiences. And your students might thank you, too, for taking the time to make it happen.

Hayley Hutchinson has a master’s in educational technology and teaches secondary science for Derby Public Schools in Kansas. She enjoys connecting her students with experts from all over the world and within their community through virtual interactions.

Want to take your videoconferencing sessions global? The Global Educator: Leveraging Technology for Collaborative Learning and Teaching by Julie Lindsay will help you make international connections.