Where to find the perfect virtual guest for your class

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Thursday, September 17, 2015

Where to find the perfect virtual guest for your class

The best guests are hard to get in the classroom. Virtual options with video chats like Skype and Google Hangouts make it easier than ever. Here are some resources. (Creative Commons photo via Good Keen Librarian)

The best guests are hard to get in the classroom. Virtual options with video chats like Skype and Google Hangouts make it easier than ever. Here are some resources. (Creative Commons photo via Good Keen Librarian)

Explorers. Researchers. Archaeologists. Scientists. Lawmakers. Even celebrities and athletes.

They’re the great guest speakers that many of us would love to invite to talk to our classes. But schedules, speaking fees, travel and other conflicts keep us from making them an in-person, face-to-face reality.

Well, to be accurate, they make in-person contact a fantasy. However, they can be a face-to-face reality if we know where to look and are brave enough to ask. (Didn’t your parents ever say to you, “What’s the worst thing that could happen … they’d say ‘no’?”)

Video chat tools like Skype, Google Hangouts and FaceTime (among others) have made face-to-face, voice-to-voice conversation a free, simple reality.

They’ve connected soldiers to their families from thousands of miles away. They’ve connected like-minded people who have never met in real life. And they’ve definitely made classes around the globe more interesting by bringing quality guests to class.

Are you looking for ways to leverage your technology to get maximum impact for your students? I think video chatting is one of the most powerful uses of technology in the classroom today.

There’s a problem, though. It’s barely being used in the classroom because …

  • Teachers don’t see connections to their classes. (Every class has someone outside the classroom that can bring value.)
  • The think the technology is over their heads. (Creating an account and using video chat often as easy as setting up an email account.)
  • Or they just don’t think they have the time. (Once you’ve tried it, you’ll see how little work it takes.)

Today, I’m going to make it even more accessible. The big question I’m always asked when I present at workshops or conferences is this: How do I find people to video chat with in my class?

Plenty of resources are available for any educator of any grade level or specialization. Here are some examples:

1. Check out the lessons on the Skype in the Classroom site (education.skype.com) — This is where I started when I was a video chat newbie wanting to get my classes connected. The Skype in the Classroom site is a virtual bulletin board where teachers post lessons they’d like to create with others around the world. Museums and other organizations — as well as quality guest speakers — create lessons offering to connect with your classroom. It’s worth checking out to see if anything sparks your interest.

2. Create a lesson on the Skype in the Classroom site — If you don’t see exactly what you want to do, post a lesson on the Skype in the Classroom site and recruit others. Describe the lesson, choose the audience you want and submit it. You may be surprised at who volunteers to join your lesson!

3. Contact the creator of a Skype in the Classroom lesson — This is how I made my best video chat experience a reality. I found a lesson that was kind of what I wanted to do. Then, I asked the teacher if she would modify it to make it more like the experience I hoped for. She agreed and it was great! Use this great website not only as a virtual lesson plan enhancer but a list of contacts who can help you.

4. Send a simple email — We’re all well versed in our content area. With a little brainstorming, we could generate a list of the kinds of people that could bring value to our students via Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime or others. It never hurts to do some Googling to find examples of those people and send a simple email. Here’s an example. Are you reading a book with your class? Is the author is alive? If so, it can’t hurt to reach out to the author for a video chat meet-up. Even if it’s a short one, it can be a very memorable (maybe life-changing!) experience for students.

Here’s an example: A student in a fifth/sixth-grade school sent a letter to Shaquille O’Neal asking for a simple autograph. What he got was a letter from Shaq saying that he would Skype with the student’s school instead! His words of inspiration were certainly powerful to students in fifth and sixth grade. See the Skype call here:


5. Ask friends, family and co-workers — The perfect virtual guest may be as easy to find as sending a quick email or social media message to people you know. They don’t have to be a perfect fit for your content area, either. Some creative thinking could come up with ties into your class content. Plus, the experience may be as worthwhile (or more!) than the content facts your students could learn.

6. Utilize Google Plus communities — Lots of enthusiastic, globally-minded educators are part of communities on Google Plus. (Google Plus is a social media network … I think of it as Google’s version of Facebook.) Go to Google Plus (hint: If you have a Google account, you already have access to Google Plus!). Check out any of the following communities (or others!). Post a message and ask the community for what you’re looking for and see what you come up with. Post in multiple communities — it’s like putting multiple fishing lines in the water to maximize your chances of catching a fish.

7. Twitter If you’re not using Twitter professionally yet, what are you waiting for??? (Start with my page for getting started on Twitter.) By tweeting your requests and including the right Twitter users and hashtags, you can reach a large audience of the right kinds of people who want to help. Find the right hashtags (i.e. searchable categories) on this list of Twitter chats. Twitter accounts like Skype Classroom will often retweet your requests to its tens of thousands of Twitter followers!

8. Nepris This site connects teachers with industry experts virtually to bring curriculum topics to life and help mentor and evaluate student projects. Use their connections and expertise to find the right virtual guest for your classroom.

9. Ask me! — I know a lot of smart people who have expertise in connecting with experts and other classrooms around the world. Between you and I, we should be able to find someone who can help. Shoot me an email or a message on Twitter and I’ll do my best!

Also, check out Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants for great guest speakers/virtual field trips about science, adventure and conservation.

[reminder]What other resources exist for bringing the best virtual guests into classrooms? What has been your experience with virtual guests? Do you have suggestions?[/reminder]

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  • Kevin says:

    FieldTripZoom brings the world of unique educational content curriculum to your school’s classrooms. The Live & Interactive service connects Museums-Zoos-Aquariums-Authors- & other content providers with students within their classroom setting breaking down the walls of traditional instruction an enhancing instruction. Save money and add time to your learning day. Curriculum made cool.

  • Frau Davis says:

    Bringing in other people has always worked best for me when I have a personal connection to them. I’ve met people while doing language exchanges, foreign exchange students etc. I’ve found great resources for reaching other teachers in the US on those sites you’ve linked but not as much native Germans. I haven’t given up yet, I found some promising twitter hashtags which I’ll try using. 🙂

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