Why you should use past students as experts 

I have been lucky enough to work in many collaborative environments, where experts were readily available to shape my learning and provide inspiration which challenged my thinking. This is something that I have been keen to continue with my students. With point to point technology it is relatively easy to invite an expert into your class. Skype, FaceTime or even conversations over Twitter allow students to have quality discussions with experts from around the world. You would be surprised how willing people are to help your students. You never know, just ask. 

Why I invite past students or experts in their field to collaborate.

Steven Pinker an American experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist, highlights the idea of the curse of knowledge. Reading the work of Pinker he explains this as the inability to imagine what it is like for someone else not knowing something they do. If you think about, how many times have you explained a concept only to have vacant expressions on your students faces. Students are so much more likely to learn from each other or a slightly older expert who can remember how difficult it was to learn that concept. The issue for us is that we learnt it so long ago it’s hard to conceptualise our students not ‘getting it’.  Students or experts that recently learnt the idea are much more likely to explain the concept in a way that their peer will understand. The collaborative nature of this learning is fabulous, not only are students connecting and learning how to interact with others online they are also learning valuable ways of drilling into their learning challenge. It’s a powerful way for sudents to listen to stories from an expert on how they came to an idea or what challenged their learning. From my experience they are treated a little like rock stars from my students, look they made it! They genuinely engage with high quality questions that help them move their learning forward. Usually this is just the first conversation from point to point technology to face to face feedback in class, it all counts in making meaningful connections beyond the walls of the classroom. The feedback is excellent and develops a strong collaborative classroom environment. Students feel comfortable sharing their ideas, concerns and failures knowing that the expert brings a wealth of understanding which will help shape new directions.

Year 9 design students receiving critical 1:1 feedback on their final designs from RMIT University Communication Design student  via Skype.  Students sent in their final designs for feedback and had a 10 minute conversation around their work. The students then had the opportunity to act on the feedback from the expert and re-submit their final design.

Here is a reflection from a Yr 9 student regarding the process with an expert.

The feedback I received was beneficial in many ways. It gave me a fresh eyes opinion on my final product, without the person knowing the process I used to create it. It gave me several ways in which I could further improve my work, such as sending me different fonts to use that would improve my hierarchy, adding curvature to select text sections to combine different parts of my work, and work with individual colours to adapt the style of my work. As well as this, it gave me feedback on what I had done well as reassurance and positive enforcement on what I could do again. I enjoyed receiving a different honest perspective on my work and I hope that in future design tasks I can partake in a similar system.

As a teacher it is important to keep our connections with past students, they become experts following their passions and can help us push our current students learning forward.

It’s also worth noting that there are loads of ways to connect with older professionals from around the world. Skype in the classroom https://education.skype.com has many ways to connect with global projects, professionals and teachers. I would also suggest directly contacting your expert. Twitter is a great one, start a hashtag or connect to the expert online and get students to ask questions. There are a multitude of ways to connect with people around the globe.  Happy connecting!

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