eCoaching Tip 46 Experts — A Touch of Spice!

June 1, 2007 Summer Tip #5 (Checked Nov 22 2019)

eCoaching Tip 46 Experts — A Touch of Spice!

This tip includes another fundamentals tip as part of our summer quick reminder series.

Fundamentals Tip – Discussion Wraps Encourage “Take-a-Ways”

This fundamentals tip describes the strategy of weekly discussion wraps as a way of highlighting key concepts that follow the students forward to the next week’s topic.

Your presence in the discussion forums is a delicate balance between confirming, supporting and encouraging your students, and suggesting and leading inquiry.  How many times a day/week should you be on line? Some faculty are on line three times a day, morning, noon and night; others schedule time 3-4 days a week in the evenings.  Remember your goal should be to “be there” in some way every day.

Whatever schedule works best for you and your students, think about how you want to “close out” a discussion topic. Discussions —usually lasting a week or so — often just end with uncertain or tentative trickles of comments, leaving learners with the feeling of important discussions having occurred, but uncertain as to what it all means — either to them or to others. A learner may wonder, “What have I added/incorporated into my knowledge base?”  Or a learner doesn’t take time to think but simply frantically moves on to the next discussion. If a favorite person, such as a spouse, friend or child asks a learner to share what has been discussed, what would that learner say?

A best practice for online teaching and learning is to have someone — either you, your teaching assistant or one or more of the students summarize /confirm some take-a-ways from each week’s discussion.  Check out eCoaching Tip 25 Discussion Wraps — A Useful “Cognitive Pattern” or “Collection of Discrete Thought Threads?” for a longer discussion about Discussion Wraps.

Advanced Tip — Experts Add a Touch of Spice to Your Course

As a popular idiom observes, “Variety is the Spice of Life” and invited experts can add a bit of spice to your course, both for you and for your students.

Since we must develop courses ahead of time, most learning experiences in a course are preplanned around a textbook, set of readings or content that is seminal for a field or discipline. This means that content and packaging is often a minimum of 2-3 years old. And of course, course processes and dynamics of a course work best if they are predictable, explicit and well-planned.

Yet many of our most exciting ah-ha experiences occur when we see the application of content to current and/or novel conditions.  And this is what guest experts can bring to your course — custom and authentic application of your course content as embodied in a real person and personality.

Expert guests also provide a change of pace, and a novel voice and perspective.  Most faculty bring expertise from a particular field of knowledge; other authoritative voices come from the textbook and other resources, such as readings or podcasts.  Bringing in an expert provides another perspective that helps “round out” some of the core concept knowledge. Experts often add authentic experiences with their stories of how they use course knowledge in current scenarios.

Another benefit of bringing an expert into your course is that planning an expert event creates learning opportunities prior to, during and after the experts’ participation. Prior to the expert’s visit, learners can research the person, organization, and subject of that person’s expertise; during the event students have a chance to inquire and dialogue; and after the expert event, the knowledge can be integrated with the other course content.  Experts often have wisdom (or war) stories that clarify why and how the content matters in complex real life scenarios.

Expert events often help in the community-building process of a course as well.  We might be described as an “event-driven” world. We enjoy the feeling of anticipation and novelty prior to an event, getting ready to be hosts and preparing challenging intellectual inquiry, sharing the event experience and then following up with the specific application of that inquiry to the course content.

Historical note: The virtual world of Second Life — that online international world — regularly uses events to create community.  They sponsored a guest expert — James Paul Gee from the University of Wisconsin-Madison —who hosted a session for teenagers on avatar representation, online identity, and the embodied nature of learning (May 31, 2007).  For more on this, check out the Global Kids’ Online Leadership Program.

By now you may be saying, “Yes, integrating an expert into my course sounds like a good idea. Just how do I go about doing this?”

Here is a brief FAQ on inviting experts to your course.

Common Questions about Experts

1.  Is there a preferred time in the course to have an expert event?

Usually sometime in the second half of a course is good for an expert event.  By this time students have developed both sufficient understanding and curiosity about a topic to prepare good interview questions for the expert and to place the expert’s comments in context for a useful conversation. However there are few hard and fast rules about experts. For courses focusing on problem-solving strategies, launching a course with an expert who might pose challenging problems could be very exciting.

2. How do I go about finding an expert?

Experts are plentiful and often very willing to participate, so long as it doesn’t take too much time. I have had experiences both in inviting guest experts and serving as an invited expert and it is usually a pleasant and rewarding experience.

Where to start? Friends and colleagues are always a good place to start. As you get more experienced with using experts, you can search out national and even international experts. With live meeting technology, plain old telephone conferences and asynchronous discussion tools, experts can come in from anywhere.

Another excellent source of experts are program graduates.  Alum often have warm feelings for “their” institution and a natural affiliation with future graduates.  Such invitations build “ties” back to the institution which are beneficial to all.

3. What type of content is good for an expert?

You can set your own criteria of course, but a good place to start is by focusing on one of the following areas:

o  A core concept application. If you are working on scenarios with difficult leadership challenges, you may want to invite an expert who has personally experienced a difficult leadership challenge and can share some lessons learned.

o  A current trend or development in the field.  If a significant development in your particular field has occurred in the last 8 to 12 months, possibly in the area of impending legislation or significant events such as major weather events (Katrina, Matthew, Michael) and the subsequent leadership challenges, or new technology developments, you may want to invite an expert in to share their perspective or analysis of that trend, event or development.

o  An area that you have a particular strength/weakness in.  If you have a colleague that you have worked with closely over time and with whom you share expertise, it may be possible to hold an event where you and your students can probe areas in greater depth with dialogue and debate. On the other hand, if you have an area of relative weakness and can identify an expert in that area, you can invite an expert who can provide greater depth in that area.

o  Or you can invite an expert in to listen/judge/evaluate one or two key team projects.

4.  How do I set up the expert event?

The best type of event is one that provides a level of comfort and challenge for experts and learners alike.  Some of the possible expert events are a mix of one or more of the following:

o  A simple question and answer format.  If the expert is sufficiently well known, the preparation can consist of students preparing a set of questions and sending them to the expert in advance, simply posting the questions on the discussion board.

o  A magazine, journal or other content or media resource that has been authored by the expert or features the expert combined with the question and answer format.

o  A short presentation — about 10 minutes — that forms the basis for the conversation and dialogue.

o  A podcast by the expert might be used as a base resource followed by a conversation and discussion with the expert after all the students have listened to it and prepared questions.

o  Experts can also be invited to serve as discussion board or seminar leaders for a week. In this scenario you serve as host or moderator and support the dialogue of the expert with the students.

Generally it is important to prepare for the types of  “Gotchas” for an event.  Something can always go wrong, so having a backup plan is recommended. The backup plan might be as simple as moving to a later day/time or substituting an article authored by the invited expert or a related resource — such as an equally relevant article, podcast, etc.

5.  Are there other resources on using experts in my online course?

Here are the links to a two-part resource on “Guest Lecturers in the Online Environment” by Virgil Varvel of the Illinois Online Network.

o  July/August 2001 – Guest Lecturers in the Online Environment (Part 1 of 2) Learn the benefits of bringing in the outside lecture into your online courses.  Retrieved from

o  September/October 2001 – Guest Lecturers in the Online Environment (Part 2 of 2)
  This articles answers more questions about where you  can find a good guest lecturer? What do students feel about guest lecturers? 
 Retrieved from


  1.  James Paul Gee  is the Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State University. His book Sociolinguistics and Literacies (1990) was one of the founding documents in the formation of the “New Literacies Studies”, an interdisciplinary field devoted to studying language, learning, and literacy in an integrated way in the full range of their cognitive, social, and cultural contexts.A list of his publications about his work combining “games + learning + society is at his website at
  2. A full index of articles from the Illinois Online Network is at

Note: These eCoaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized, expanded and updated  in the second edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips (2016) coauthored with Rita-Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by

Copyright Judith V. Boettcher, 2006 – 2019