How Guest Professors Build Bridges For Students

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Building bridges.

That’s something we professors strive to create in the minds of our students. You might say it is the core mission of everything we do.

So how can we do that?

Recently, I’ve had a few amazing experiences that have really helped me to take a second look at one truly powerful way to help students build bridges between the classroom and the larger world. And, it is a simple solution: Guest lectures via Skype with leading professors in the field.

This past Tuesday, students in my Public Relations and Social Media classes each had the opportunity to hear from expert educators and leaders in the field. In the morning, Dr. Karen Freberg of the University of Louisville gave an inspiring look into the world of crisis communication and social media to my Principles of Public Relations class. In the afternoon, Dr. Diana Sisson, assistant professor of public relations at the School of Communication & Journalism at Auburn University, – an up and coming star – provided an insightful and thought-provoking look into reputation management in the social space. It was a true pleasure to expose my students to both of them.

Having had such wonderful professors into my class has sent me a clear message: This is something I need to do more of.

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Dr. Sisson’s presentation on online reputation management.

Here is what I learned about the power of sharing your class with awesome professors:

  1. It’s A Phenomenal Use of Class Time. While I’ve been a guest lecture in many classes over the years, I haven’t done a lot to bring in other professors into my classes. I think it stems from the “But, I have so much I want to cover and so little time!” feeling. I’m the world’s biggest micro-planner when it comes to classes. Every moment of my classes has (at least in my mind) a purpose building towards the next lecture. I have this nagging anxiety, “what if we don’t talk about X!? Then they won’t understand Y!” as though it will create this massive cascade, and everything I hoped and dreamed of teaching after that day will fall apart. But the truth is, it doesn’t. In fact, bringing other faculty into your class has some very powerful effects that outweigh any anxiety about not educating your students.
  2. It reaffirms concepts you are teaching your students – Of course, having a guest exposes students to new areas of expertise that you as a professor may not be the expert in. Isn’t that a major reason of bringing someone in? But, along with learning new things, students hear ideas you’ve already discussed in class sprinkled in. And this repetition from a different, outside source acts as a 3rd party endorsement for the construct. I could see it in the eyes of some students when things they’d heard came back up. It was as if they were saying, “Oh, so this other professor said it too, so it must be true.” And hearing a concept in a different context from a different authority helps students build bridges between what they already know and the new information they are being exposed to.

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    Dr. Freberg discussed crisis communication and social media
  3. It makes the classroom “real” for students – Hearing Dr. Freberg’s experience as a Plank Center Fellow with General Motors helped students see real world applications of concepts we discuss in class.  Hearing Dr. Sisson discuss tips and ideas for relationship management from her own experiences working in the health care sector, helped my social media students think about their own class project creating the social media for our department and how we can overcome some of the challenges we face in building and maintaining relationships. These bridges push students forward.
  4. It creates a networking opportunity for the students – Both Dr. Freberg and Dr. Sisson are incredibly giving of their time, their expertise, and their social capital – offering to help students learn and build their professional network. Several students have already taken action, engaging with both professors and I was proud of their motivation to capitalize on the generous offerings by both professors. Which leads me to…
  5. Breaking Down Walls. While this post is all about building bridges, it is also a tale of breaking down classroom walls. This is at the center of much of what we are trying to do: Bringing the world into the classroom and the classroom into the world. Having another professor come into your classroom does just that. We have to keep in mind that students are just beginning to build their networks – many don’t have a professional network at all.  Getting a chance to meet faculty from other universities opens doors to the resources of those faculty. And, all great faculty have something in common – they are here to help students grow and succeed. It doesn’t matter if the students are enrolled in their class or yours. They want all students to thrive and realize their dreams.

If you haven’t had either Dr. Sisson or Dr. Freberg chat with your class and you are teaching social media or PR, I highly recommend you do so!

 

 

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