Remote Guest Speakers Enrich CSUN’s Virtual Classes

Adolfo Flores Zoom Session

Adolfo Flores (far right, third row down) speaking to professor Jose Luis Benavides’ class.

From the comfort of her living room, Mayra Lopez, a third-year journalism major, got to hear from professional role models — journalists from ABC and NBC.

The journalists spoke to a class of students who produce the Valley View News broadcast program. All journalism students and faculty were invited to join through Zoom.

Since the switch to virtual classes, there have been many changes to the way students are used to learning, but there are some rewards in the new ways that some departments are dealing with this transition. CSUN’s Department of Journalism has taken advantage of this situation by bringing in guest speakers over Zoom to speak to their students about various topics, including tales from the front lines of the day’s most pressing topics.

“I really like talking to working journalists,” Lopez said. “Now that I have so much free time I’ve been going to a lot more [guest speaker events].”

Lessons from national experts

The journalism department isn’t the only department on campus enhancing its classes with experts from far away. Nearly every college has in some form included guest speakers in their rosters. Some of these guest speakers were already scheduled, either in person or virtually, and others were invited after most of campus closed, adding to the virtual learning experience.

The guest speakers come from all over the country, in a wide range of professional fields, including biology and finance, and marriage and family therapy. Some have spoken to a single class, while others were available to students throughout a department.

The speakers have helped prove that although the move to virtual learning was unplanned, the lessons can still be meaningful.

Before the switch to virtual learning, Ray Hong, professor and associate chair of the Department of Biology, had invited speakers from schools including Stanford, Washington State and the University of Mississippi to speak on campus for weekly BIOL 490, Tutorial Studies and BIOL 692, Biology Colloquium seminars. With travel to campus now impossible, Hong worked to move the seminars to the virtual space, where they were still available to all biology students.

“In a way, more students can now be in the front row seats in a virtual environment,” Hong said.

Deaf Studies professor Lissa Stapleton offered a combination of pre-recorded and live guest speakers to her DEAF 360, Deaf Culture, and DEAF 496B, Black Deaf Communities, classes, some of which were pre-planned to be virtual and some of which were originally intended to be live. The speakers for the Black Deaf Communities class were national and international experts, all of which were always scheduled to participate via Zoom. For her DEAF 415, Deaf Community Service class, a live panel was turned into a series of interviews of grad students and faculty members from across the country to expose her students to programs outside of California.

Engaging online

At least one virtual guest lecturer came from not far away — Wendy Murawski, executive director and endowed chair for the Michael D. Eisner Center for Teaching and Learning at CSUN, joined professor Marty Eisen’s special education class to model co-teaching. This was supposed to be a face-to-face endeavor, but the educators adapted.

“We wanted them to learn they don’t need to give up student engagement or differentiation just because they are in an online format,” Murawski said.

In professor Mu-Sheng “Shane” Chang’s FIN 434 Life and Health Insurance class, students were also offered the opportunity to speak with professionals, including Cristian Iglesias of The Cheesecake Factory Inc., Steve Eilers of General Reinsurance – a subsidiary of the Berkshire Hathaway Inc., and Leslie McKee of Aon, who provided a worldly view on risk management, reinsurance, and healthcare.

“The students learned about relevant subject matter from these practitioners,” Chang said. “I firmly believe their presentations were very rewarding and successful to help students better understand how risk management concepts lectured in this class are applied outside of the classroom.

The Department of Urban Studies and Planning even held mock interviews for graduating internship students with department alumni. The alumni who participate usually live within driving distance, but department chair Rob Kent said the virtual format allowed for participation of alumni from the San Francisco Bay Area, Oregon and Washington.

“It is a great event for students and for alumni alike,” Kent said. “Students get to meet alumni who were in their shoes here at CSUN before and to learn first-hand about the profession and the job market.”

Connecting with students

Adolfo Flores, a journalist at BuzzFeed News based in Texas who graduated from CSUN in 2010, has visited campus several times before. Recently, he joined professor Jose Luis Benavides’s Spanish language journalism class via Zoom to talk about his experiences reporting at the border.

“I’m able to give students advice I wish someone had given to me,” said Flores about chatting with students at his alma mater. “I also see it as a way of giving back the time my professors put into me when I was in college.”

While having guest speakers in their classrooms is nothing new to the journalism students, the new virtual format has allowed students an easier access to these events. Before, a challenge for many students was getting to campus on days they wouldn’t normally have classes.

“It may be easier in this format, because one of the challenges of getting guest speakers anywhere on the CSUN campus is that people always complain about the drive,” said Department of Journalism Chair Linda Bowen. “Now, they don’t have to leave their houses.”

CSUN Today editor Jacob Bennett contributed to this story.

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