Alumni as guest tutors: why and how | THE Campus Learn, Share … – Times Higher Education

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Inviting alumni to contribute to a course can enrich the learning experience for current students. Ellie Devenish-Nelson and Sharron Ogle explain how
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Students benefit greatly from teaching that is augmented by guest lecturers or tutors. Such guest interactions can fill specific expertise gaps in teaching and diversify content. Introducing guest content into courses can also be stimulating and provide authentic learning, promoting student engagement.
Multiple modes exist to incorporate guest lecturers into programmes, such as speakers from other university departments or external organisations. Similarly, there are multiple ways to integrate guest content into individual courses.
Here, we provide examples from a long-running online master’s programme on biodiversity, wildlife and ecosystem health where we have successfully incorporated alumni as guest tutors. The programme has been running for 12 years, generating a diverse alumni community. We draw on this pool of expertise to enhance the learning of our students through a range of remunerated guest-tutoring formats:
We also invite alumni to contribute to our programme through informal activities that are not paid tutor roles:
These activities augment teaching by enriching the student experience and providing specialist subject knowledge, practitioner advice and networking opportunities. While our teaching team has a wide range of expertise across multiple disciplines and geographic areas, any small team will have gaps in specialist knowledge and represent fewer voices than the students.
An important factor in our success is how we choose and interact with alumni tutors. We focus on filling subject-specific gaps in our teaching team and engaging a broad range of practitioners. As an interdisciplinary programme, we choose alumni tutors to provide real-world, applied examples. And by drawing on alumni from across our global community, we expose our students to an increased diversity of backgrounds. Indeed, evidence suggests that students learn most from those with similar experiences, and thus representation matters.
In practical terms our teaching team works closely with alumni tutors, defining clear expectations about the format of their engagement, sharing relevant course content and providing feedback on their content and supporting them during their participation on courses. We also prepare students at the start of a course by introducing the guest tutor, informing the students of the format of their involvement and encouraging them to interact with the tutors.
Aside from academic content, our guest tutors are voices of inspiration for students. Students are motivated by the alumni’s shared experiences of completing the programme, of overcoming the challenges of part-time study and of building their careers. The networking opportunities between current and past students strengthens the alumni community.
An advantage of being an online programme is that we can involve alumni based around the world. The typical profile of our tutors is someone who not only performed well academically while on the programme but was motivated and engaged in our community. Importantly, our alumni are keen to give back to our programme, and engaging our alumni in tutoring extends the capacity building that is ingrained in our programme ethos.
Ellie Devenish-Nelson is a teaching fellow and Sharron Ogle is programme director, both for the MSc in Biodiversity, Wildlife and Ecosystem Health in the department of biomedical sciences at the University of Edinburgh.
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