External experts in schools

Author(s): Liisa Ilomäki

Affiliation(s): University of Helsinki

Date of publication: May 26, 2016

The Educational Problem

For understanding the phenomena of various subjects more in depth and from several points of view, it would often be useful to invite external experts in schools or organize external visits outside of school for students. There are, however, several problems at school level in using external expertise. Problems are, e.g., how to get in touch with external experts, how to fit visits with the tight time schedule in schools, and how to link the visits meaningfully into the pedagogical curriculum so that the visits are useful, not only an additional or external activity.

The Solution

Here are some guidelines for collaborating with external experts in schools:

  • Organise only meaningful visits: The visit should always be combined with the course content through student activities: students need to be able to utilise the expertise somehow, e.g., by interviewing external experts to get answers to their project questions, by concrete collaboration with the experts, or by combining the outcomes of a study visit to their school activity. Listening a lecture by an expert only seldom gives added value for the students: tell also to the visiting expert what you expect and help him/her create activities for students (experts are not teachers; they might have only a typical lecture in mind).
  • Do not rely only on your own network connections and do not do yourself all the practical organising: Ask the students for their contacts, and make students responsible for organising details of the visits, which supports their engagement in these activities.
  • Remember that expertise is everywhere: Usually school needs more contact also to everyday life, not only to professional institutions or companies. Practitioners of various fields are very good contacts and all types of external experts and actors can enrich “school knowledge” of the students.

The Context

The contexts where these guidelines can be applied are wide: various types of courses and various subjects. In the following are two examples from an upper secondary school:

  • In a Finnish literature course, an old retired lady was telling to students about her reading habits and favorite books using Skype. Students interviewed her during one lesson. The lady was happy that her experiences (expertise) was appreciated and used, the students were enthusiastic and surprised how much someone really reads (and perhaps more motivated to read themselves, too), and the new virtual way used for the interview made the connection easy, cheap and possible.
  • In a Psychology course, students did voluntary work in various organisations and communities in order to get material for investigating “good life”. See a more detailed description of the course: Väkeväinen, A.-E. (2016). Voluntary work. A poster presented at the international conference of the KNORK project. Retrieved May 24, 2016 from http://knork.info/website/conference/.

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