Case Study - Bringing Practice into the Classroom: Guest Speaker Talks

Dr Laura Valadez-Martinez, SSH


I invite practitioners as guest speakers to lectures, who explain the challenges they face in relation to that session’s topic as well as their day-to-day activities.  Practitioners from the government, charitable, and private sector discuss their work in topics like homelessness, domestic abuse, human trafficking, victim support, offending rehabilitation, sexual exploitation, and cybercrime.  This helps students to link the contents of the module with real-life scenarios, as well as to visualise possible career choices.  Guest speaker talks have materialised in student volunteering, placement, and employment opportunities.  

1. Background 

SSA206 Crime and Social Welfare is a compulsory module for Criminology and Criminology with Sociology students.  The contents include an introduction to policymaking, evaluating whether policies are helping to improve social problems, and the role of stakeholders (government, private sector, charity sector) in addressing social issues.  The module then looks at a series of social problems, including homelessness, domestic abuse, human trafficking, modern slavery, offending, sexual exploitation, and poverty.  For each of these topics, a guest speaker from the government, charitable, and private sector is invited to discuss the main challenges they face as well as how the social problem is addressed from the perspective of their institution.  This helps students understand that social problems can be tackled through a variety of angles and that many actors from government, private, and charitable sectors play a role in promoting social change.  Students are encouraged to link the contents of lectures with the information provided by guest speakers by asking a set of questions in all guest talks, in addition to students’ own questions.  In each guest talk, speakers are invited to explain volunteering, placement, and employment opportunities. 


The pedagogical benefits of bringing guest speakers to the classroom are widely documented (Jablon-Roberts and McCracken, 2022).  Guest talks from practitioners have been found to promote student engagement and active learning (Merle and Craig, 2017), to foster critical thinking (Robinson and Kakela, 2006), and to enhance student experience (Rowland and Algie, 2007). Guest speaker talks offer students a personalised account (Glenwick and Chabot, 1991) of issues.  The real-life perspective presented by guest speakers “facilitates the integration of theory and practice within course content” (Dalakas, 2016, p. 93).  Given the variety of topics covered in SSA206 Crime and Social Welfare: Policy in Practice, having guest speakers facilitate student engagement with contemporary issues and help student understanding of policymaking in real life.  Listening to guest speakers from government, private, and charitable sectors help students visualise the challenges and day-to-day actions that these actors take to promote social change and to address social problems. 

Previous experience and knowledge of students: 

Students are not expected to have previous knowledge on the topics or on the institutions that come as guest speakers. At the start of the semester, students are provided with suggested readings, links to institution’s websites, and links to current news on these issues.  Any recent policy development or relevant news on the topics are also offered to students via Learn.  Students are also made aware of sensitive content that may be discussed and are provided with information on wellbeing and routes to find support in case of distress, given the sensitivity of the topics. 

Preparation required for staff:   

Most of the preparation takes place months ahead of the semester, when potential guest speakers are contacted.  When new institutions are approached, an email is sent explaining the aims of the module, how the work from the institution would fit into the module, how students would benefit from the institution’s input, and how the institution could benefit from attending (eg. Advertising volunteering or placement opportunities).  When recurring institutions are approached, an email is sent emphasising the positive elements of previous participation and asking whether they would like to take part again as guest speakers.  All guest speakers are contacted again shortly before their session, to confirm participation and details on venue, timings, and offer to address any questions.   

Lecturers also need to be prepared in relation to sensitive topics, and be available to signpost students to wellbeing support and sources that could help them in case of distress given the topics (e.g. domestic abuse, sexual abuse, violence).  Links to support at Loughborough University and specialised agencies are provided in Learn, during class, and by email if requested by students. 

Resources needed: guest speakers are offered refreshments and some guest speakers are reimbursed for travel expenses (budget arranged in advance with Head of Department).  Some guest speakers cover their own travel expenses.  All guest speakers are given a small ‘thank you’ gift, from Loughborough University shop (for example a tote bag or a notebook).  

2. Methodology 

I have invited guest speakers in the public, private, and charitable sector, to provide a practical perspective on their work in specific topics (eg homelessness, victim support, human trafficking, domestic abuse, income support).  I suggest students a set of questions to ask to guest speakers, to help them link the contents of the module with the practical perspective brought by guests.  These questions are provided to students during the first lecture and are placed on Learn.  Students are reminded of these questions at the start of each guest lecture, and guest speakers are made aware of these questions.   I encourage guest speakers to offer volunteering and placement opportunities and to explain routes to further employment opportunities.  As a result, students have found volunteering and placements in various institutions.  Some students have found employment in their last semester and after graduating.  

3. Issues 

Guest speakers could cancel their participation with short notice.  I have a series of backup lectures and in-class activities to cover the topic originally intended to be delivered by the guest speaker.   

4. Benefits 

Specific strategies that have been successful: 

1. Informing the students about the topics in advance so they can prepare readings on the topic, on the institution coming as guest speaker, and on relevant policy development or news articles.   

2. Informing students about sensitive contents, trigger warnings, and sources of support helps students to prepare for the session and to know possible ways to find support in case of distress. 

3. Having a set of questions to be asked to all guest speakers helps students link the contents of each topic with material from lectures.  

4. Making explicit links during my lectures to examples provided by guest speaker talks. 

5. Evidence of Success  

This module has received consistently positive student feedback: 3.44 for module overall score and 3.72 for lecturer overall score (2022/23); 4.56 for module overall and 4.74 for lecturer (2020/21); 4.57 for module overall and 4.82 for lecturer overall (2018/2019).  Comments from students emphasise the value of guest speakers: “One of the best modules in my opinion”, “Laura is a fab teacher and has offered help across the board”; “I liked the variety of speakers that come in”; “Really good choice of guest speakers.  Fantastic topics, and really eye-opening”; “Laura was amazing, very interesting and lucky to have guest speakers straightaway”; “I liked this module as each lecture was held by a guest talking about their specialist subject and I enjoyed the variety and the stories they told”; “I liked how engaging the module was. The module also taught actual content and I felt like I actually learnt something in the module”; “I loved that we had an opportunity to hear from and speak with so many people from different fields of work. This was so beneficial for us as first year students, as it will help us become aware of possible placement and volunteering opportunities”. 

The impact of this module on students goes beyond the classroom, as guest speaker talks have materialised in student placements and employment opportunities.  For example, “My passion for this subject field first stemmed from my welfare module with Laura. Without this module I would not have secured a placement and a future career path, Laura has contributed greatly to my future career path, and I am very grateful for this” (Student 1).  

Another example is Student 2 “I was in your lectures last year. I just thought I’d get in contact about the guest speakers.  I found a lot of them really interesting and wondered if you knew of any insightful companies such as these that would be good opportunities. I am trying to find a placement, so this would be really helpful (dated 16/02/23)”. In an email exchange, I suggested contacting a charity on domestic abuse.  This was the outcome: “The interview actually went really well and I got offered the job!  I have decided to take it as I think it’s such a great opportunity completely out of my comfort zone, but thank you for giving me ideas!”  (dated 01/03/23). 

The opportunity to connect students with employers is also seen as positive by employers. For example, a guest speaker from a governmental institution indicated by email “Student 3, who was at Loughborough and was also one of our sandwich students, is starting as a full time member of staff next Tuesday so I’m thinking she may be the best choice.  (…)  Student 3 is fantastic, I am so glad to have her back! (dated 14/09/22). 

The module is so popular it will be open as an optional module to Sociology students and to Creative Arts students for 2023/24. 

6. How Can Other Academics Reproduce This?  

This structure can be reproduced in other disciplines/Schools: including a mix of lectures and guest speaker talks from practitioners in relevant areas.  Learning from real-life, practical experience would be beneficial for students in any discipline.  Lecturers could draw from personal contacts in the industry and placement office could also help in establishing contacts for guest speaker lectures. 

7. Reflections 

The factors that have contributed to the success of this module are the variety of topics (all related to policies to address social problems) and the variety of guest speakers (coming from government, private, and charitable sectors). 

Recommendations for improved practice include: be clear about objectives and expectations in communication with guest speakers; explain to students the links between content from lectures and materials from guest speaker talks; provide students with current news and policy developments related to the topic so they can see the relevance of issues. 

I will next explore the possibility of linking student dissertation topics to guest speaker talks.  Student dissertation could work on small research projects that could benefit the institutions. 

8. References  

Dalakas, V. (2016). “Turning Guest Speakers' Visits into Active Learning Opportunities”. Atlantic Marketing Journal. 5(2): 93-100. 

Glenwick, D. and Chabot, D. (1991). “The undergraduate clinical child psychology course: Bringing students to the real world and the real world to students”. Teaching of Psychology, 18(1), 21–24 

Jablon-Roberts, S. and McCracken, A. (2022). “Undergraduate student perceptions of industry guest speakers in the college classroom”. Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. 22(3): 76-78. 

Merle, P. and Craig, C. (2017). “Be my guest: a survey of mass communication students’ perception of guest speakers”. College Teaching. 65(2): 41-49.  

Robinson, C. and Kakela, P. (2006). “Creating a space to learn: a classroom of fun, interaction, and trust”. College Teaching. 54 (1): 202-207. 

Rowland, J. and Algie, A. (2007). “A guest lecturing program to improve students’ applied learning”. Research Online, University of Wollongong.  accessed March 2023.