August 15, 2011

Skype Author Visits?

It's August 15, which means here in New York school hasn't started yet but it will soon.

With the start of the new school year comes a new opportunity for school visits, one of my favorite parts of being a children's author.
Thus far, I have always visited in person.  I get to meet the kids face-to-face, hear their laughter and excited comments, let them pat Phyllis :)
But school budgets, as always, are being cut further and further.  Fewer and fewer schools have the resources to pay authors to visit - especially lesser known authors like me.  And this means fewer kids get the chance to meet authors and illustrators and see that these are paths that are open to them in their lives.

But before you get too depressed over the state of affairs, there's a new solution - Skype!

It's free.  Anyone can download and use it.  And many authors and schools are now doing visits by Skype.

I am terrified eager to give it a try!  (Because as you all know, I am so gifted with technology!)

As I see it, here are the pros:
1. Skype is free.  Any library or classroom with a computer can access it.
2. An author can visit any school or library regardless of distance - no travel fees, no overnights away from home, etc.
3. Most authors will do a 15 minute visit for free provided the school gives the student participants the chance to buy the author's books and encourages them to do so.  A longer visit may cost up to $300, but that's still significantly less than an actual visit.
4. The author can do the visit right from home.

...and here are the cons:
1. It's harder to visit a large number of children at once because you're limited by the computer screen.  But this might actually be a pro in disguise because smaller groups mean more interaction per child.
2. The author (and the teacher/librarian on the other end) has to be technologically savvy enough to make Skype work :)  (And there's the chance, in bad weather, that you might lose your internet connection.)
3. There's a bit of juggling involved to get the viewing angles right - the author shouldn't look as though she's talking to the floor :)  This may require skill in architecture or engineering (or at least balancing things) to get your computer in the right position relative to you.
4. Some background shows up, which means the author has to find a clean uncluttered space in her house that looks as though she has in fact vacuumed the dog hair in the last millennium :)

One thing I don't know, since I haven't done this yet, is whether the interaction still feels the same.  Do the kids get as much out of a virtual visit as they do from an actual one, or do they end up feeling like they're watching TV?  What do you think?

Teachers and other writers, I am very interested in your thoughts on Skype visits!  Have you done them?  How have they worked?  What do you see as pros and cons?  Please share!

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14 comments:

  1. My friends all use Skype, but I've never used it, so I'm a little intimidated. I honestly think that kids are tech-savvy enough these days that it would be a cool thing for them. I understand that an actual author visit would be ideal, but if the budget doesn't allow those, this seems like a great alternative. I'm guessing they'll become more and more common, so you might as well dive in sooner rather than later :) You can reach a larger number of audiences that way too!

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  2. Yes, I'm sure you're right, Jess. I find it a bit intimidating, but I'm sure it's like anything else - it gets easier the more you do it :)

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  3. I think it is a great alternative if money is an issue or scheduling is. It's the teachers and authors job to make sure the students are getting as much as they can out of it regardless.

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  4. That's true, Cynthia. I feel pretty comfortable with that in real life - not sure if it would be different via Skype...

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  5. In-person visits are always better but skype offers a good, lower cost alternative. From the ones I've done there have been some technical glitches/disconnections (mostly on their end) but overall we were all pleased. The kids enjoyed the novelty of it, I think. They were cheerful and excited.

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  6. How could they not enjoy visiting with you, Iza, no matter what the venue? We will have to have coffee and a Skype instruction session :)

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  7. I (as a non-technophobe ;-)) think this is a fantastic idea. Not only would it allow you to reach students in the far-flung areas of America, but it would also allow you to branch out internationally, to places like Australia!

    My mum is a lower primary school teacher and I have no doubt she would jump a chance to have an author visit from someone as cool as yourself, whether it was in person or via Skype.

    And the size of the computer screen is not an issue, because the computer could be hooked up to a projector screen, making you larger than life! It may be a little tricky on your end, because you would be limited by the camera at their end in terms of being able to see the children, but as long as you can hear them properly, I don't think this would be an issue.

    My experiences with Skype is that the vision and audio is pretty good, but I guess this depends on your computer. (Time for a tax deductible upgrade?)

    Are your books available in Australia? If so, would you like me to mention the idea to my mother? She teaches at a school in one of the small towns that was badly affected by the floods earlier this year, so they're keen for any opportunities to brighten the children's days. :-)

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  8. I am amazed by how many young children Skype, so I think a lot of them in the audience will be able to tune in to you really well. If you get the swing of it quickly, I imagine it might help other authors if you wrote about what works and what doesn't with Skyping to an audience of children. I think I would miss being in the classroom, but as you said you can reach a wider audience due to distance not being a problem!!

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  9. Cally - you know, I don't actually know if my books are available in Australia! I kind of assumed they might be, at least through Amazon or something, because we all speak the same language, but I guess I'll have to find out! I'd LOVE to "visit" your mum's school if she'd be interested!

    K - I think you're probably right - just a matter of jumping in with both feet and giving it a try!

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  10. Awesome! I will have to do a random check at a book store to see if I can buy one of your books. I'll have a chat to my mum and let you know what she says! :-)

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  11. I remember author Kate Messner talking about authors who Skype. Here's the blog post (http://www.katemessner.com/authors-who-skype-with-classes-book-clubs-for-free/) she wrote. There's also a separate website, Skype Authors, that may have more info: http://www.skypeauthors.com.

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  12. It must be so rewarding (and fun!) to get to do readings at schools and interact with the kids. I have no experince with Skype (except watching the guests Oprah interviewed using it), but I think it's a wonderful new tool.

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  13. It is really amazing, Tina :) What I'm not sure about is whether the interaction will be the same via Skype as it is in real life...?

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