Author Skype Visits: Three Perspectives

Last week I posted about doing a couple of Skype visits, complete with follow-up comments from a teacher-librarian. Because Skyping is a relatively new (and powerful, and affordable) educational tool, I thought I’d recap my experiences in more detail. To that end, I decided to share a couple of different comments that came out of one post-visit debriefing. As background, Skyping is new to me as an author; this year I’ve been dipping my toe into the water, testing the temperature.

For the visit under discussion, I met with a combined classroom of two 6th-grade classes from the region of my parents’ old stomping grounds, Queens, NY. The students had all read my book, Bystander, and came prepared to ask questions — essential ingredients for a successful visit.

After the event, I received a note from the teacher, Adam, who was most instrumental in making the visit happen. He wrote:

James,

Today was fantastic — hands down one of my career highlights. I am proud of the work that the students have done on this topic and I am so impressed with how today’s Skype conference went. You certainly were able to capture and hold the attention of everyone who was in the Media Center today. Their insightful questions about specific characters along with your humor and honesty made the experience something that I will look back on for a long time to come as a moment in their lives that actually came alive. It was a perfect moment in the school day that makes it all worth everything that we do.

In a separate exchange, I heard from another event organizer, a parent. Liza wrote:

Great presentation today. I was sitting off to the side and could tell the kids really loved it. So much energy in the room! Great topic and technology.

I replied with a confession:

Skyping is a little weird, there’s a strange disconnect to it, so I find it hard to read the audience (whereas I think, live, that’s one of my strengths — I can tell when they are bored, when it’s time to stir them up or settle them down).

Liza responded with this observation:

Regarding Skype, the funny thing is that although you were experiencing “a disconnect,” the opposite was happening in the classroom. With your enlarged face on the whiteboard, it created the illusion that you were speaking/connecting with the audience and the energy level was palpable. I might even go so far as to say that the “gee-whiz factor” related to use of this technology make the experience more exciting to the kids than if you’d actually been in the room. From the audience’s standpoint, Skype/whiteboard is a wonderful and surprisingly intimate experience.

The origin of Skype, from The Wizard of Oz. Who knew?

Conclusion: Well, I think Liza said it, and I can only trust her opinion — a Skype visit can be an exciting, oddly intimate experience. As an author, and a 50-year-old guy dealing with (scary) new technology, it takes some getting used to. I appreciate the magic of it, the pure thrill of seeing those faces — from Kentucky or Queens, California or Maine — and answering their questions directly. Admittedly, I still feel a little removed, still feel like I’m alone in my office, voice echoing, the cats looking at me weird, but amazingly that doesn’t seem to be what happens on the other end.

I think it works well for an interactive, book-specific, Q & A session not more than 30 minutes in length. I know that it doesn’t replace the impact of a live author visit. That’s as far as I’ll go right now. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in exploring this new technology together. My fee for next year will be what appears as the industry standard, $150.

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