By Kate Messner
Before your session:
Download Skype or other videoconferencing software at home, and try it out with someone you know. While Skype may be the best-known program, it’s certainly not the only option. Apple’s iChat and Google+ Hangouts also offer free videoconferencing capabilities. The book club and author must use the same platform, so that needs to be arranged in advance.
If you plan to meet at school, contact your technology coordinator to make sure you can use the software. Some districts block programs like Skype, and if that’s the case, you’ll want to see if it’s possible to unblock it for your program. Test it at school to make sure it works.
Contact the author to arrange your virtual visit. Set a date and time and decide which videoconferencing program you’ll use and who will initiate the call. It’s also a good idea to provide the author with a phone number where you can be reached on the day of the visit in case there are any technical or other issues.
Once you’ve arranged a time, reserve the space where you’ll be having your virtual visit. Make sure all the necessary equipment is available and working. You’ll need a computer with a broadband Internet connection, as well as a webcam and microphone. These can be built in or attached via your computer’s USB ports.
Plan your meeting. How long will it last? Will members gather around a computer or will the author be projected on a big screen? Where will kids stand or sit so they can be seen and heard? With adequate preparation, you’ll avoid confusion and make the most of discussion time. Have kids write questions on index cards in advance to keep things moving.
Make sure the kids understand that technology glitches can happen. It helps to have a plan in place so students know what to do if you need to spend a little time trouble shooting. Many teachers ask students to have a book at their seats, with the understanding that a lost connection or other technical problem is their signal to start reading until everything is fixed.
The day of your Skype session:
- Power up your computer and test your microphone and camera at least 20 minutes before you’re scheduled to contact the author. That will give you time to solve any last-minute problems.
- Launch your videoconferencing program, and either call the author or wait for him/her to call you—whatever you agreed to in advance.
- Once your connection is established, introduce everyone who will be speaking. If the kids seem reticent, you might start things off with a question or two to prompt discussion.
- If your connection is lost, don’t panic. Just call the author back. It may take a few tries before you establish a good connection.
- Keep an eye on the clock, and let students know when it’s almost time to wrap up the discussion.
After your Skype session:
Part of the beauty of Skype author visits rests in their simplicity, but teachers and librarians can extend the experience by offering students follow-up activities such as follow-up letters and writing assignments that make use of a strategy or idea the author shared. Some schools like to share the Skype visit beyond the classroom by blogging about the experience or even creating book trailers and video thank you notes.
And here are some blog/video thank you/book trailer examples that you can link to in the online version if you’d like: