My First Virtual School Visit!
Tuesday I experienced my very first Virtual Visit with Austin Middle School in Dawsonville, Georgia. And can I just say - Technology ROCKS!!
It’s a known fact that students are inspired when they can meet a working author or illustrator. They get to talk to a real person who has struggled to achieve a goal and succeeded - proving that they too can reach their own dreams if they are willing to work hard and focus. You can’t get that kind of real-world inspiration from a text book.
But times are tough and many schools don’t have the budget to hire an author or illustrator to visit their school. And sometimes it's just not possible to easily fly somebody to a more rural location. So, what can those schools do for their students? Well, in this digital age we can take advantage of technology in new ways that can truly benefit our kids and maybe change their lives.
I know there's been a lot of talk about Virtual Visits, but I haven't heard much from anybody who's actually done them - so here's the round-up of our experience!
How it worked...
I advertised the option for a Virtual School Visit on my website and my newsletter and offered my first one free to a school willing to experiment with me. Meredith Lowe, Art Education Teacher at Austin Middle School, contacted me and we went from there.
She ordered my books, read them with her students and they started gathering questions. About three weeks before our date I sent a package containing giveaways, postcards, bookmarks and activity pages for the kids to use.
The day before our visit, Meredith and I did a trial run using Skype's video option (free). Because it was something new, there were a few hiccups. For instance, there was some resistance to setting up a Skype account from the school, but we got past that and I shared my account name so we could connect. (At first it's intimidating to use, but once you're in there it's amazingly easy.) We also realized the need for external speakers and a webcam on her end so that I could see and react to the students. We got the speakers, but not the webcam. They could hear and see me, however, so we felt confident the visit would work.
On the day of our visit, we connected online that morning to make sure we were ready to go. When we signed back on at 8:45, the kids had been gathered and we were off and running!
Here’s what the kids saw:
Meredith set up two projection screens and two lap tops. On one computer we connected using Skype so I could talk to the kids. On the other computer, she connected to my online presentation via the internet. I had created a home page to work from for our visit and she clicked to my online slide show (created through my .mac account), my picture book The Prince’s Diary on Lookybook.com, Paco and the Giant Chile Plant online, and a work in progress - my first picture book as author/illustrator, "Soap, soap, soap ~ Jabón, jabón, jabón." I'm looking into having an online white board in the future so we can do a demonstration drawing as well.
Here’s Meredith's control center:
Here’s what it looked like on my end:
This looks like computer overload, but it’s really not that complicated. I am due an upgrade on my main computer - so the only webcam I have is on our laptop. But while I talked to the kids on my laptop, I scrolled through my slideshow, etc. on my main screens behind it. I just asked Meredith to forward a slide when we were ready to move on.
The great thing about this visit is it offered a new angle. It wasn’t just about me and what I do as an illustrator, it was also an exercise in technology, so held special appeal to these gifted middle-school students. It also meant I didn’t lose an entire day to traveling which means I can physically do more of these while dealing with my tight illustration deadlines.
What did I miss? Well, I hope to be able to see the kids via webcam during future visits. I really do react to and feed off a crowd, although they shouted and cheered for me which was fantastic! And I couldn’t sign books, although I hope to work out a signing arrangement if books are pre-ordered through my local independent book store. Most of all, I wish I could have hugged these guys for creating such wonderful greetings:
But all said, our visit was a huge success. Meredith said, “The kids talked about your "visit" all day and were really amazed! The teachers wouldn't stop bragging either! Even our principal joined us! Thank you so much for your well organized slides and your excitement!”
Best of all, a Virtual Visit is an affordable option for schools who otherwise wouldn’t be able to invite an author or illustrator to visit their students. I’m offering them at $300 per session and look forward to doing more!
Update: I'm not the only one doing these now! Check out author, Arthur Slade's recent virtual visit here!
Laurie Halse Anderson recently did a Virtual Visit. Teacher and author, Kate Messner, did a write up at Virtual Author Visits: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, & the Awesome. Laurie gave her side of the visit too at: "Skype Visit with Readers".
Katia Novet Saint-Lot did a Virtual Visit from India to Dubai! Read about it here.
Find other authors and illustrators doing Virtual School Visits at Skype An Author!