Monday, 24 January 2011

Skype an Author

Recently, our Year 4 and Year 6 students had the opportunity to have a live discussion about being an author with Barbara Mahler, author of "Hole in the Sky". It was very successful but I thought it would be a good idea to provide some suggestions for teachers who might be interested in doing a Skype conference themselves.

There are several sources where a person can find an author, some of whom are willing to Skype with classes, such as the Skype an Author Network and authors abroad. Otherwise, you can try contatcting the author directly. Sadly, there do not seem to be many similar services or facilities for experts in other fields such as Mathematics, Science or History, etc. Perhaps you know of some good resource banks of contact details for experts in these fields. If you do, please provide them in the comments.

The first stage in having a Skype conference is preparation and planning. I cannot stress enough that the time taken to plan out what will happen and running tests will pay benefits when the event occurs. Even after your planning and preparations are complete though, always keep in mind that sometimes, circumstances may conspire against you and cause difficulties over which you have little or no control. It is for those occasions, a Plan B or even a Plan C are always a good idea. In our circumstances, on the "wrong" side of the Digital Divide, we have to take in to account various possibilities which may or may not affect other teachers, who are in similar circumstances, as they hold Skype conferences. Among the obstacles we needed to consider were intermittant power outages, connection failures, surges of shared bandwidth use by the senior school, time zone differences, traffic, etc.

Here are the stages I worked through to get prepared for the Skype conference along with any links which you may find helpful. You may need to consider taking more, or fewer steps depending on your specific circumstances circumstances:

  • Finding the author. There are, as I mentioned a few resources to help you find authors willing to have a Skype conference. However, keep in mind that authors will have their own schedules to keep. Therefore, plan your Skype call well in advance and have a few backup days in the event the author is unavailable, falls ill or the connection or electricity get cut before or during the call.
  • Decide on details with the author or their representative such as: decide on appropriate times and dates, costs and make sure the author knows the audience they will be talking to, determine how the author wants to be addressed by the children, how long the author wants to speak to the children before taking questions, specific topics or issues the author may need to know about that the children are particularly interested in, how long the session will be (20 to 30 minute sessions are typical in my experience), etc.
  • Test call. I always make a test call at roughly the same time and day as the planned conference from the same location I will be using. Take note of connection fades and the habits of other parts of the school who may be using your connection at the same time. Confirm with your IT department that you plan to use Skype and when, so they can take appropriate action. Confirm the time in the remote location.
  • Organise. Make sure the children are aware of your expectations. Have the teachers organise their children into 2 groups, those asking questions and those who are not. Have the questions prewritten by the children and rehearsed and, if necessary, have the children in an appropriate order. Children asking questions should be sitting near the microphone. In our experience, we have been lucky because the laptop microphone and camera have been sufficient for the job. Ask teachers to rehearse the questions with their children and remember that there will be a delay between when the children speak and when the author hears them, so they need to be patient and speak clearly. In our latest conference the children asking questions sat to one side of the main group, then sat in a chair, asked their question, had a brief discussion if they wanted, and rejoined the main group. 
  • Setup your meeting space. I set up a chair on  top of a desk then blu-tacked the laptop to the seat after I had them each in the correct positions and also blu-tacked the chair to the table. Ideally, I try to get the camera positioned so that I can have both the child asking the question and the children in the audience in the same picture. The children then sit with the rest of the audience after they have asked their question(s).
  • Test all the cables and other tools. Check that Skype is working and make sure it is started in advance of the meeting. Obviously, you will need to have the author's Skype name before this! Check that all the cables are connected, such as the projector cable, Smartboard USB cable, speaker jack, and any other equipment you may be using.
That is about it. The list really does look quite intimidating but in practice it isn't. As with all things, you get better with practice. I started by simply Skyping other classes and sharing work samples, etc. You might find that is a good starting point to get your feet wet.

Have you found some exciting experts which have had a conference with your class? Do you have a good resource for finding Skyping Mathematicians, Scientists, Historians and others? Have you tried Skyping for the first time recently? How did it go? Do you have any tips for other teachers which I have missed? Please leave your comments!

Photo Credit: "Red telephone box in Bamburgh" by David Gruar CC


Information Technology Jaipur said...

nice post thanks

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