One teacher told us she was glad there was a Skype test run and that they had exchanged cell phone numbers with the author beforehand because during the test run, they learned their school district computer filter would not allow the school to call out on Skype but they could RECEIVE Skype calls, so they had the author call them.

A young adult school librarian who had 50+ middle schoolers and young adults at her chat recommended that 30 to 40 minutes might be better than a full hour chat for such a large group. She went on to add that this does depend on the ages of the students.

Another school librarian realized that the webcam should be rather close to the screen so that the students will know where to look.


Someone else suggested that, if scheduling allows, it might be a good idea to telephone the author about 15 minutes before the chat to resolve any last minute issues so the children don't have to sit and wait for it to begin.


Some schools have each student take a turn at sitting in front of the computer monitor to give him or her an intimate moment with the author to ask his or her question. Others, especially those with Smartboards or ActivBoards and those who have small groups and wide computer screens, have the students sit around the computer monitor for the Q&A part of the program.


One school who has become a favorite with a couple of Balkin Buddies authors had this advice:


In my opinion the most important things to do before a visit are:


1. Practice with the author on the phone or during the test run and also, before the chat, practice with the students a couple times;


2. Depending on student age and experience with video conferencing, they need to practice with basic protocols, such as use of voice intonation and volume, group comments vs. individual comments, extraneous noise in the room;


3. Prep the students with info about the author and his or her work. Because the *live audience* feel isn't there for the author, these visits become much more two way. The format doesn't lend itself well to the author doing all the talking. It needs to be a much more collaborative setting because the audience will get restless if they aren't engaged in some way. Breaking up the visit with Q & A or a simple activity seems to work well.


4. Have the students research the author on the internet, etc. If they find out more about the author's work, background, and even other interests, especially those that relate back to books, the students are more likely to come up with questions that will elicit some fascinating responses that might never have come up otherwise.


Another educator had this to offer:


1. Make sure you remember any time zone changes when planning the virtual visit (e.g. east coast vs. west coast).


2. For younger audiences, make sure that the students are familiar with the author's work prior to the visit. Spend some time talking about the pictures and some questions that they might ask on the day of the visit.


3. Set up a time (at least a week in advance) to work out any technical glitches. If you can do this with someone other than the author, it will make the test run with the author go more smoothly.


4. It's important to use the same equipment for the trial run as for the real thing.


5. Hook up with the author at least five minutes before the actual visit time -- so that the audience won't get restless.


6. We set up our space so that the students were facing the screen and the webcam faced the students. It seemed more like the author and the students were *looking at* each other.

DOES YOUR SKYPE CALL KEEP DROPPING? TRY THIS: It's better if both parties (e.g., the author as well as the school) can be jacked directly into the internet instead of WiFi. And the computer you're using should have no other programs open. You should even close Explorer and AOL. Leave ONLY the Skype line open. With other things up and running, calls may drop every 2 to 10 minutes.

One teacher had her students do trial runs of Skype sessions with other people (teachers' and students' family members, for example) before their test run with the author to get familiar with the process.

From another school: The tech run through was helpful because it made us realize we needed to bring in extra lighting so [the illustrator] would be able to see the children's faces. We had 40 children in front of a Promethean Board screen and they were able to hear and see just fine.

In yet another instance, a university used Adobe Connect for its own distance learning technology. They used this so the author, who was in one state, could talk to the professor, who was in another state, and the students, who lived in yet another state and were all sitting in their own homes. This gave the chat an intimate quality that was nevertheless shared by all. So if you're in a university and have something like Adobe Connect that you'd like to use instead of Skype or iChat, be sure to let Balkin Buddies know, as it might be a better alternative for you.

This teacher has some great ideas:

If I could make one recommendation to teachers it would be for them to consider using a format similar to what we used today: Students will get a more personal and affirming touch to their time with the author if they can forward their questions to the author in advance, and then hear the author call each student by name when answering their questions. We can never do too much to boost our students' self-esteem.


It also helps to personalize the chat when we (teachers and/or students) look into the camera when it is our turn to speak. It gives the appearance of maintaining eye contact and stregthens the personal connection.

Tips from a librarian who hosted a recent chat:

---If possible, check your equipment the day of the chat.
---Unless your wireless internet operates consistently, make sure you are connected to the network through a cable.
---Additional speakers (not the computer speakers) should probably be used with a large group.
---A microphone that can be passed around could be helpful.
---Discuss the author with students before the visit and make sure they have questions to ask.
---Discuss with the students the technology that is being used; some might be familiar with it, others might not, but discussing it with them means they will all be prepared for the chat format.

Another librarian suggested having a back-up plan in case the technology stops working. Having the kids have a book on hand to do some independent reading was one recommendation

Once, everything went wrong with the school's equipment and the class couldn't Skype with the author at all. So they had a long telephone conference with him instead and everyone was happy.

If you are using external speakers, make sure they're at a good distance from the computer. Otherwise, it makes a strange noise.


If a lot of other people (for example, classes, patrons, or conference presenters) are using the internet at the same time, it may interfere with your chat. Your organization must have enough bandwith to accommodate everyone. If it doesn't, we suggest you schedule the chat for a time when few other people in the facility are using the internet.


As more tips and suggestions come in, we'll pass them on.