Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Long-Distance School Visit

In this economy, schools seem to be cutting back on extras like author visits. So I’ve decided to embark on yet another (I’ve recently taken up creating and publishing videos on my website) technological direction—video conferencing. This way I can be beamed to schools without leaving my home. I can see the kids and they can see me. It’s not like doing an assembly program for a large group and it’s not like being there in person. But it allows me to do some unique things, such as directing a collaborative project that is unique to my own work.

Although I have done video conferences from a school that equipped for them, I knew nothing of the necessary technology. I found out that you need software to connect to the protocol used by the school systems, you need a webcam and, if you’re going to do a lot of video conferencing, you need something called a static IP address, all of which costs money—about $400. So I plunged ahead and within a week I was up and running for the first video conference from my own home office.

As an experiment, I contacted a wonderful school I visited last year that is set up for and quite familiar with video conferencing. Since I’m trying to get kids to make videos of tricks from my new book We Dare You! the school librarian offered participation in the project to the after-school science club, figuring that maybe12 kids would be the right number. The next day 42 kids signed up! Since a video conference can comfortably accommodate only about 25 kids, we decided to split the group into two introductory sessions.

I gave my first video conference last week. It felt strange putting on makeup and lipstick to sit in front of my computer. The kids were far more comfortable looking at me on a screen than I was talking to them. But I could hold up and show them my video camera and say, “This is what my video camera looks like, this is what the video tape looks like.” I could explain how to shoot a video and I invited my neighbor, a network TV news director to appear with me give the kids some tips on how to shoot a video. I could email a handout to the librarian summarizing the lesson. I could watch them watching my videos on the large screen. (They laughed at my material. Very reassuring!) And most importantly, I could make personal contact with them and answer their questions directly. It’s a whole new world.


teacherninja said...

Vikki Cobb, you are just awesome.

Cheryl Reif said...

Thank you for sharing your foray into a cool new technology. This is a great way to reach kids. ~Cheryl

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