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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Blackboards and Extending the Book

Using Blackboard Posts to Reach Beyond the Book

This week, courtesy of an online YA lit class, Patty Campbell and I have been meeting with librarians to talk about War Is, the anthology we co-edited. By coincidence, today I met with teachers of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders who will be working with me, again digitally, to look for traces  of the original John Henry in the records  of the black community of Elizabeth, New Jersey (fyi, the historian Scott Nelson found that the real John Henry was a prisoner who hailed from Elizabeth which we described  in Ain’t Nothing But a Man). Facing one way, we can open up a book to the  adults who buy it and share it. Facing the other way, we can invite young people to extend the process of discovery described in a book to new investigations. The printed book is in the middle — it is the carefully edited  and designed product, but now it is a touchstone, not an end. And what makes that possible is the ease of connection that comes from Blackboard, Whiteboard, Skype — all those digital tools.
        Over at CCBC they have been talking about tweets and blogs that fiction authors create for the characters in their books. That is a fun way of extending a book — your hero, your villain, your supernatural creature can speak, in character, to his/her/its fans. In nonfiction, though, we authors are not being ventriloquists. We are not speaking through our inventions. Instead we have new ways to engage adults and young readers in the process of discovery that resulted in our books.
      Authors, editors, librarians — have you been doing this, speaking by blackboard or Skype? How is it going? What works? What doesn’t work? What could make the experience better? Let us know? Instead of (or along with) the author reading, radio tour, blog tour we should have the author extended — the author reaching out, and being reached out to, through digital means.


  1. Vicky Alvear Shecter says:

    I love the idea of the printed book being in the middle, a touchstone for inviting young readers into the “process of discovery.” That’s an entirely new way to think about it, which is exciting. As an author, I’ve talked about Skype-ing with some schools but it never gets past a discussion. Probably because I’m not too comfortable with it yet. And I didn’t even know about the use of Blackboards! I’m going to have to find someone who uses it in the Atlanta area and observe its use in the classroom. Exciting times.

  2. the cool thing about Blackboards is that the school can be anywhere, and the students scattered across creation — you can be in touch with any school, any student.

  3. B Herrera says:

    We’re trying to skype at our school, but we keep dropping the call. I think too many computers are sharing the connections and we don’t have enough power to keep the video. Any suggestions? I really want this to work and have had to talk my head off to convince technicians that we aren’t going to do something illegal through skype.

  4. I don’t know enough yet to help on technical issues. If I find a good tech person I’ll let you know — but it is certainly not illegal.

  5. I spoke with a tech guy who says that one of the big Skype challenges is that on the school end the connection depends on how the in-school network is set up — so that is something your school tech people have to troubleshoot.

  6. Thanks. We can work on the district offices’ server to skype, but not on the school’s server. Too much technology and too little power spread too thin. Our techs are working, but they are going to have to do something to boost the band width before we can successfully transmit video and voice through the school’s server. Our network is set up to block almost everything and is spread so thin that students often wait thirty minutes to an hour just to log on the wireless accounts. Computers do no good when they can only be used as paperweights. But thanks anyway. We’re still trying, and now I’ve got the techs interested, so there is hope.