So Are Schools and Libraries Using Skype for Authors Visits?
The other day I wrote about the potential for using Skype for author visits and one of you commented that the effort to do that brought up a host of problems: the calls kept getting dropped, and the school folks were not even convinced that they were a legal use of technology. I assume the legal issue was about phone rates. I asked the guy who helps me with my computer and tech issues and he said that while he can assure that I am on and communicating, the school end is entirely the province of those who administer the telecommunictions and networks there. In other words, if you want to use Skype, be sure your tech people are on board, know what to do, how to troubleshoot, and have all the authorizations they need. Perhaps it is because of these kinds of crosscurrents — a librarian or teacher eager to move ahead, a school structure less certain about the technology or the value — but I hear tell that schools are not jumping on the Skype bandwagon. So even though their budgets for author visits may be slashed, and Skype is a cheaper alternative, it is not one schools are rushing to use.
And yet. An author I know was just asked to spend a week working with middle school students by blackboard and Skype. This is one technologically advanced school with a clear mission to deal with bright students (I’ll give more details once I’ve spoken with them). So they are certainly not typical. But are they the early adopter that blazes the trail for others? I suspect that one key to the difference between the advantages of price and ease that Skype offers and the slow pace of Skype use is that a Skype visit is not the same as a school assembly or class visit. It works differently, offers different rewards, and has different limitations. In a way it is like the difference between theater and film. Movies are not filmed plays. Once the action is not live, once the camera can play tricks, you have new challenges and opportunities. I don’t think any of us really know — not the authors, not the teachers, not the librarians — what makes for a good, bad, or indifferent Skype visit.
That gets to a larger point which I will return to later this week. There is so much talk about the end of books, the death of print, the rise of the ereader, but I think there is a crucial error in that thinking. In many respects what all of the digital technology does is surround, extend, if you will — market — the content in books. Instead of thinking of one form replacing another, we should see the new form as extending the old one. But we then need to learn how best to do that. We don’t need to start from scratch, we need to add — to emply the new to enhance what we already know how to do: research, write, design, read, and use books.