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Skype Scope

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.


  1. Vicky Alvear Shecter says:

    It will be interesting to see how the “early adopters” of this technology pave the way for the rest of us who are still either too intimidated or unfamiliar to give it a whirl.

  2. Jen Wagner says:

    I do not think the problem dwells primarily with “early adopters”. I think it deals much more with unprepared users.

    In the past when using skype with classrooms and helping classrooms use skype, I constantly hear “it isn’t working right” when basically it is user error and not skype error.

    Some trouble shooting has to be done BEFORE the actual event. So here are my suggestions:

    1. Do a test call first.
    2. Make sure your microphone is working with skype.
    3. Make sure your speakers are working with skype. Make sure your speakers are loud enough to all to hear.
    4. If you are using video, make sure your video is working with skype.
    5. Don’t wait until the day of the event to make sure these all are working as they should.
    6. Know the limitations of skype. Don’t try to do a video conversation with more than 1 class and expect everyone to be able to use video.
    7. Don’t invite 10 or more classes into the skype and expect it to work without some hiccups.
    8. Anticipate problems and have a backup plan. Exchange real phone #’s as well as skype id’s.
    9. Thank skype for offering this opportunity to you instead of knocking their free program because you did not plan ahead.
    10. Even when a call is dropped the CHAT often still works — so utilize that as well!!

    Why do I think teachers are not jumping on the skype bandwagon?? Well, besides it being blocked at times…I believe teachers want technology to magically work without having to give any effort to make it work. And then when it fails, they blame the software and not the user.

    I have seen skype used very successfully in the elementary classroom. And I am sure this option of use will increase as more people continue to connect.


  3. Jen:

    Thanks for these very helpful, practical, suggestions.

  4. George Edward Stanley says:

    If our son and daughter-in-law in Washington, D.C., hadn’t given us the equipment so we can visit with them weekly by webcam/Skype, etc., I should probably have been intimidated by all the technology, but I’m used to it now, so when a former student of mine asked me to “Skype” from Lawton, Oklahoma, to her high school classes in Laredo, Texas, to discuss one of my new books, NIGHT FIRES (June of this year, from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin), I agreed. The call kept dropping, though, and so we decided to cancel until February, hoping in the meantime that we could find out what was causing all of the problems. Anyway, I think this is really a great way to visit schools now, because, as I get older, just the idea of spending a full day in an elementary school classroom tires me out.

  5. We are still working to get our skype working right. I don’t think teachers are blaming skype software so much as they are blaming school technological shortfalls. Since we are the school in Laredo trying to skype with Lawton, I have learned once again that schools tend to jump on the technology bandwagon, then see how far they can go without spending more money. I realize there is a shortage of available funding, but technology which doesn’t work because of faulty or inadequate equipment is worse than no equpment because of all the money that has been wasted on things which we cannot use. Schools have to realize that they need to insure the technology they have works by completing the installation and not just “add another computer to the network and hope it still works.”

  6. I will post about this very soon — I spoke to a well-funded early adopter institute and got some good ideas from them

  7. TaylorLibrarian says:

    We have not skyped with an author yet, but my teen group has skyped several times with other book groups. It has been very successful.

  8. that is another promising use of the technology — and probably the kids are more patient if it is about contacting other kids.

  9. My kids are excited, my librarian and tech people working hard, but we seem to have walls between our network and the world. I’d be interested in talking to other schools who have successfully skyped using networks in schools with filters. Our tech people would like to find out what they can do to make it possible for us. Any suggestions?

  10. Any of you out there able to offer suggestions?