Figuring Out What Works, and What Does Not
I’ve been writing about the ways in which we can be flooded by change, by technology — drowned rather than swept along. But even as I am registering those hesitations, I am also experimenting — trying to learn how to ride the tide, how to make the new options work. So last night Dr. Eliza Dresang, who is the Beverly Cleary professor of Children’s Lit at the University of Washington, brought Marina and me into her class by Skype. We did an hour Q and A with MLS students taking their YA materials class — about 2/3 of them planning to work in public libraries, 1/2 in schools. We’ve Skyped before, but only to keep in touch when one of us ahs been on a trip far away.
Frustrations: Eliza was smart enough to have a test run two hours before class, and then I could not hear them. It took some exploring and tinkering with my laptop to figure out that its speakers were not on the right settings. This is not a problem with Skype, but just a warning that even if Skype works perfectly, there may be little glitches that require you to know, or be able to trouble shoot, your machine. Once we got going, the visual part was at best OK. While we could see the class clearly, students far from their camera looked tiny. And the little inset box showing us had that jumpy quality of really old and bad computer images. In effect the visual part was like looking at a snap shot of them, with a bit of motion, and a snapshot of us. The best that can be said of the visuals is that we could pick out who was raising her hand — so there was a kind of contact that we would not have had if we were speaking on the phone. Benefits: the class was able to see us, and to ask us questions, with a sense of being in a space together that we really could not have easily created any other way.
Surely some of you are expert Skypers and can add to this report — would we have had a much better visual experience if we used a different camera, not the one that happened to come with my laptop? Any other tips to offer? But my take away is that Skype is much less than a full and direct visual connection. It is more like a postcard with a bit of motion and good audio. We should use it to have a better sense of sharing an experience, of being in a space together. If that is so, lets figure out how best to use that kind of experience — in our libraries and classrooms.