Vicki and the INK crew are working on Skype and schools in a formal way — they are creating a pilot project which will allow both them authors and teachers to explore, learn, and evaluate. I am sure we will all learn a great deal from their experiment — rules of the road, best practices, hazards, and opportunities. But in a much more informal way, I am experimenting with Skype and what it makes possible. For example, I got one of those nice teacher emails that shows up in your mail box every so often: her fifith grade class had read Trapped, the students wanted to send me notes, would I mind, what address? Sweet. But I thought, why go through the whole note routine, why don’t I just pop into their Illinois classroom by Skype? Now of course there are steps — nervous administrators to reassure, tech people who have to unblock the school system during the event, a budget-minder to be convinced that this really is free (a spur of the moment fly-in to meet a class that has already read your book did not strike me as a moment to list charges). Many hoops to jump through. But in the end, a class that went to the trouble to read a book gets to meet and speak with the author.
By coincidence, the day after I heard from the teacher I got an email from Susan Bloom — and old friend who has taught a Nonfiction course to future librarians at Simmons for years. One of her students had done his author study on me — could I Skype in to the class to meet him? In this case there were fewer hoops, and we will get together digitally today. Whether it is child-reader to author, prospective-librarian to author, author to expert (a session I held the other day) — the ways in which we connect — while staying close to our keyboards, families, and coffee mugs — is growing as fast as we can invent them. And here is one more: why not students to students? As I visit schools around the country I keep coming back to the same idea — which I’ve explored with the National Park Service — why not have students do local history research projects — even local site filmed tourism — and then share that with students elsewhere who are studying the place, or site, that happens to be near me?
Think about it: Ellis Island is a class trip for any school in the Metropolitan Area. It is a photo in a textbook for the rest of the country. Same, in reverse, for the Lincoln Memorial in DC and the site of the I Have a Dream speech, or any Am Rev or Civ War battlefield, etc. Why not have a school group in San Francisco use a flip cam — or even someone’s smart phone — to film The Golden Gate, or Angel island, or the latest Occupy protest in Oakland — and then share that via some form of Youtube, and offer a class to class Skype for a school group in Iowa or Miami which happens to be studying just that? Each individual class does something easy — local trip with handy technology — though in the process they learn about filming, journalism, history, historical research. But collectively the young people of the nation leap out of the textbooks into shared experiences of knowledge, and of collective presence. And then what if we make this international — a school in London, one in Kolkata, and one in Boston all working on, say, the Boston Tea Party — local films that become the international story of the Boston Tea Party — or, to think really big, the Silk Road? The sugar-slave trade? Many small local films that become a vast international saga — student created, and student shared.
Yes there are issues to work through — but, for now, experiment, experiment, experiment.