Online Author Chats – A New Learning Experience
Guest Post by Catherine Balkin
Author Appearances Down. I’ve been arranging author appearances in schools and libraries for about 20 years and, a few months ago, I was sitting at my desk, lamenting their recent slump. With the economic downturn, school and library budgets have been cut right and left, and fewer and fewer authors are being asked to visit schools, libraries, and university events. My little business was – and still is – suffering because of it. So are many of the authors and artists I represent.
Online Chats an Alternative to School Visit? Then a school teacher called and asked me about arranging an online chat with an author using Skype or iChat. At the time, it was a new idea and I decided to explore it. I started asking authors if they would be interested in doing them, and many of them loved the idea. I talked to other schools – many schools, in fact – to find out what they could afford for honorariums. Everyone I talked to liked the idea of online chats. The schools liked the idea of not having to pay travel and hotel expenses, and the authors liked the idea of fewer travel hassles. And because there was no need to travel, the authors were willing to charge less. The more research I did, the better online chats began to sound.
Problems with Setting up an Online Chat. Okay, a couple of snags presented themselves. Some school districts won’t allow access to free programs like Skype or iChat, fearing viruses. But enterprising teachers can use their own laptops or go to a public library or other public places that offer access to computers and the internet. And sometimes the images on the screen aren’t as sharp as we would like or there are time lags during a session – but a good computer makes a big difference with snags like these. They were definitely not obstacles that couldn’t be overcome.
Making Author Online Chats Work
So to help spread the good news that there was an affordable way to bring authors and artists and students together, I decided to raffle off online author chats. This raffle has been teaching me even more about the process and most of the raffled off chats haven’t even been held yet.
- One winner still working on the scheduling end of things teaches an online graduate course to library students all over the country, and she told me she plans to use either Skype’s conference call feature or Adobe Connect.
- Another snag that had been worrying me was the fact that the number of students the author could reach during a chat was limited to the number that could crowd around the computer monitor, but a conference online chat solves that nicely.
The solution came from another winner – an elementary school teacher, who told me she plans to project what’s on the computer monitor onto a large screen using an ActivBoard so the whole grade level can participate.
This raffle has been – and is still in the process of being – a great learning experience. They certainly offer an alternative solution to budget minded schools. In these uncertain economic times, they are a brand new educational tool and a whole new way for teachers to present literature to students. And they allow us a way to continue to bring readers and writers together.
I have no doubt that I will do more raffles for selected authors and artists from time to time, especially when I add new authors and artists to the Balkin Buddies online list, so anyone who wants to drop his or her name into the future raffles hat, please feel free to contact me through the Balkin Buddies website . I also hope you browse through the site from time to time because I’ll be adding more information as I learn it.
Like author visits to schools, online chats are already proving to be a great way to connect kids in a very personal way to the books they read.