Rebecca G. Aguilar | Writer

SCBWI

Author Q & A | Rachel Elizabeth Cole on Skype in the Classroom

Posted by Rebecca G. Aguilar, M.Ed. on April 30, 2015

The Rabbit Ate My Homework

The Rabbit Ate My Homework
By Rachel Elizabeth Cole
ISBN-13: 9780991766727
Publisher: Tangled Oak Press
Publication date: 9/2/2014
Pages: 210

Rachel Elizabeth Cole is author of the humorous middle grade novel The Rabbit Ate My Homework (Tangled Oak Press, 2014). When not writing fiction, she works as a graphic designer specializing in book covers. She lives near Vancouver, British Columbia with her husband, two sons and a pair of house rabbits.

School visits, now more accessible with online video conferencing tools, help authors connect with reading audiences. Rachel recently shared what she learned about school visits through Skype in the Classroom.

In April, you had the opportunity to conduct three school visits via Skype in the Classroom. What appealed to you about connecting to students through online video conferencing?

I didn’t feel I was quite ready for in-person visits and I wasn’t confident to approach schools yet, so Skype in the Classroom seemed a good stepping stone. With Skype in the Classroom, the teachers contact you. In the last month, I’ve received nearly ten invitations to do visits!

How did you prepare for the first Skype school visit?

First thing I did was start Googling. I found these websites had very useful information:

I also watched as many author school visit videos on YouTube as I could find.

Then I wrote up a presentation and practiced and practiced it—first on my family, and then on some of my author friends, using Skype.

Did the technology have an unexpected effect on presentation? On interactions with students?

You have to slow down a bit for the time delay (it’s not long, maybe half a second at most), especially if you’re trying to interact with the students. In person you get a reaction almost immediately, but with Skype you have to wait to see/hear it, then you can continue. So practice your pausing!

Also, gestures turn blurry. So if you gesture a lot, like I do, it doesn’t always come through on the video.

What kinds of things went well during your Skype school visits? What kinds of things would you do differently?

Believe it or not, the one thing I was worried that wouldn’t work out—introducing the kids to the bunnies—has gone really well. Both bunnies have been really cooperative! And the kids love the bunnies!

One thing I would do differently would be to get the kids to approach the camera and say their names and then ask their questions. It can be very difficult to hear them from their seats and there isn’t that personal connection of seeing their faces otherwise.

What I’ve also learned to do differently is to verify the time before you call. I had a visit to Saskatchewan, which is in the Central time zone. I’m in the Pacific time zone, so I added two hours and made the call. Well, I forgot that Saskatchewan doesn’t observe Daylight Savings, so I was calling an hour early!

Another thing I learned after my first call was: make the call yourself! My first call got dropped not once, but three times! I learned later that whoever makes the call, hosts the call on their Internet connection. And since schools don’t always have the most stable Internet connection, calls will get dropped. Dropped calls really mess up your presentation, so arrange to make the call instead of the class calling you!

In what ways are face-to-face school visits similar to Skype in the Classroom? In what ways do they differ?

As I mentioned above, I haven’t done an in-person school visit yet, but I’ve done other in-person presentations, so I have noticed some similarities and differences to the two.

Similarity-wise, the content of the presentations I’m doing wouldn’t be very different for an in-person school visit. I’d bring in a PowerPoint presentation to supplement my talk, but otherwise it would be pretty much the same.

The Q&A at the end isn’t all that different, either. Kids ask questions and I do my best to answer them! The only difference there is the teacher chooses who will ask the questions, instead of me calling on them.

A big difference, I find, is it can be harder to gauge the audience’s reactions due to the time delay and the video quality. If you can’t see the kids’ faces clearly or hear them, you’re depending solely on body language and that isn’t always the best indicator of how they’re responding.

Other differences:

No travel! No parking issues. No getting lost. You get to stay in your comfy home/office where everything is familiar.

Also you can show the kids things you couldn’t at a school visit. Like my two house rabbits. It would be much more difficult to bring them to an in-person school visit. I’d need a carrier, a pen, food, water, a litter box, etc. But using Skype, I just need to hop up and go grab them from the other side of the room! And you can never forget something at home, because it’s right there at home with you!

Do you think you will use Skype in the Classroom or other video chat technology for future school visits?

Oh, absolutely. I’ve agreed to stay on with the Skype Literacy Campaign for the rest of the year. I’m looking forward to getting to meet more kids in more schools around not just the country, but the world!

What is more difficult to manage during a Skype school visit? Bunnies or tough questions from students?

Honestly, I think the bunnies. Even though they’ve been really good, they have minds of their own and you just don’t know what they’re going to do sometimes!

For more about Rachel Elizabeth Cole, please visit http://rachelelizabethcole.com.

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