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Thursday, August 09, 2012

Doing Star Trek: A Virtual Author Visit To Perth

Wednesday I paid my very first virtual author visit. I have always wanted to do things like in Star Trek, where they were doing Skype calls in the 60s! ;-) And we'd been talking about virtual author visits on Twitter.

I work at a school in Melbourne and the class I visited was in Perth, across the country and  two hours behind us. It required a LOT of organisation on both sides, but especially on the host school's part and I have to say, Anthony gave it.

Anthony is an ASIM writer whose wonderful story "The Wine Endures" I plucked out of the slush pool as my selection for ASIM's 50th issue. We have kept in touch since then and he has started his own blog. And one day we were talking about author visits and he said if I ever came to Perth I would be welcome to visit his school and I said innocently that I'd be happy to do a virtual visit by the wonders of Skype and next thing I knew he'd begun rushing around to arrange it. On my side I had to consult with the computer techs at my school to make sure it was possible. Our wonderful head tech Vien assured me it was. He offered to set me up with a webcam and headphones; at that point I decided to bring in my own laptop, which has a built-in webcam and doesn't need headphones. For one thing, Vien had enough work on his plate without rushing around to my campus to set me up. For another thing, I wanted a computer I knew I could trust.

Anthony had been using my blog posts in his lessons to Year 8, so his students already knew who I was. He asked the library to get in some copies of my novel and I promised a couple of copies of Crime Time if he'd put me in touch with his library. (That still hasn't happened, but hopefully soon).

He arranged with his school's techs to be there in case of connection problems. He booked the big screen area so he could get in a lot of students. He asked me to talk to them about fairy tales and werewolves and read from my book.

We did a trial run last week, on my insistence, and I'm glad we did. The connection in the staff room was fine, but woeful in the library, where I hoped to do my visit. I consulted Vien and Tam, another tech, and our info tech teacher, and was advised to use an ethernet cable, which I could connect in my office and which was more reliable than wifi. Leaving nothing to chance, I bought a new ethernet cable. Mine was about ready to be replaced anyway.

So the great day arrived. We were due to start 10.45 my time, two hours earlier Perth time. We ended up starting a bit later due to technical hiccups on their end, but finally we began. Anthony's students are all girls - possibly a religious-based school judging by the uniforms.  I waved at them. They waved back. Anthony introduced me and I began my talk. To them, he is Mr Phillips and I had to remember to call him that. I told them that I, too, was a Year 8 teacher and a library teacher and was pleased to meet them. I waffled on for a while about the things Anthony had requested, including that the wolf in Red Riding Hood was probably meant to be a werewolf - how else could he possibly pose as Grandma?

But I like interaction. This is a lot harder when you're way over the other side of the country than when you can throw book marks at the audience and invite members up to assist you. Still, there were questions. After a short time I paused to invite a question and next thing I knew they were coming thick and fast and lasted pretty much till the end of the session, when we squeezed in a short reading, not from Wolfborn but from Crime Time("hands up those who'd like a crime story?" and a huge number of hands shot up).

During the event, I was interrupted several times, once by the office lady, who didn't know I was doing this(my fault, I should have told her) and wanted me to go look for someone. I had to explain I was talking to a Year 8 in Perth and couldn't get up. Sometimes it was by students needing computers and  keys to the computer lab. I called them over and introduced them to my audience before giving them what they wanted, without, of course, getting up. Two of them were Brittany and Paige, two of the girls I met for Claudia Gray earlier this year.

It was hilarious!

Thinking about it afterwards,  I realised how much could have gone wrong if Anthony hadn't been such a professional in his organisation of the event. I have no doubt there are writers out there with horror stories about virtual visits.

I also had my own private agenda. I thought if it ran smoothly, perhaps I might try a relationship between his class and mine. It's something to discuss for the future.

Meanwhile, I hope the students enjoyed it as much as I did!


Unknown said...

I loved reading this. What a great idea and wonderful experience. It opens up some tremendous areas personally to me and also to others, I am sure. It is especially appreciative that you took the time to share this with others. By the way, I like the informality that just happened to occur, unplanned, and that the interruptions just added to the good atmosphere. Informality means 'real life' and I think it all only added to the greatness of your presentation. Thank you very much.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Richard, thanks so much for your kind words! It was a delightful experience. I think that Twitter, where we discussed it, has been a handy tool to me. One writer said she was disappointed she couldn't get to a school and had to break the news to them. She seemed to think a virtual visit just isn't the same. It isn't, but if you can't get to a school because you have a full time day job in the school system it's a nice alternative. In your case, from what I see of your profile, all the travelling you do might make it an attractive option for you too.

I run a laid-back library and I like my students and they like me, generally, so it was fun to include them.

Candy Gourlay said...

Saw this on LinkedIn. I've been thinking about trying this out but wondering whether I could do the same presentation I do in schools... with Powerpoint etc. This is so encouraging! Thanks for sharing.

Sue Bursztynski said...

You're welcome, Candy! I don't know how viable a PowerPoint is when you have just the little webcam on your computer. I guess it's a bit like me and my props and inviting kids up - just can't be done! :-) But hey, the kids get to see you and ask you questions and you can still read to them. In my case, the teacher had the questioners sit in front of the computer, so it was more like one to one and that was nice too. You might try it once as an experiment, perhaps offer a free virtual visit as part of a competition, and see how it goes. With a Carnegie nomination for your first book, you should have plenty of takers and it makes great promo.