Virtual School Visits – Yea or Nay?

Ever since the invention of webcams, there’s been a lot of discussion among authors, teachers and librarians about the pros and cons of Virtual School Visits. You know, when an author magically appears before students via Skype or Facetime or some other means of technological wizardry.

Let’s face it, there are plenty of GOOD reasons for schools to embrace the idea of Virtual Visits.

  • It’s cost-effective. After all, who has $1500+ to shell out on an author visit?
  • It’s quick and easy. No worrying about booking the auditorium, where the author will stay, what to feed the author, and no one has to decorate the halls!
  • Schools could do several virtual visits a year, exposing student to many authors and their books.

NK-art-in-hallAnd, there are some reasons why authors might embrace Virtual Visits:

  • No airport sprints, security lines, taxis, or maps needed.
  • We can Skype in our pajama pants – stay seated in front of the computer and no one will know!
  • We can expose many more young readers to our books without leaving the comforts of home.
  • We may have more time to write.

But before emailing your favorite author to set up that Virtual Visit, keep in mind some DRAWBACKS for students and teachers.

  • Virtual visits are NOT whole-school events. They work best for ONE classroom.  The students need to be able to see the author and vice versa.
  • Virtual visits can never replace the connection an author can make with a student via eye contact, calling on specific students, answering questions that aren’t pre-written.
  • Students aren’t often as excited about a Virtual Visitor as they are an in-person visit. The anticipation of someone important coming to their school often just  isn’t  there.
  • Students get a lot out of preparing for a guest. That artwork in the hallway was a process for them. The stories they wrote for the “Lunch with the Author” contest mattered to them.
  • Virtual Visits are often one-sided by nature. The author shares with students, but the students’ ability to share with the author is limited by the computer and camera. No one can take the author by the hand and lead him down the hall to look at the art or to the cafeteria to listen to the whole school sing a “Katie Parody” called “Chore.”

NK-chore-still

NK Chore (Click to see video)

And, there are DRAWBACKS for authors, too.

  • Obviously, there financial ramifications. Many authors see greater income from speaking fees than royalty checks. If authors charge at all for Virtual Visits (and some do and some don’t), they will realize less income from a virtual visit than an in-person visit.
  • Book sales aren’t usually great at in-person school visits. They will be even less or nonexistent at Virtual Visits.
  • There will be no hugs.
  • There won’t be that magical moment when the first student to see you whispers loudly, “That’s HER! She’s HERE! I see the AUTHOR!”
  • Because Virtual Visits are so affordable, you may be asked to do  a LOT of them. And you may have to set guidelines regarding how and when you’ll do them.

Discussing books I read when I was their age – an in-person visit with Kindergartners in Glendale, CA.

Here are some things teachers and librarians might keep in mind when asking an author about Virtual Visits:

  • Check the author’s website to see if he or she does Virtual Visits, how much he or she charges, and what is the preferred length of visit and audience?
  • If you schedule a Virtual Visit, keep the audience small, so everyone can get some camera time and be seen and heard.
  • Offer to send home a book order form. Authors can be shy about self-promotion, but getting their books into the hands of children is important for both the author and the young reader.
  • Remember that authors may limit the number of Virtual Visits they do or they may only do them under certain circumstances. Keep in mind that this is their profession. You wouldn’t ask your dentist for a free teeth cleaning. Don’t expect all authors to do for free what other schools pay them to do just because it can now be done over the computer.
  • Don’t allow finances to dictate whether you have an in-person visit or a Virtual Visit. There are creative funding sources available and some authors will reduce fees based upon a school’s circumstances. Often it’s worth saving and planning ahead for the “real thing.”
  • So much of life is influenced by technology these days – in good ways and in not-so-good ways. Many children are “virtually” doing things they could be doing in “reality” – video games where they ride a bicycle, dissecting a frog on the interactive white board, the list goes on. Give consideration to an in-person school visit before deciding a Virtual Visit is the way to go.

A Virtual Visit can be the answer to prayers in some situations. Or it can be a poor substitute for what might have been a life-changing experience in others. In my newest book, The Practical County Drama Queen, (ebook now available, print edition May 1)  there is a character who stutters and is made fun of by others.  I’ve added to my school visit presentations a story about bullying and a boy I knew in second grade. I show a class photo and when I talk about Mark, the boy who was bullied, there is absolute silence in the room. You can hear the children breathing. It’s powerful and personal. And connections like that can’t be replicated on a computer screen.

I’d love to hear your comments! Pros and cons, the subject is open for discussion!

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