Saturday, March 14, 2009

Virtual Visit: My Floating Head

Well, I did my first virtual visit using Skype! It was with Carman Collegiate in Carman, Manitoba and I must say that it was a highly enjoyable experience and there were relatively few technical glitches.

First we had a test visit the day before, just to be sure that Skype would work and that the projectors and the sound system were also working properly. It is very important to go through all this before the actual day of the visit, just because there is always something that can go wrong. But they had some tech wizards on their side that made everything go smoothly.

The setup on my end was fairly simple. I had my Macbook (which has a built-in web cam), Skype, and a wireless microphone (these mics are rather expensive, my wife is a musician so I borrowed hers). I could have used the microphone on the Macbook or my USB mic, but I wanted my voice to be as clear as possible and I wanted to be able to move away from the laptop and gesture and do all sorts of antics. I have wireless internet (500k upload, 10mb download, in case you're interested) and that seemed to be fast enough to run everything.

This is what I saw on my screen:

In the upper right hand is the Skype window. There's the classroom, the students, the tech wizard (who is running the laptops and projectors on their end). On the left hand side of my screen are PDF's of the images they are projecting on their second projector (I had sent these files to them earlier). I have my "Sound" preferences open, just so I can be certain they are still hearing me.

This is what they saw on their end:

They had two projectors (one to project my image on Skype, and one to project the images of my slideshow). They also had a sound system and a microphone (for asking questions). That's Jeremy, the tech wizard, who is running the whole show.

The whole event lasted about an hour. I spoke for forty minutes, including brief readings from several of my books, then answered questions at the end. For the first part of the presentation it was difficult to tell the students' reactions because their microphone was turned down to prevent feedback in their sound system. The students were a little blurry and distant, so it was also hard to read their faces (but thankfully techwiz Jeremy laughed at my jokes, so I knew at least one person was getting my sense of humour). But once the mic was turned up and it was Q&A time I was able to get a much better read on their reactions.

Overall it was a relatively painless experience. Skype dropped out once, but that was before we began the presentation and we reconnected right away. I was able to get back to my own work within a few minutes, which is far different from when I travel to schools out of province. And, hey, the only carbon I produced was while I was talking (much smaller than the amount I'd produce if I'd flown there).

My thanks goes to Library Lady and all the staff and students at Carman for testing this out. I really appreciate it!


P.S. My thanks to Elizabeth O. Dulemba who blogged about her virtual visit and inpsired me. Read her experience here.

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