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Setting up a Virtual Visit
By far the most popular videoconferencing tool for virtual visits is Skype. Skype is a free Internet telephone service on your computer that allows you to connect with another party by video or just audio/phone. The software is easy to download, and an account is simple to set up. Learn lots more about Skype and find lots of Skype resources here from Jerry Blumengarden (aka CybraryMan.) In your initial contact with the author you’ll want to pick a day and time for the Skype call and agree on who will initiate the call.
If you’ve not yet used Skype, plan to practice with a friend or family member during summer or a school break when you have the time. If your computer doesn’t have a built-in camera, you’ll need to use a webcam to be seen. You’ll increase your comfort level with the tool, learn to do some simple troubleshooting, and (best of all) stay in touch with someone you care about. If you are intimidated, ask a teenager or a family member of someone deployed in the military to show you how they use Skype. You’d be amazed how many people use it!
At school you will want to check in with your technician or IT support folks to be sure that there is nothing (blocking software, firewalls, etc.) that will interfere with the use of Skype. Pretest a Skype call from school to be sure—at least a couple of weeks before your schedule author visit.
Arrange for viewing on a large screen using an LCD projector if you do not have one in your classroom. On the day of your session, fire up your computer, microphone, and camera at least twenty minutes ahead of time just to be sure everything is working. You’ll have time to troubleshoot any problems if necessary.
Preparing Your Students • Alternatives to Skype