Sunday, June 13, 2021

One year of virtual school visits

Cringe notI'm not going to recount every visit one by one. I'm also not going to reflect more broadly on our COVID year (because I've already done that). I'm simply noting a milestone, albeit small, as I am wont to do.

Prior to COVID-19, I'd done few virtual appearances. (What is now called a "Zoom visit" was then known as a "Skype visit.") I would advocate for in-person engagements whenever possible; kids these days are so used to screens that anything up close and personal in the real world has a bigger impact. Plus my approach is more performance than presentation and it gets quite emotional, both of which make it harder to convey remotely. (Though this year, I've learned how.)

That said, if Skype was a school's only option, I was open to it.

Even when the human race went into lockdown in March 2020 with no indication of when such extreme measures would end, I (and some other authors/speakers) at first resisted going virtual. I thought I would wait it out.

Something else I have learned: don't play chicken with a pandemic. The pandemic will win.

So on 6/10/20, I did my first full virtual visit, with a school in Massachusetts. By "full" I mean more than a single talk. This was also the first school I booked to be virtual from the start (i.e. not rescheduling what was originally scheduled as an in-person). My previous talk was in person in Ohio on 3/12/20. That night, or within the next three days, the world went home and stayed there.

In July, I did my first international virtual visit (the students were in Dubai, I was on a second-floor deck a few houses from the beach in North Carolina). In April 2021, I did my first virtual keynote. In between and since, I did more talks (K-12 schools, universities, synagogues, community groups, etc.) than I was expecting in March 2020.

On 6/11/21, almost a year to the day I first waded into virtual waters, I did my last visit of the 2020-21 school year, speaking remotely to middle schoolers in New York. 

Unlike some pivoters, I hadn't invested in a ring light; an adjustable floor lamp on either side of my desk—both already there pre-COVID—worked just fine. I hadn't picked up a classic-looking 1940s microphone; no one complained about the sound via my laptop. I didn't have to plunk down a nice chunk of change for a standing desk...well, not during quarantine; I had bought one in 2017. I didn't gussy up my background; it's the same old window, bookshelves, and boxes of comics it was in the Before Times because all of that already align with my raison d'etre.

What I did do:

  • added images to my presentation to bolster spots where formerly I would talk for a stretch without changing slides; in person, I can use facial expressions and body language to compensate, but that isn't an option with videoconferencing; even without these new additions, my presentation already included more images than I typically see in other author talks, but staring at one picture on a screen for more than a few seconds can cause attention to wander; at first I thought I'd remove these "hitch" images when I go back in person but have now decided to keep them
  • bought a laptop stand and wireless keyboard for better ergonomics (mostly for everyday health but it also helps with presentations)
  • began using earbuds for aesthetics even though I still prefer wired headphones both for fit and for our future; the first time I used both these and the laptop stand for a presentation was the same day, 6/11/21 (again, the final presentation of the school year)

I know blog posts (or online articles in general) without pictures can be a drag, but so are the now-ubiquitous screenshots of Zooms, so I will spare you.

Looking ahead, I am so eager to return to live audiences...but also fully on board for virtual visits. What they may lack in the palpable energy you get only when in close proximity to other people they make up for in they give every student a front row seat.

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