Alternative Teaching Aids · Google Hangout · School Libraries · Training Courses

International Skype Session at ArASL 2016

I’m delighted to be joined by Stony Evans, a Library Media Specialist at Lakeside High School in Hot Springs, Arkansas who is a guest on our blog. We shared the pleasure of co-presenting at the Arkansas Association of School Librarians and here is our journey.


Introduction  (Elizabeth)

Way back in January I was looking for information about Mystery Skype. It was something that I had been interested in but did not know where to start. I found Stony’s blog post about his first Mystery Skype attempt with lots of suggestions on how it worked. He made me feel that this was something that I could at last try, so I took the plunge and sent him a Tweet.

stony small...
This is the tweet that changed us both!

It turned out that Stony was keen to try his first international Mystery Hangout and was in the middle of a library re-vamp. Our Mystery Hangout could be used to open his new space… No pressure then 🙂

Mystery Hangout  (Stony)

Previously, I wrote about our first Mystery Hangout with Elizabeth and St. Anne’s School on the Island of Alderney. To prepare for the event, we scheduled a time a few days before to test our connection with the school. We found the connection to be great; it was as if our new friends were right across the building! We then set up the library for a typical Mystery Skype/ Hangout. If you need more information about this arrangement, read this article. On the day of the event, everything worked flawlessly.

Professional Development  (Elizabeth)

After our very successful Mystery Hangout session, Stony and I continued our conversation. Where could we take this next? Could we share our experience to inspire others to try this out too? Stony had a district CPD (continued professional development) session coming up and asked me how I would feel about joining in to share best practice via Google Hangouts. It was wonderful to be able to chat with a group of librarians across the world who were all keen to share ideas, but were also keen to try it for themselves.

Elizabeth talking to the Librarians in Arkansas

This CPD session made Stony and I realize that sharing best practices was important, and we were keen to find different ways to continue this. Stony had a couple of conferences coming up at which he was presenting, and we discussed the possibility of myself co-presenting at one of them. We could share our experiences of using Mystery Skype/ Hangouts to inspire other school librarians. I could not believe that I was being given such a wonderful opportunity to present at a conference in America without having to leave the comfort of my own house. We agreed that the Arkansas Association of School Librarians (#ArASL16) was going to be our first attempt and about two weeks before, we started planning.

We connected again through Skype and discussed how we thought the session would run, I would have about twenty minutes and my outline was very simple; tell our story about creating our first international mystery hangout connection and how social media has had an impact on my own professional development.

My job before the conference was to make sure Stony had a recording of what I wanted to say in case the tech didn’t work. It is not easy to talk to yourself for twenty minutes, but having had a little practice talking on Voxer to Stony over the last few months, I just went for it. I had a twenty minute timer and had broken my talk into ten minute slots so I knew when I had to move on. Twenty minutes seems like a long time, but actually if you love the subject, you have to be very strict at talking about what is important.

Having done the hard work, I just had to send it to him. Now surprisingly enough the part that I thought was going to be easy proved far harder than I had imagined. There was no way (that I could work out) of sending a twenty minute video, and I tried everything. YouTube, Dropbox, email and even uploading to Google docs was impossible. None of them would accept a video that was this long. Lucky for me, my son Nick knew how to chop up my video into five minute chunks. In order to do this we used Quicktime player, selected the whole video and clicked ‘edit’ and ‘trim’. We selected the amount we wanted to keep, then pressed ‘trim’ to save as part 1. We continued to do this until it was all cut and saved.

 It still took around forty minutes for each section to download, but at least they were with Stony if our plans did not work.

Conference Presentation (Stony)


We decided to use Microsoft OneDrive to share our outline for the presentation. We also used this method to write this collaborative blog article. A few days prior to the conference, we connected again via Skype and talked through our outline to make sure we were both on the same page.

In addition, on the day of the conference, we connected twice to make sure all was working correctly. I brought our school MiFi just in case of an issue with the hotel WiFi. I’m very glad I brought it because right before the session, the hotel Wifi dropped out. The MiFi device worked wonderfully!

Feedback from Attendees (Stony)

I received many nice comments from school librarians who attended our session. Most described that they were ready to try connecting their schools to other places via Skype and Hangouts after hearing our presentation. It was very encouraging to receive such positive comments from colleagues from around our state!

Feedback (Elizabeth)

I received many requests to connect on Twitter, which is great in terms of increasing my international connections.

Reflection of the Presentation (Elizabeth)

Waiting to be connected was a little worrying. Was it going to work? Would they find what I had to say interesting? How was I going to start? I had several starts in my head – which one would sound the best? I even wondered if they would be better off if they could just watch the pre-record…then we were connected. No backing out now!

It was lovely to share this story with Stony.  It was great to see the reaction of the audience as I spoke. This helped me relax and start to talk more naturally. It was impossible to talk and read notes so it made me make sure that I had prompts and nothing else, and I intend to use this experience to ensure that my talks in the future have less notes. It was great to be  part of something new and different. Not only were we talking about what we had done, but we were demonstrating how the technology worked. The only down side for me was being a little disconnected, there was still a feeling that I was talking to myself although I could see them and hear them laugh, thankfully in the right places, but when they asked questions the microphone was too far away for me to hear. This made it truly co-presented as Stony then took control again and was able to answer from in the room. Maybe next time we need to set up an extended microphone. Already I am talking about next time, so it must have been good!

Value of the Presentation (Elizabeth)

Skype and Google Hangouts make it possible to talk to anyone in the world, therefore extending our presentation skills. I will be looking for more opportunities to present and share via webcam. I also feel more confident in encouraging teachers to use this with their students.

Reflection of the Presentation (Stony)

In January 2016, a Tweet from the island of Guernsey changed my life and our school. I’m so glad Elizabeth took a moment to reach out to me on that Saturday morning. Because of that one Tweet, she caused change in our school and in many librarians in our state. Our students have had a great cultural learning experience. Our district’s librarians have opened their minds to connecting to other places.

Conclusion (Stony)

Because of these events, Elizabeth and I are planning to have our first international book club this fall. I cannot wait to share our common love of literacy over so many miles. The best is yet to come. Follow us to find out what happens next!

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