Elephant seals were almost extinct 100 years ago.

Elephant seals were almost extinct 100 years ago.

Fifth-grade students at Hilliard Crossing Elementary School got an opportunity to learn about the elephant seals through video conferencing on Dec. 15.

Rich Boettner, the coordinator of instructional technology for the Hilliard City School District, helped link students with Ranger John Goldberg of the Ano Nuevo State Reserve, which is part of the California State Park system.

"This will be our very first video conference with students that we have ever done," Boettner said prior to the event.

The connection was made without a hitch.

Goldberg appeared before the students on the full-size screen in the two separate sessions.

Desk top conferencing is available on the computers, but Boettner said they used a large screen for the interactive discussions.

The four classes were split in two, he said, so everyone could be close to the equipment which was set up in the media center. The students and staff felt like they were in the room with Goldberg.

"The students were a little timid at first since it was a new experience for them," Boettner said following the sessions.

As they became accustomed to the conference, curiosity prompted the students to interact with Goldberg and ask questions.

"Not only did they ask a lot of questions," said Boettner, "they asked really good questions that only an expert in elephant seals could answer."

Boettner said the district obtained the video conferencing equipment this past summer after testing out borrowed equipment last spring.

Doug Reeves, known for his educational research, conducted a professional development workshop with the staff which later set the stage for using the video conferencing to educate students.

Linda Uhrenholt, a consultant with AT&T helped arrange the video conferencing with Reeves. She told the technology staff in Hilliard about the program at Ano Nuevo State Reserve since the California State Parks do video conferencing.

"She highly recommended it as a good place to start," said Boettner. "She has been a great resource."

The ocean habitat is studied in the fifth-grade curriculum and they thought it would be a good opportunity for the students to see how the elephant seal has adapted to its marine environment.

Boettner admitted that he knew nothing about the elephant seals until he started linking up the students with the park ranger. He was as eager to learn about the mammal as the students.

"At Ano Nuevo they come on shore and have baby elephant seals in November or December," he said.

Different theories regarding the elephant seal evolution was discussed by Goldberg and the students.

"Some scientists now believe that elephant seals have evolved from the weasel," said Boettner.

Travel expenses and arrangements would have made the excursion to Ano Neuvo State Reserve impossible, but through video conferencing the students have access to the park.

"Through video conferencing our students are now able to work with professionals and scientists out in the real world in a way never before possible," he said.

As soon as he was sure they would be able to complete the video conferencing, Boettner said he sent out feelers to some of the elementary building to see if the staffs would be interested in trying out the new technology.

"Hilliard Crossing teachers said they wanted to do it and that's how we got connected," said Boettner.

The fifth-graders were so excited about the video conferencing that the second grade teachers now want to pursue the subject of the butterfly cycle of life.

Boettner said the California State Parks also facilitate that workshop.

"Washington Elementary School has already scheduled to do the elephant seal conference in January with Ranger John Goldberg," he said.