On National Digital Learning Day Wednesday, students at Hollywood Elementary School in Beckley, W.Va., got a little training in the ghostly sounding concept of “telepresence.”

Actually, the students in Elizabeth Raney’s classroom used their “telepresence” to digitally engage three other classrooms simultaneously online.

Telepresence is a technology concept that allows a person to feel as if they are part of a place that may be far from their true location. In this case, four classrooms in the state were digitally connected for a lesson led by West Virginia Teacher of the Year Erin Sponaugle.

Sponaugle taught her lesson from a classroom of kids in Kanawha County’s Westside Mary C. Snow Elementary while connected to three other schools in Harrison, Mingo and Raleigh counties.

She showed the students multimedia slides of West Virginia landmarks and symbols. The children were a part of the interactive lesson and gave input verbally and visually with the main screen switching automatically to whomever was speaking.

Mary Ann Foster, technology coordinator for Raleigh County Schools, was on hand to help set up the room and make sure the class stayed connected.

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When asked what challenges the special event presented, Foster said, “We haven’t faced a lot of challenges because we have One-to-One here (and) iPads in the county, so our infrastructure is great. Our connection has been wonderful. We just had to get distance learning equipment to make the call.”

Hollywood Elementary Principal Tamber Hodges was happy to participate in Digital Learning Day.

“It’s exciting that our school was chosen to participate in such an exciting event, to be chosen as one of only four schools in the state. It’s an honor that we were picked to participate in such a fun learning activity that will hopefully show our students how important it is to learn digitally.”

According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington, D.C.–based national policy and advocacy organization, Digital Learning Day is a nationwide celebration of innovative teachers and common-sense, effective applications of digital learning in America’s schools that support teachers, improve learning and provide options for students to achieve at their highest potential as they navigate the shift to more robust digital learning environments.

Foster gave examples of how the county has been utilizing available technology.

“There is a lot of virtual learning that goes on ... When there are snow days, we have snow packets and they have lessons that they can do on the iPad. We use Engrade which allows the teachers to post assignments. Students can take quizzes, they can look at their assignments, we have many schools doing that with the iPad. The iPad has been wonderful during these snow days because they’re still getting to have instruction. They’re still able to learn at home in their own environment.”

Hodges agreed, relaying her own child’s use of the program. “They were able to keep up with some of those programs and assessments that would keep them going. We weren’t here at school, but we were still doing some work, we did about two and a half or three hours of work a day.”

Hodges thinks that there have been great successes since starting the iPad curriculum in third-grade through fifth-grade.

“It’s really made a big difference, I’ve seen an increase of student engagement. Teachers are really coming out of their comfort zone and trying new projects and new ideas and trying to see how they can change their instruction to better suit our students for today because this is what they are going to have to get used to.”

Other schools around the county, though not a part of the teleconferencing lesson, implemented their own digital projects on a class-by-class basis to celebrate the day.

For more information on Digital Learning Day, go to www.digitallearningday.org.

©2014 The Register-Herald (Beckley, W.Va.)