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LAUSD Making a Comeback with Instructional Technology

After a long journey, the Los Angeles Unified School District is emerging as a leader in instructional technology practices.

Sophia Mendoza, Director, Instructional Technology Initiative. Photo by Bruce Vivero (ITI), LAUSD
As the second-largest urban school district in the nation, the Los Angeles Unified School District has embarked on a long journey to embed technology into learning and teaching in the most effective way possible. After years of strategic planning and collaboration, the district is now making a comeback as a true leader in instructional technology.

The district has undergone several iterations of instructional technology plans, dating back to 2013 with the Common Core Technology Project. Under this pilot, the district had initially planned to deliver technology devices to every student and teacher within the district over the course of five years. However, the district paused the rollout of devices in 2014 to ensure schools established a technology plan.

Implementing Instructional Technology

Beginning in 2015, the district dedicated time and energy to carefully identifying its needs and goals in preparation to implement instructional technology in a conscientious way that would benefit all students, teachers and parents. To do this, leaders in LAUSD tasked the Instructional Technology Initiative (ITI) Taskforce with gathering that information. In the spring of that year, a 50-member group representing students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members gathered weekly to discuss and understand each other’s needs. Members also met in smaller workgroups and invited industry experts and partners from other districts to share their research and experience with instructional technology.  

According to Sophia Mendoza, ITI director, three key goals came out of this lengthy collaboration, including learner agency, academic rigor and learner-centered learning environments. The taskforce focused on collaboration across the district and leveraging strategic change by meeting learners (students and teachers) where they are with technology. “We live in a very large system within LAUSD, so collaboration was key,” said Mendoza. “One piece that was loud and clear was that we cannot do this work on our own.”

While teachers and administrators now use a variety of tools to achieve their specific school’s teaching and learning goals, Mendoza is clear that the district is committed to leading with instructional practices, not technology.

“We can no longer lead with the tools,” she said. “We have to ensure there is a lesson design that provides the opportunity for students to be agents of their own learning where the instructor acts as a facilitator.”

The district continues to work on long-term challenges, like building sustainability and a coherent message across a very large system. There’s also the challenge of overcoming misconceptions around computer science and instructional technology as coding courses, instead of tools that can be leveraged for all students. One way in which the district is addressing these challenges is through “practitioner schools” where teachers can share best practices and lessons learned on a digital platform. As Mendoza puts it, it’s a way to capture “exemplars” so teachers can share the process they went through to create exemplary lessons that work for their students.

Supporting professional development

Looking ahead, the district’s long-term goal is to achieve a 100 percent graduation rate. To get there, ITI is focusing on four key areas, including implementing a cohort model of support for professional development. Mendoza and her team aim to deliver professional learning opportunities for 40 district school sites and to align instructional leadership teams with the ITI recommendations and ISTE Standards for Students during the 2017-2018 school year. As part of that professional development, those instructional leadership teams will receive three-day intensive instruction within a cohort model of support, as well as 55 professional learning sessions covering diverse topics.

The district is also focused on expanding high school computer science education courses across each local district by partnering with UCLA over the course of the next three years. What’s more, the district will also develop the Practitioner School 2.0 model to enhance cohort-style professional development opportunities. They currently support 20 schools across the district and aim to develop an additional 20 schools in the 2018-2019 school year.

Finally, the district will focus on cultivating a culture of digital citizenship that supports college and career success for all learners. In practice, ITI will support 20 schools in each local district to become Common Sense Education (CSE)-Digital Citizenship Certified each year. Part of that effort includes the ongoing integration of digital citizenship concepts and policies and an annual Digital Citizenship Week Event at elementary, middle and high schools.

Mendoza is optimistic about the direction that LAUSD is headed — not because of the technology they are implementing, but by the conscientious way in which they are implementing it. She hopes that other districts will do the same. “Don’t be distracted by those shiny tools or the latest app,” she said. “Go back and really define: What are our learning objectives? What is our lesson design and what are our outcomes for our learner (student or adult)? It’s about always leading with those sound instructional practices and leveraging our existing digital tools and resources to personalize that learning experience for our learner.”