36 minutes | May 13th 2020

Leaders from large urban districts show how they are coordinating remote learning for thousands of students and educators.

When the coronavirus pandemic closed schools across the country in March, transitioning to online learning was a challenge for all districts. Large, urban districts faced especially big challenges in getting devices in the hands of hundreds of thousands of students, ensuring they all had internet access and providing training to thousands of educators. In this episode of Ed Influencers, edtech leaders from two of the country’s largest districts – Los Angeles Unified and Baltimore County – talk about how they got their online learning programs off the ground. 

Baltimore County, with 115,000 students, was well positioned to launch online learning because it had an established learning management system that its teachers were experienced using, said Ryan Imbriale, the district’s executive director of innovative learning. Its challenge was to implement a platform for connecting students and teachers in real time. To allow time to train teachers on the platform, the district distributed packets of paper learning materials to students. 

Meanwhile, the district called on its existing e-learning department to train teachers on how to deliver distance learning. On the student side, everyone in grades 3-12 already had a device. The district worked with internet service providers to ensure internet access. Imbriale said the key to the district’s success was patience and a methodical approach.

Los Angeles Unified was faced with arranging distance learning for its 700,000 students. Sophia Mendoza, the district’s director of its instructional technology initiative, said the district’s first priority was to deliver training for teachers. It gathered its existing training programs around the ISTE Standards to give teachers a grounding in distance learning. It found that the ISTE Standards for global collaborator and digital citizen that it was already engaged in implementing gave the district some momentum as the pandemic unfolded. 

The district sought to balance the urgency of the situation with a longer-term view that its teachers would keep using the skills they learned in this transition to distance learning. In a week, the district was able to deliver 12 two-hour training sessions to about 6,000 educators. The district also found that digital equity efforts that were part of its five-year-old instructional technology initiative put it in a good position to address any internet access issues. To help other districts with online learning, Los Angeles also made its professional learning catalog available to any educator.