L.A. Schools Embrace New Student Technology Standards

By Benjamin Herold — June 28, 2016 3 min read
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Los Angeles is the first school district in the U.S. to adopt “refreshed” student technology standards unveiled this week by the International Society for Technology in Education. The move marks a significant pivot in how the country’s second-largest school system is thinking about educational technology.

“It’s about leading with instruction, instead of leading with a tool,” said Frances Gipson, who was named chief academic officer of the LAUSD last November in the wake of a botched 1-to-1 iPad initiative that has become a prime example of how not to embrace educational technology in K-12.

The revised ISTE standards don’t mention any specific technologies or tools that students should be using. Instead, they focus on the skills and qualities that young people need in order to develop the following identities:

  • Empowered learners, who use technology to shape and choose their own learning paths.
  • Digital citizens, who “recognize the rights, responsibilities, and opportunities of living, learning, and working in an interconnected digital world.”
  • Knowledge constructors, who draw on a mix of digital tools and resources to actively explore real-world issues.
  • Innovative designers, with the ability to “identify and solve problems by creating new, useful, or imaginative solutions.”
  • Computational thinkers, who can use technology to develop and test solutions.
  • Creative communicators, who can express themselves “for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals.”
  • Global collaborators, who can work with others using digital tools.

In an interview, Jim Flanagan, ISTE’s chief learning-services officer, described the standards as “aspirational,” saying they are not meant to be used as a compliance checklist. About 20 states make some kind of formal use of the standards, which were originally released in 1998 and last revised in 2007.

The most recent “refresh” process took more than a year, involving more than 2,700 people (including 295 students) from 52 countries. In conjunction with the new standards, the organization also released an implementation toolkit, an e-book, and other online resources.

Flanagan offered two examples of how the standards have evolved. Prior versions included an emphasis on helping students learn how to use technology, he said. Now, though, the “computational thinker” standard in particular focuses on helping students understand how technology actually works—"what does it mean when I click?” as Flanagan put it.

Likewise, the notion of digital citizenship has evolved from preventing such problems as cyberbullying to proactively helping students learn to “embrace these powerful new tools in ways that are appropriate and ethical,” he said.

In Los Angeles, those shifts mirrored a shift in mindset that began after the district’s earlier Common Core Technology Project unraveled, Gipson said. That initiative, spearheaded by former superintendent John Deasy, aimed to quickly put hundreds of thousands of iPads in the hands of students and staff, but fell apart over poor planning, scattershot deployment, major problems with the digital curriculum that was supposed to come installed on each device, and the lack of a coherent notion for how the new technology would reshape teaching and learning.

The end result was a series of high-profile resignations, an FBI investigation, critical reports from an independent evaluator, and a steady stream of negative headlines throughout 2013 and 2014.

By the spring of last year, Gipson said, then-superintendent Ramon Cortines “asked that we shift to being about an instructional vision.” A series of task forces reviewed the research conducted by LAUSD’s independent evaluator, the recently released National Education Technology Plan, and the practices of “cutting-edge” districts, she said, ultimately concluding that its priorities were very much in line with the direction being undertaken by ISTE.

Now, Gipson said, the district is still providing devices and digital tools to students and schools. But its focus is on being student-centered and flexible, with a smarter approach to change management—and a new set of guideposts to steer its work.

“The ISTE standards [have] the exact same language we were coming to from our own study,” Gipson said. “It was an ‘aha!’ moment.”

See also:

on Twitter and @educationweek on Instagram for live coverage of ISTE 2016.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.