'It's Going To Be a New Game': How the Pandemic Changed Education at LA Unified

Sarah Favot

Favot is an award-winning journalist and adjunct instructor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She previously was an investigative and data reporter at national education news site The 74 and local news site LA School Report. She's also worked at the Los Angeles Daily News. She was a Livingston Award finalist in 2011 and holds a Master's degree in journalism from Boston University and BA from the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada.

'It's Going To Be a New Game': How the Pandemic Changed Education at LA Unified
Ian Hurley

Los Angeles students are returning to classrooms this month that will look different and not only because desks will be six feet apart.

Laptops and tablets, which have been students' only connection to their teachers and classmates for the past year, will become prominent in classrooms that for generations have relied on paper and pen.

"I do think it's going to be a new game," said Michael Finn, who teaches at Marshall High School in Los Feliz. While technology has been available to Los Angeles Unified School District teachers long before the pandemic, teachers used it to varying degrees. Now, every teacher has adopted it and many are discovering more of its features and functions.

The nation's second largest school district began a phased reopening last week, with middle and high schools doors to open the week of April 26.

"Laptops, cameras, tablets are now just part of our learning environment," said Sophia Mendoza, who heads LAUSD's instructional technology division.

And so too are an array of educational software and other programs from Google Classroom and Schoology to quiz app Kahoot!, Newsela, a platform that hosts thousands of different texts geared toward different reading levels, and Nearpod, an app that allows teachers to take students on virtual field trips.

It will be a transformational shift in some classrooms where technology has been lacking.

When the pandemic hit last year and schools shuttered, districts across the country scrambled to ensure that students had devices to access online classes as well as a reliable connection to high-speed internet.

Some school districts also had to sign contracts for online learning management systems or other tools.

Tech Growth

Google Classroom said more than 150 million students and teachers now use its services, up from 40 million last year.

And venture investment in education tech startups more than doubled last year to $13.49 billion compared to $5.1 billion in 2019, according to Pitchbook.

Analysts expect the pandemic to accelerate the growth of a digital learning infrastructure.

At the L.A.U.S.D. tech companies raked in $70 million during the first two months of the pandemic, documents first obtained by LAist show.

The largest share of the money, $37.8 million, went to Apple for iPads as the district scrambled to arm a half million students with internet access and devices.

The district spent another $22 million to purchase Chromebooks and Windows devices through a company called Arey Jones. Verizon also received school district money, although the exact amount wasn't clear based on the documents.

In May, Superintendent Austin Beutner said its push to distribute devices to all of the district's 550,000 students was nearly complete.

"If the transition to online learning is our moonshot, the rocket's been built and lift off has occurred. We're in the early days of an extraordinary voyage," Beutner said in May.

While teachers will still rely on fundamental techniques they've learned throughout their careers, new tech programs like Pear Deck — which integrates with Google Slides and allows students to interact with the teacher's presentation — could make teaching more effective.

"What we're seeing now is that teachers are starting to see the value in some of these things when they may not have really been interested in trying it out before," said Corinne Hyde, an associate teaching professor at USC's Rossier School of Education.

"A lot of teachers who were a little bit unsure before have gotten over that initial hump of being nervous of the technology or skeptical of the technology and seeing that there's some opportunity there even when students and teachers are going back into the classroom."

Flipgrid, a tool that was popular before the pandemic, is one that Hyde sees as remaining in use once students are back in classrooms. Teachers can create a prompt within a grid where students can collaborate to post video responses.

Hyde also imagines apps that allow students to take virtual field trips to places like the Louvre will remain in widespread use by teachers.

"There are certain things that we can do with technology on the ground that actually do transform the learning experience that are simply not possible without the technology," Hyde said.

Marshall High School's Finn said he'll continue to use a digital audio workstation program called Soundtrap for his songwriting class. He thinks other teachers will also be adopting apps and other tools they became accustomed to during the pandemic.

Mendoza envisions teachers using the technology for introductory videos from the teacher and students, digital forms for parents that can be accessed in real time, collaborative tools like digital documents that can be shared among students, and digital polls, quizzes, assessments and instant feedback.

"It's going to be strategic," Mendoza said. "Educators will have to decide when and how much and be purposeful."

What started out as crisis management has turned into a sustained change, Mendoza said.

"Our educators have really taken this crisis and turned it into opportunity," Mendoza said. "There are so many silver linings here in L.A. Unified...I do see our future as being very bright in the sense that a lot of learnings that we have all learned over the last 12 months will continue on."

Not Business as Usual

Devices will also take more of an outsized role as students gradually return. Teachers will still have to conduct their classes online, as some parents opt to keep their children home and many classes remain remote.

A recent survey by the district shows that less than a third of parents are ready to send their children back to the school yard. Those children will be offered instruction online.

At high schools, for example, students will only be on campus two to three days a week. The hustle and bustle of students rotating from classroom to classroom will be gone, instead, teenagers will have to remain seated at one desk and log on to classes. As a result, the teacher in the classroom may be teaching a completely different class than the ones students are logged into..

To accommodate this, the district is making noise-canceling headphones available.

Officials say while the arrangement isn't ideal, students will still have the social interaction with their classmates and teachers.

Instruction will also look different in elementary schools where students will attend class five days a week for a half day in small, staggered groups and log in for the remaining school day from home.

Mendoza envisions students coming to class with their device with them and when they sit down at their desks, they will pull it open to access the day's lesson plans and materials.

"The school walls have been broken down, virtually," Mendoza said.

Finn is looking forward to when he can stand up in the front of his classroom and ask his students to open their computers, without being worried that he's on mute.

"That's going to be magic," he said.

He's looking forward to being able to see students as they're completing their assignments online as some students turn off their cameras during virtual classes for various reasons.

"I'm excited and I feel it from my colleagues as well," he said. "We're excited to take the things that we've learned and be able to implement them with a student in front of us."

Lead image by Ian Hurley

🤠Musk Picks Texas and 🔥Tinder AI Picks Your Profile Pictures
Image Source: Tinder

🔦 Spotlight

Tinder is altering dating profile creation with its new AI-powered Photo Selector feature, designed to help users choose their most appealing dating profile pictures. This innovative tool employs facial recognition technology to curate a set of up to 10 photos from the user's device, streamlining the often time-consuming process of profile setup. To use the feature, users simply take a selfie within the Tinder app and grant access to their camera roll. The AI then analyzes the photos based on factors like lighting and composition, drawing from Tinder's research on what makes an effective profile picture.

The selection process occurs entirely on the user's device, ensuring privacy and data security. Tinder doesn't collect or store any biometric data or photos beyond those chosen for the profile, and the facial recognition data is deleted once the user exits the feature. This new tool addresses a common pain point for users, as Tinder's research shows that young singles typically spend about 25 to 33 minutes selecting a profile picture. By automating this process, Tinder aims to reduce profile creation time and allow users to focus more on making meaningful connections.

In wholly unrelated news, Elon Musk has announced plans to relocate the headquarters of X (formerly Twitter) and SpaceX from California to Texas. SpaceX will move from Hawthorne to Starbase, while X will shift from San Francisco to Austin. Musk cited concerns about aggressive drug users near X's current headquarters and a new California law regarding gender identity notification in schools as reasons for the move. This decision follows Musk's previous relocation of Tesla's headquarters to Texas in 2021.

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  • Penguin Random House agreed to acquire comic book publisher Boom! Studios from backers like Walt Disney Co. - learn more

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Top LA Accelerators that Entrepreneurs Should Know About

Los Angeles, has a thriving startup ecosystem with numerous accelerators, incubators, and programs designed to support and nurture new businesses. These programs provide a range of services, including funding, mentorship, workspace, networking opportunities, and strategic guidance to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas and scale their companies.

Techstars Los Angeles

Techstars is a global outfit with a chapter in Los Angeles that opened in 2017. It prioritizes local companies but will fund some firms based outside of LA.

Location: Culver City

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: StokedPlastic, Zeno Power


Grid110 offers no-cost, no-equity programs for entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, including a 12-week Residency accelerator for early-stage startups, an Idea to Launch Bootcamp for pre-launch entrepreneurs, and specialized programs like the PledgeLA Founders Fund and Friends & Family program, all aimed at providing essential skills, resources, and support to help founders develop and grow their businesses.

Location: DTLA

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: Casetify, Flavors From Afar


Idealab is a renowned startup studio and incubator based in Pasadena, California. Founded in 1996 by entrepreneur Bill Gross, Idealab has a long history of nurturing innovative technology companies, with over 150 startups launched and 45 successful IPOs and acquisitions, including notable successes like Coinbase and Tenor.

Location: Pasadena

Type of Funding: Stage agnostic

Focus: Industry Agnostic, AI/Robotics, Consumer, Clean Energy

Notable Past Companies: Lumin, Coinbase, Tenor

Plug In South LA

Plug In South LA is a tech accelerator program focused on supporting and empowering Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the Los Angeles area. The 12-week intensive program provides early-stage founders with mentorship, workshops, strategic guidance, potential pilot partnerships, grant funding, and networking opportunities to help them scale their businesses and secure investment.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed

Focus: Industry Agnostic, Connection to South LA and related communities

Notable Past Companies: ChargerHelp, Peadbo

Cedars-Sinai Accelerator

The Cedars-Sinai Accelerator is a three-month program based in Los Angeles that provides healthcare startups with $100,000 in funding, mentorship from over 300 leading clinicians and executives, and access to Cedars-Sinai's clinical expertise and resources. The program aims to transform healthcare quality, efficiency, and care delivery by helping entrepreneurs bring their innovative technology products to market, offering participants dedicated office space, exposure to a broad network of healthcare entrepreneurs and investors, and the opportunity to pitch their companies at a Demo Day.

Location: West Hollywood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage, convertible note

Focus: Healthcare, Device, Life Sciences

Notable Past Companies: Regard, Hawthorne Effect

MedTech Innovator

MedTech Innovator is the world's largest accelerator for medical technology companies, based in Los Angeles, offering a four-month program that provides selected startups with unparalleled access to industry leaders, investors, and resources without taking equity. The accelerator culminates in showcase events and competitions where participating companies can win substantial non-dilutive funding, with the program having a strong track record of helping startups secure FDA approvals and significant follow-on funding.

Location: Westwood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Health Care, Health Diagnostics, Medical Device

Notable Past Companies: Zeto, Genetesis


The KidsX Accelerator in Los Angeles is a 10-week program that supports early-stage digital health companies focused on pediatric care, providing mentorship, resources, and access to a network of children's hospitals to help startups validate product-market fit and scale their solutions. The accelerator uses a reverse pitch model, where participating hospitals identify focus areas and work closely with selected startups to develop and pilot digital health solutions that address specific pediatric needs.

Location: East Hollywood

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed, early stage

Focus: Pediatric Health Care Innovation

Notable Past Companies: Smileyscope, Zocalo Health

Disney Accelerator

Disney Accelerator is a startup accelerator that provides early-stage companies in the consumer media, entertainment and technology sectors with mentorship, guidance, and investment from Disney executives. The program, now in its 10th year, aims to foster collaborations and partnerships between innovative technology companies and The Walt Disney Company to help them accelerate their growth and bring new experiences to Disney audiences.

Location: Burbank

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Technology and entertainment

Notable Past Companies: Epic Games, BRIT + CO, CAMP

Techstars Space Accelerator

Techstars Space Accelerator is a startup accelerator program focused on advancing the next generation of space technology companies. The three-month mentorship-driven program brings together founders from across the globe to work on big ideas in aerospace, including rapid launch services, precision-based imaging, operating systems for complex robotics, in-space servicing, and thermal protection.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Aerospace

Notable Past Companies: Pixxel, Morpheus Space

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🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.

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