Virtual Turn Put iDEAL in the Spotlight

LMU SCHOOL OF EDUCATION | LMU’s iDEAL institute was ideally suited to meet the moment.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, the institute team’s expertise became a lifeline for a growing number of districts and schools. The public health crisis immediately became an education emergency that required originality, classroom effectiveness, and excellent working relationships – characteristics iDEAL has been cultivating since its founding in 2015 in the LMU School of Education.

Shannon Tabaldo 300x300 - Virtual Turn Put iDEAL in the Spotlight
Shannon Tabaldo, Founding Director of iDEAL

“We are working with 42 schools in the dioceses of Orange County, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego and Phoenix,” said Shannon Tabaldo, founding director of iDEAL. “We are also working with four public schools.”

The original aim of the institute called Innovation in Digital Education and Leadership was to turn willing teachers and administrators into specialists who could assess technology needs, plan computer systems, and implement classroom programs for online learning that complement traditional instruction. Over the course of six years the institute steadily built a clientele base and established a solid reputation. When the pandemic hit, willingness became necessity.

“Each of the schools who has partnered with LMU’s iDEAL institute has expressed how grateful they are for the blended learning training, programs and support,” said Deb Estes, chair and a founding board member of Specialty Family Foundation in Santa Monica. “They have stated, unequivocally, that without the iDEAL institute, the transition to digital learning would have been much harder and less effective in the immediate term for all: students, faculty, staff, and parents,” added Estes, who is also co-chair of the School of Education’s Board of Visitors.

The core of the past year’s work has been retooling the institute’s workshops to meet each school’s immediate and unexpected needs. The institute’s five team members are contacted by schools, often by referral, and they begin the process of assessing a school’s needs with a Zoom meeting or phone call. The team evaluates and discusses a plan for each school, then circles back with a price and an intensive workshop plan. The iDEAL Institute’s Response to Teaching in Times of Transition involves four core workshops of 2½ hours each, with options for up to 10 workshops on specialized and professional development topics.

A team member takes responsibility for each school’s workshop plan and connects with teachers so they can develop a broader understanding how technology can be used and how the teachers can apply it in the classroom.

“What teachers are looking for is strong teaching practices that will work for in-person, online and hybrid teaching,” Tabaldo said. “They want to know, ‘What does collaboration, assessment, and student engagement actually look like?’ and that is the material we present in our workshops.”

What makes iDEAL unique, Tabaldo said, is how the institute models online teaching. The workshops are very interactive, and the coordinators take care to develop a community feel – make connections – even taking time for reflection and prayer in the Catholic schools.

Those connections become important for follow-up consultations. “Our teachers are grateful they can pick up the phone to ask a question or ‘bounce and idea off you’,” said Estes about the teachers at Specialty Family Foundation schools. “They are continuing to learn a lot about digital learning and the lessons learned will impact for the better the day when they can return to in-person learning.”

Tabaldo said she believes a benefit of the forced turn to virtual learning will be a more tech-savvy teacher corps that is more amenable to trying new things. She said she is deeply concerned for the youngest learners, whose foundational experience is virtual, and with the connectivity gaps and equity issues that have become glaring in the past year. She said she has hopes that the generally cooperative attitude will lead to better practices that benefit all students.

“It’s a social justice issue to overcome the gap of getting the information out there to teachers, and then they have to get it to students.”