Intel, ViacomCBS to Help LAUSD Engage Students in Online Learning

Intel, ViacomCBS to Help LAUSD Engage Students in Online Learning

Partnership aims to motivate kids to pursue careers in entertainment


By Marcy Magiera

July 27, 2020 | Public schools in Los Angeles will start the fall semester in less than a month with students resuming remote learning and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) continuing its quest to increase student engagement in online instruction. DEG Members Intel and ViacomCBS are partnering to help.

Rick Hack

For Los Angeles’ sprawling system of more than 600,000 students and 24,000 teachers, remote learning is, for now, an educational reality. The challenge facing LAUSD educators is to offer new and appealing online coursework for the roughly 30 percent of students — representing about 200,000 kids– who are not consistently attending school – as well as the many others who are. About 15 percent of the district’s students have not attended a single class since remote learning was mandated midway through the spring semester in response to the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 and state and local quarantine orders.

As part of Intel’s $50 million Pandemic Response Technology Initiative, launched in April, Intel and ViacomCBS are creating out a series of pre-recorded online lessons that will be offered as an educational resource to teachers throughout the district. The goals of the “What I Do for a Living” online classes and videos are to keep students engaged with online learning and to motivate students to consider their own professional futures by educating them about career opportunities in media and entertainment.

Intel Head of Media & Entertainment Partnerships Rick Hack oversees what has been internally dubbed the Remote Learning Project with his Intel colleague Darrell Stewart, a manager in Intel’s public sector group.

“We are passionate about helping schools tackle the challenges of remote learning — which in the future may play a much bigger role in education,” says Hack.

Ted Schilowitz

Hack brought ViacomCBS into the project through his friend, Ted Schilowitz. Initially, Hack says, he casually discussed with Schilowitz, who is Futurist in Residence at Paramount Pictures, the idea of creating a “master class” for students to study what they might want to be when they grow up. Schilowitz quickly saw the potential of what he calls “a series of virtual career days,” and the two quickly refined the “What I do for a Living” concept.

With a very tight timeline to get the project up and running in time for the fall semester, Schilowitz then ran the idea up to Bob Bakish, ViacomCBS CEO. “Paramount is very much a community partner of Los Angeles. We are the original studio in Hollywood. We exist inside the Los Angeles ecosystem. Many of the employees and the freelancers who work at Paramount are LAUSD alumni and supporters, or parents of LAUSD kids,” Schilowitz says in explaining why the project made sense for the company to support. In addition, he notes, ViacomCBS’s global education-oriented brands, including Nickelodeon, Noggin and Awesomeness TV, make supporting youth a company priority.

The video-chat style “What I Do for a Living” classes will bring students in middle school through high school virtually face to face with animators, wardrobe designers, set designers, tour guides, publicists, actors, directors and other media and entertainment professionals. The subject matter experts, as Hack and Schilowitz refer to them, may offer behind-the-scenes glimpses of their roles, career advice or “what it’s like to be me for a day.”

“We’re going to get out of this eventually, there is a light at the end of the tunnel” says Hack, in reference to the pandemic. “The one thing that got me so excited about this program is that we have in this time of darkness an opportunity to focus students on thinking about what they want to do when they leave school.”

“Our intention is not just to cover the very top line, very well exposed parts of this industry. It’s to cover how big and robust this industry is,” adds Schilowitz. “Regardless of where you fit from an educational standpoint and the kinds of things you like to do – if it’s science, if it’s technology, numbers, business — there is a role for you somewhere in the entertainment business, and it can be a really fun role. There are literally thousands of different jobs, not just director, producer and actor.”

A few of the classes are being offered during LAUSD’s summer session, but most will become available in the fall. Intel and ViacomCBS are targeting 40 sessions for the 2020-21 school year, which will be offered as a resource to teachers and can be wrapped into existing curriculum.  Although the current project focuses on the entertainment industry, Hack says he foresees  future projects created for young people who are interested in “engineering, nursing, police work, financial, technology, sports or any other professional field.”

To incentivize students, courses will come with various completion prizes. A tiered system will start with awards such as a meme, a screen saver, a digital movie or a virtual tour of Paramount Studios. It will scale up to include entertainment, sports and theme park tickets, and exclusive conversations with entertainment-industry celebs. For students, the arithmetic will be simple: The more you learn, the more you can win.

The Remote Learning Project’s immediate goal is to increase LAUSD attendance by 5 percent – that seemingly modest percentage translates to 35,000 more students taking classes – and perhaps later to scale the concept to school systems across the U.S.

Referencing the vast size of LAUSD, “there are many, many, many thousands of kids that need help with [online learning] in some way, shape or form,” says Schilowitz. “If we can do one little part to help a few kids find a career path, then it’s all worth it.”