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Technology in School

How Crowdfunding Is Matching Teacher Requests to District Tech Policies

By Greg Thompson     Sep 4, 2018

Far from the bustle of bake sales and car washes, crowdfunding sites have made it easy for teachers, schools and even district officials to ask for donations of school supplies. Yet some schools hesitate to use such a powerful resource.

According to Damon M. Qualls, principal at Monaview Elementary School, Greenville, South Carolina, it can come down to appearances.

“Many teachers are very concerned about appearing to ‘beg for money,’” says Qualls. “Having teachers get past that idea is one of the initial hurdles. Once they are three or four projects in, they realize that more than just their immediate family and friends are investing in their classroom, and there are donors across the globe who want to help public school teachers.”

While money might be the initial stumbling block, it’s not the only one. Policies, technical guidelines and even legal fine print can occasionally throw monkey wrenches into school requests for resources, particularly on the technology side (imagine requesting a Windows tablet only to find the district doesn’t support that operating system). One site, New York-based DonorsChoose, is attempting to head off these problems with a new initiative designed to help teachers ensure that the hardware and digital resources they select are compatible with school district practices, priorities and IT systems.

Sarah Kyriazis, who works in instructional technology for Massachusetts’ Worcester Public Schools, agrees that dealing with potential problems before supplies arrive is a great idea.

“We are moving to Chromebooks, plus different brands and software, so we require management licenses,” she explains, referring to the subscription offerings Google requires to make its technology work. Teachers and schools don’t always think ahead about that sort of thing, Kyriazis says. So part of the new DonorsChoose strategy is taking that step for them. “If DonorsChoose can make sure those licenses are already in place, that will lead to fewer headaches.”

Now when teachers put in for a Chromebook on DonorsChoose, a note will will pop up that tells them what technology their district supports, and they can make sure they add the management license.

“Companies like Apple and Google package licenses with their products for school districts so that administrators and teachers can manage things like software updates, privacy settings, network access and apps in a streamlined way for all of their devices,” adds Katie Bisbee, chief marketing officer and an executive vice president at DonorsChoose. “We want to provide one source of truth for teachers; an easy way to get to accurate information about what technology they need, and what else they need to set up their technology, like licenses. We want to share this straight from their school district.”

School districts will be able to embed their edtech policies within the DonorsChoose platform, and teachers who generate new requests through DonorsChoose will, in turn, be able to view recommendations and guidelines from their school district.

“By clarifying upfront both the relevant district-level policies and system requirements of any hardware or software, new technologies can more seamlessly and effectively be introduced into the school environment to support excellent teaching and learning,” says Guadalupe Guerrero, superintendent of Portland Public Schools in Oregon.

Less Out of Pocket

Nonprofit DonorsChoose is one of the most popular crowdfunding sites in education. During the past three years requests on the site have more than tripled to over 72,000. Earlier this year, a generous donation funded every project on the site, leading to a spike in active requests.

As a 5th grade teacher, Damon Qualls started using DonorsChoose about nine years ago. Like so many of his colleagues back then, he spent plenty of his own money. After earning two master’s degrees and a certificate from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, Qualls considers DonorsChoose a worthy subject for professional training.

“The first professional development that I provided with our staff as a principal was my DonorsChoose presentation that I used year after year, and really articulated the impact it had on me as a teacher, and the school,” Qualls says. “My staff understood the impact. It has not even been a full year yet, and they have raised more than $100K. We have currently 44 project requests. I know, because I monitor it daily.”

Qualls points out that schools should look to the nonprofit as a way to add crucial educational opportunities.

“Our immediate needs are met, so DonorsChoose allows our teachers to go above and beyond and really think outside the box to create lessons, clubs, and after school programs that might not fit in a budget line item,” Qualls says. “We need to make sure that district leadership is aware of the opportunities that DonorsChoose provides, not only for districts that are struggling financially, but for districts that are also thriving. Teachers can be empowered and independent.”

DonorsChoose has cast an increasingly wide net, but Katie Bisbee points out that the organization is still quite lean, and spreading awareness remains a top priority. “The hardest thing for us is to get the word out to CTOs, CIOs and tech directors at 15,000 school districts about inputting their technology guidelines into our system,” she says. “We have an incredibly lean staff, so we don't have the ability to call every single district.”

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