TecConnect: The Greatest COVID Education Proposal That Ever Failed
Proof that the execution of a plan is everything
Four bored high school teenagers in quarantine. A competition with a $300 prize. The result? A lesson learned. Two months ago, we began a project that picked up steam and became a state-sweeping solution — or so we thought. The last 8 weeks is best characterized as a roller coaster and ultimately became a defining experience for all of us.
A month after joining the Zoom Class of 2022, we were all losing our minds. The consistent grind of school had been ripped away, and we soon found ourselves without purpose. So in April 2020, we decided to enter a contest held by AI4ALL that challenged students to create an education proposal that would improve conditions during COVID-19.
Being in a position of privilege, our transition to COVID-19 was incredibly easy. But it wasn’t so simple for most people, and we realized low-income students specifically didn’t even have enough technology to continue their education during quarantine.
Despite the clear problem, we couldn’t find an existing solution. We found that ¼ of low-income students don’t have access to a computer at home, and 50% of low-income families are worried about distance learning because they don’t have personal laptops at home. Poorer schools have a 1:10 device-student ratio at schools. Some schools have shut down completely as they simply don’t have the capability to hold online education.
We had a eureka moment: why couldn’t we just transfer devices from the wealthy ones to the poor ones?
In our attempt to find a solution to this disturbing problem, a light-bulb sparked and we found the gold mine lying right in front of us. Wealthy schools like ours, which often had stockpiles of devices stored for in-school use, were simply keeping this equipment at school. We emailed our own technology director to confirm our hypothesis and were shocked to find that our high school has 2600 Chromebooks collecting dust in the classrooms. We had a eureka moment: why couldn’t we just transfer devices from the wealthy ones to the poor ones? Our director even confirmed that she would be happy to transfer devices, but no school had reached out. It seemed quite obvious, but why wasn’t anyone taking this ingenious idea and changing the nation with it?
We were hooked on the idea instantly. Our mission was to temporarily transfer laptops, tablets, and other resources from well-funded districts to underprivileged districts. Instead of poor schools being forced to purchase new devices they couldn’t afford, a single wealthy school could support numerous other schools.
These unused computers would be far better utilized in other districts that desperately require them. In order to achieve our goal of a 1:1 student-device ratio ASAP, we decided to establish a streamlined system in which schools were paired together and faculty transported devices between one another.
We went all out to prepare for the presentation for the AI4ALL contest and convinced the judges of our plan’s simplicity and capability, winning us the grand prize in the process.
The Second Wave
While it was an exhilarating experience, it unfortunately fueled our already sky-high egos.
After we won the AI4ALL proposal challenge, we were determined to implement our solution. So we attended two hackathons to develop our website: a Major League Hacking Summer League Hackathon and the Saratoga Congressional Hackathon.
Thus, TecConnect was born, a progressive web application that allows for schools with huge disparities in device counts to easily connect with each other and easily initiate device transfer.
Schools fill out reports and are added to a map that allows other local schools to get a better understanding of who they may be paired up with. Our algorithm then calculates the most efficient pairings based on location, schedules, and device availability. Based on this, our algorithm develops a personalized plan for every interested school.
After sleepless nights of sitting in discord calls quarreling with one another, our efforts were acknowledged, as we won an award at MLH and received the 1st Place Grand Prize at the Saratoga Congressional Hackathon. While it was an exhilarating experience, it unfortunately fueled our already sky-high egos.
The Beginning of the End
With three Ws under our belt, we thought we were genius policy makers and coders. We were incredibly confident schools would be jumping to use our simple and effective plan.
And that moment — — that moment right there — — is where our plan fell to shambles.
With no prior experience in properly reaching out to executives ourselves, we jumped directly to our emails. Our hype bred carelessness. We decided to send a cold email to every member of the California Board of Education, fully expecting at least one response. A day passed, then a few more, then a week, and still no responses.
But we were still undeterred. Instead, we went to the websites of schools and copied the first email address we found. We briskly wrote an email and gave little to no thought to our subject line. And from there, a member of our team (Ayaan, don’t tell him we exposed him) proceeded to send only half of the email to dozens of schools, giving them an unprofessional, messy, and simply incomplete impression of our hard work.
Despite realizing our multiple foolish mistakes, we still didn’t change our approach at all. We tried a third round of sending emails (this time with the full email), and proceeded to again get zero responses. At this point, since school was wrapping up and heading into the summer, we seceded to our utter incompetence and decided to end our outreach.
A Learning Experience
Execution really is everything; we could have had half the idea accompanied by a good follow through and yielded ten times the result.
Looking back on the experience required some brutally honest soul-searching and a proper analysis of where we went wrong.
To begin, we now understand our exhilaration at winning an AI4ALL competition and two hackathons ignited our inflated egos. Simply winning hackathons and challenges doesn’t necessarily mean our idea is the holy grail. In addition, our lack of experience doomed our solution, and a ground-up approach would have been ideal. But by immediately foraging into the world of executives and politics, we kicked our own asses. More work was needed for a polish pitch to schools and a feasible execution. It’s not enough to simply have a good idea and decent product, and it’s definitely not good to build inflated egos from initial successes.
We’re still holding out hope that someone will eventually respond to our email or a passerby will chance upon our idea (so if you happen to be an education mogul, hit us up). But despite the total failure of our execution, we came out of the situation a little wiser.
Execution really is everything; we could have had half the idea accompanied by a good follow through and yielded ten times the result. So the next time we aspire to help improve our community, we’ll make sure not to completely drop the ball (hopefully).
Github (Code): https://github.com/ayaanzhaque/TecConnect