Inspiration

Schools have gone completely online due to COVID-19, and students and teachers have had to adapt in unforeseen ways. We realized that while our own transition was easy, it was far harder for underprivileged students. To investigate this issue, we performed a self-conducted survey and did extensive research to design a solution.

There are thousands of students in low-income communities that lack access to laptops and technological resources at home. In California, it is estimated that over 150,000 students do not have devices and ¼ of low-income students do not have access to a computer at home. Poorer schools have a 1:10 device-student ratio, meaning only a select few students can get resources from the school.

Some schools in major areas such as Seattle have shut down all education completely, as they simply don’t have the capability to host online education.

But while these schools struggle to stay open, schools in privileged communities have thousands of excess computers stored away which we think can be put to better use. Through our own survey, we found that 97.1% of devices in our school district are unused. Our data also showed that privileged schools have a 2:1 device-student ratio.

Currently, schools are not contacting one another because of a lack of proper communication platforms as well as not having the means to properly devise transfer plans. Thus, we set out to develop TecConnect, a progressive web application that seeks to promote device sharing and transfer by partnering with state governments and schools.

What it does

TecConnect is a unique PWA that allows for schools to easily connect to each other and transfer devices from the ones who have them to ones who don’t.

We took a different approach from the common hackathon project. Instead of creating an application meant for general use, we developed an application specifically for schools and the state government. We plan to implement our software as part of a statewide plan to promote device sharing in all schools. Since schools often utilize outside developers to build applications, we believe our website fills a normally unoccupied niche. We think that doing these types of projects are important and should be promoted more in the hackathon community.

Initially, schools fill out a quick form where they specify either how many laptops they need or how many they are able to temporarily donate. Schools who fill out reports are published on a map using Google Maps supported by Google Cloud to allow schools to get a better understanding of who they may be paired up with. All the information is stored in our MongoDB Atlas database, and the data is pulled and read for our algorithm. Schools with excess devices can be paired with multiple recipient schools, as they often have the facilities to fuel multiple schools. This is all done through our algorithm which is coded in Javascript and primarily incorporates the Radar.io Javascript SDK to calculate the most efficient pairings based on location, schedules, and device availability.

Once pairing is complete, both schools are notified via email that they have been matched, and once they return to the website they can view their pairing along with relevant information to begin device transfer. This includes a personalized plan based on each school’s information, which is produced by our automated algorithm. The plan includes instructions for safe transfer and dates for when transfer should occur. Lastly, we implemented geofencing with Radar.io to allow notifications when volunteers have arrived at schools for device pickup.

How we built it

After numerous hours of wireframing, conceptualizing key features, and outlining tasks, we divided the challenge amongst ourselves by assigning Adithya to the UI/UX, Ayaan to the web app architecture and connecting Radar.io and MongoDB, and Viraaj to integrate Google Maps, the request system, and email notifications.

We coded the app in 3 languages foreign to us: HTML, CSS, and Javascript. We have never used these languages before and have never done web dev, so learning how to use them was a daunting challenge. Connecting the APIs (MongoDB, Radar.io, GoogleMaps) took most of our time. We hosted our website through Netlify and Github.

Challenges we ran into

Since we are rookies to web dev, learning how to connect backend systems such as MongoDB, Radar.io SDK,, and Google Cloud was our biggest challenge. We spent lots of time sifting through documentation and videos to learn how to integrate these APIs with our website, but after lots of troubleshooting and collaboration, we were able to create a website we take pride in.

Accomplishments we are proud of

We are incredibly proud of how our team uniquely built off our specific research from various sources and applied them in a technological context to build one comprehensive product. Seeing all of our features and functionality working in unison was very rewarding, especially after the long hours spent developing them. We are extremely proud of developing a solution that has not been previously considered in this setting and putting it into functional form.

What we learned

From a social perspective, our team found it incredibly gratifying to use technology to effectively impact the needs of our nearby community. We spent significant time researching the specific issues different schools had in getting access to the necessary devices for students and brainstorming the most effective solutions to solve the problem.

From a software perspective, since this is a rookie hackathon, we are all proud of learning new languages for web development. Since web development is becoming increasingly popular, we are glad that we were able to learn the intricacies of web development because of the ways it can enhance our future projects.

What is next for TecConnect

We think this idea would be best if implemented on a statewide level. We want the state government to implement the program in all schools in the state so that they have access to the program, and the website would be a great way for the implementation. We plan to contact schools throughout the Bay Area to see if they can use the website in order to connect with others as we already know that several schools are ready to donate any of the extra laptops they have.

In these times, it is very important that this solution gets out very fast because school closures will most likely only last until the end of the calendar year and it is very important that all students get full access to the necessary educational technology in that time-span.

In terms of our application, we want to implement more features from Radar.io such as the Track API to keep track of all of the transferred devices. We would also love to establish a messaging system using MongoDB or Google Cloud, which would simplify communication between schools and increase the efficiency of our plan.

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