Getting technology into the classroom is tough in an era of budget cuts. Not to mention the difficulty of finding items that actually fit into a teacher's lesson plans.
One solution: an online clearinghouse for donors called Digital Wish. The non-profit group, based in Manchester Center, Vt., allows K12 teachers to post tech wish lists for their classes. Donors can either buy the products directly on Digital Wish's website or donate cash.
The organization offers special pricing on some items through dozens of partners — Flip, for example, has a two-for-one deal on some of its video cameras. For monetary contributions, Digital Wish offers schools an extra 2 to 10 percent in cash, depending on the type of product for which the money is earmarked.
The list of items on the site keeps expanding. Digital Wish is currently working with CDI Corp. of Toronto on promotional pricing for high-quality, recertified computers. And it may expand the offer so parents can purchase identical units for home use by students.
Donors can feel confident they will improve their children's educational experience, because cameras, computers and other tech gadgets are distributed directly to an individual class—not to the school or district at large.
"The parent really wants to give to their kid's classroom," said Heather Chirtea, founder and executive director of Digital Wish. "They don't necessarily want to give to the whole school. Now they can see exactly what their kid's teacher wants."
Digital Wish had its roots in a 2007 corporate initiative by Olympus, which wanted to expand the use of its digital cameras in the schools. The program was successful enough that other corporate partners signed on, with a goal of creating 1,000 teacher wish lists by the end of the year.
"We had 1,000 teachers in 34 days," Chirtea said.
Digital Wish was transformed into a nonprofit in 2008 and won backing from the Draper Richards Foundations and other groups. It now has 31,000 teachers using the site and more than $3 million in annual revenue.
Chirtea, a former teacher trainer, says she's thrilled to play a role in turbocharging the learning process.
"I'm having the time of my life," she said.