April 2019 - Voluntari.ly is coming to life
We have a big update this month, stuff is getting real. But for those of you just joining the mission, here is a bit of a recap.
In 2020, 29,000 Kiwi teachers will be required to teach digital technologies. Wow.
So that is teaching computer science and digital tech in the classroom. If you were to ask teachers if they are ready most would say.
It’s a problem.
But through all the work we have been doing in the Pam Fergusson Charitable Trust and OMGTech! we know there are thousands of amazing people who work in the industry who always ask us,
“Can we volunteer somehow?”
And we are like…
“Umm yep I reckon.”
But how do you mobilise enough volunteers across the country to help every teacher? And this is where we had the big idea for Voluntari.ly. An online platform that matches corporate volunteer time with schools (and well anyone who wants volunteer time).
Now there are already volunteer platforms, but we wanted to build one that is a little different in a number of ways:
It’s designed to enable volunteers into safety sensitive communities. What’s that? Sounds scary. That basically means we make sure volunteers are safe when they volunteer and so are the communities they volunteer in. So we look after the health and safety, police vetting, cultural capability and all the volunteer readiness you need to take care of so when people turn up on the day they are happy, safe and productive.
Content is key. There are hundreds of content providers who have amazing activities that volunteers can do. Teachers love having engaging things that teach kids stuff in a fun way. So Voluntari.ly is a place to find interesting content and be matched to volunteers and classrooms.
It’s a platform that understands the dynamic of the classroom and the life of teachers. We have been working with teachers for years with our other initiatives like OMGTech! and our professional development programmes for teachers, and we get them. We know all the epic work they do every day in the classroom, and adding one-more-thing to a teachers todo is not going to cut it. Voluntari.ly needs to be simple.
It focuses on communities who value the volunteer time the most. Our platform will have clever algorithms that match the best volunteers to inspire the kids who would love to see them most. So a volunteer may need to cross town to somewhere they may never have visited before, to be greeted by a bunch of kids from a new community. It’s easy to volunteer for your local school, but chances are your local school has seen people like you before (or at least one of the kids has). We want to inspire kids from all over who may not have met a scientist, engineer or designer before.
Lastly - the platform is open source, so anyone can help build it. Industry can literally build the platform they use to volunteer with.
Sounds cool, right? So where are we at?
December 2018 - Hackfest
In December we held a hackfest and we invited a bunch of interesting and cool people from all over New Zealand, from education, the tech industry, government all sorts, and over 100 people turned up and we all came up with ideas as to how Voluntari.ly could achieve the mission of inspiring and teaching kids.
It blew us away with the amount of engagement we received from the community. We collected enough ideas to keep us busy for years.
Then we had Christmas and everyone went on holiday for a month.
February 2019 - We got a band together
With the support of our partners Spark, and the Government’s Innovation Fund we secured enough funding to get going. So we hired a couple of new people into the charity to help build the platform. Enter Andrew and Walt, our dedicated technical crew to build Voluntari.ly. Coincidentally both Andrew and Walt were at the hackfest and were both looking for something new to apply their talents to, so they came onboard to boost our numbers a little. ATEED gave us some spare office space they had and we were underway.
March 2019 - An open source project is formed
A month later, with Walt and Andrew up to speed we are now cranking out designs and code. We held a mini meetup with some folk who can help us design the architecture of the platform and we settled on a MERN stack. What’s that? Don’t worry, unless you are an engineer and then if you are really interested you can check out the project on GitHub. 😉 Datacom came to the Voluntari.ly party some more with some architects and support.
We decided to open source the whole project, that way industry could literally help build the platform. We got the project set up and code and tests written and the first contributors came onboard.
Interesting fact: so far the majority of our contributors are women and we don’t necessarily want that stat to change. Awesome.
Basically March was our first month underway at full steam and we achieved a lot with a little.
Formed a technical advisory group with developers in industry
Decided to build the core platform on a MERN Stack (MongoDB, Express.js, React.js, Node.js) along with NextJS to put it all together.
Successfully gotten the platform backend onto AWS and serving content up. We’re now in the process of building out the UI and the rest of the functionality so that we can begin trials.
First volunteer contributor commit - yeehaaa
Onboarded new volunteers to the platform
User interviews with volunteers and teachers to see what blocks them from volunteering
Usability testing on most of the onboarding and setup processes - these tests inform how to improve voluntarily going forward and how to make the service better for users.
March was a busy month.
April 2019 - The first demonstration on AWS
With the help of the team at AWS we got the app live and running with our codebase. We travelled to Wellington and met with the Ministry of Education and Westpac and gave them a live demo. It was a very simple demo as we are still at the early stages of the project, but it worked, which is very odd for a tech demo.
Today and beyond
We are still a small team but we are making so big progress but we need more help. We have many more hackfests coming up where anyone with some coding and design skills can check out the code and then build a bit. We have our next hackfest hosted at Datacom on May the 4th (be with you), and then another during Tech Week on the 25th of May. In June there will be a Wellington Working Bee – Hosted by Westpac. You can check out our home page for the latest hackfests and working bees.
May 4th - Datacom Hackfest
May 25th - Auckland University Hackfest
June (TBA) - Westpac Wellington Working Bee.
June - First MVP launch and field trials with selected partners.
November - First Beta launch in communities around New Zealand
January 2020 - Full Launch.
We are planning on rolling out the features of Voluntari.ly in three major phases
Phase 1: Connect Volunteers with Teachers
In this phase we will launch the platform to be available to volunteers, schools and content providers. This will allow volunteering to begin.
Phase 2: Administration & Vetting Automation
In this phase we plan to automate a lot of the pain points around the process and workflows for companies and schools to administer volunteering programmes. We have offers of support from the DIA and NZ Police on streamlining police vetting for example, but these sorts of enhancements will take a bit of time to work through.
Phase 3: General Volunteering & Citizen Science
In this phase we are planning on making Voluntari.ly available to general volunteering pretty much anywhere, so it doesn’t have to be at a school, and projects like citizen science.
How do we know it will work?
We can build a platform that helps connect volunteers into schools, but what’s the big idea? How do we know it is working?
Well our goal, when Voluntari.ly is launched to every school in New Zealand is to have to following outcomes:
Reduction in NEETS
Learner & teacher engagement in digital curriculum
Local stories from local role models used in the curriculum
Increased retention in STEAM & Progression into STEAM Careers
Growing number of corporates engaged in volunteering programmes
Increased awareness and corporate engagement with education and school issues
Data - Maps of engagement, impact on schools by locality
Able to direct help to where it’s most needed
And how we measure this is
Time - volunteer, corporation and school
Location weighed impact - economically deprived areas
Feedback and ratings for content providers and volunteers
Measurable impact on future subject choices.
How can you get involved?
We still have a lot to do, and we are just a small team.
Open Source Contributors are welcome – We use MongoDB, Express, React and Node (MERN)
Say kia ora and ask questions in the Gitter chat room: https://gitter.im/voluntarily/community
email firstname.lastname@example.org if you need more info.
Browse the documentation https://voluntarily.atlassian.net/wiki/spaces/VP/overview
Checkout the code - https://github.com/voluntarily/vly1.
Sponsor us so we can grow the core team.