DonorsChoose Holds Open Data Contest

Looking for a challenge that lets you make creative use of lots of data? Would you like to help out a very worthy cause at the same time – and compete to win an awesome prize? Then you’ll want to check out the “open data” contest being run by DonorsChoose.org.

First, let me give you a little background. DonorsChoose is an online not-for-profit organization that lets donors give money to directly help student projects in need. You don’t just decide what school you want to give to; you choose the actual project. You can give as little as $1. Teachers post projects for which they need money; their requests can range anywhere “from pencils for a poetry writing unit, to violins for a school recital, to microscope slides for a biology class.” When a project reaches its funding goal, DonorsChoose delivers the materials to the school. Best of all, the donors get photos of the project actually happening, a thank-you letter from the teacher, and a cost report showing how all of the money was spent.

Want to see some awesome numbers to get an idea of how much of a difference DonorsChoose has made so far? More than 165,000 teachers at 43,000 public schools have posted over 300,000 classroom projects supported by 409,000 citizen philanthropists, who have made more than 900,000 project donations. That’s a lot of data, which is where this contest comes in.

After scrubbing information that would allow users to directly identify teachers and donors, those participating in the contest will be able to access data such as the search queries donors perform to find projects; the subject area (topics taught in school) and resource type (field trip, books, supplies, etc) of each project; and even the location and poverty rate of each school. The point of the contest is to take this data and turn it into useful information and interesting applications.

What kind of result is DonorsChoose hoping for from the contest? The charity would like to see developers, designers, researchers and others use their API and data to identify trends that could affect budgeting or teaching. Some examples might include teachers of a particular grade in a particular area submitting 40 percent more projects requesting particular materials than they were last year, or a list of the 10 novels most requested by high school teachers in low-income communities.

DonorsChoose would also like to see applications that “reinvent the DonorsChoose.org experience.” For example, imagine a mobile phone app that can show you classroom project requests from schools within a mile of where you’re standing.

There are more possibilities. If you’re getting excited about this, you need to know that there are six data sets: Classroom projects, Project resources, Project essays, Donations, Gift cards, and Search log (keywords and filters). Categories include JavaScript, Ruby, Python, PHP and .NET. The .NET category will be judged by Scott Hanselman and Scott Guthrie. The winner of the .NET category will receive a free copy of Visual Studio Ultimate, an Xbox 360 with Kinect, and more.

Category winners will strut their stuff in front of the finalist judges for the grand prize, which is four tickets to the Colbert Report, where Stephen Colbert will present the winner their trophy and take a celebratory photo with them. You’ll have to hurry, though; the deadline is June 30, 2011, midnight Pacific time.

For more information on this, visit http://weblogs.asp.net/scottgu/archive/2011/04/26/hacking-education-a-contest-for-developers-and-data-crunchers.aspx. Good luck, and if you’re competing, let us know how it goes!

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