MEC teacher invents electronics kits for students
Talking to a former student about her experience learning electronics in college, Macon Early College teacher Dan Alich began wondering why basic electronics were not taught in high school and younger grades. Alich, who acquired a passion for finding out what made things tick while growing up working with electronic kits, wanted to find a way to bring electronics into his classroom at MEC.
“While struggling in my classroom/club to help students learn and understand electronics and programming, I started to look for a complete process and design for building and teaching,” said Alich. “Back in the ’80s, when I was a kid, I had several electronic kits that were distributed by Radio Shack and this is where I learned the basics of electronics. I have purchased these same vintage kits for my son as they were a great learning tool. I simply updated the vintage kit design utilizing modern electronics and microprocessors for developing electronic gadgets in a self-contained environment that is easy to use and quick for building and experimenting.”
With a Bachelors in mathematics education and a Master of Entrepreneurship, Alich designed what would be known as the DuinoKit, an easy, cost effective kit to introduce electronics, robotics, programming and microcomputers to the general public. Alich’s kit included a selfcontained development board, microprocessor in addition to online and print instructions for learning.
Although he had the design and the capability to produce the product on a small scale, Alich wanted to get his design to the masses. So he turned to crowdfunding. Crowdfunding, which is defined as the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, generally occurs online, which is where Alich turned. Using the popular crowdfunding site Kickstarter, Alich set out to raise $19,500 in June 2013 to make his dream a reality. By the time his funding campaign ended on July 15, 2013, with 250 backers from around the world, Alich had surpassed his goal of $19,500 by raising an astounding $57,478.
The funds raised not only validated Alich’s vision for the need for such kits, but also provided funding for the production of 275 DuinoKits, 250 of which went to customers who purchased them through Kickstarter; a complete redesign of the DuinoKit with more and better components; additional prototypes; a custom made metal case; procurement and delivery (including international shipping); Local teacher raises $75k in crowdfunding to bring electronics into his classroom several donations of DuinoKits; and absorption of damaged/defective merchandise and incorrect component replacement.
The first round of fundraising for Alich wrapped up just in time for the kits to be built and delivered by the end of the 2014 school year. Since the kits were delivered in the last week, not much happened during school, but Alich and the students are looking forward to learning on them. “My students have been very enthusiastic about actually having a DuinoKit system,” said Alich. “We tried building the microprocessors and little parts and this proved very difficult in our school electronics club. I specifically designed the DuinoKit system to be easy to use in the classroom and support clubs and schools. I also had several students interested in the electronics club at the beginning of the year, but they did not have the money to buy the Arduino microprocessor and parts to get started. I feel this is technology schools should be supplying to help prepare students to learn applications to math and science where traditional textbooks leave off. This year I'll be able to donate some kits in my school to help these kids learn and build with electronics.”
Through Alich’s Kickstart campaign, his idea has garnered international interest from teachers and schools across the globe. “I have several teachers discuss the option both here and overseas,” said Alich. “Six or sevencontacted me through KickStarter and several others at demos and conferences. I specifically spoke with five or six educators in the US and Canada.”
Although Alich has encountered problems, like explaining his vision to people like his mother, “it is difficult to explain the project to many as it is only interesting to some,” said Alich. “My own mother 'does not get it' or know what to do with a DuinoKit, and this if fine.” He hopes to continue to produce them on a bigger scale and even has another Kickstarter campaign going. “There is a specific audience for learning to build and work with electronic gadgets,” he said. “KickStarter helps to showcase the DuinoKit, validate the market and gain some exposure. I'm still looking for a way to roll this into an ongoing business and grow into other products. I have some additional things I am currently working on producing. It is difficult expanding into a new market trying to make it all happen without major backing.
Alich’s current Kickstarter campaign, which will end on Aug. 12, had a goal of $15,300, but has already exceeded that with a current total of $17,032. “The main portion of this project will be for delivery of the DuinoKit Essentials project,” said Alich. “I was hoping for 1000-2000 pledges on this project so that I would have some funds to develop the DuinoKit project into a long term, sustainable business and manufacture additional stock to supply to schools. KickStarter pricing is usually lower than traditional retail prices with little profit as the initial production in small batches is very costly. Very small production batches do not allow for an abundance of funds for ongoing business operations.”
Finding his niche and support from crowdfunding has lead Alich to set his sights and creating a business and market for his kits offline as well. “I would love to build and grow the DuinoKit operations here in Western North Carolina where I live with my wife and four children,” he said. “I am still working on the final business model and additional offerings to help make the DuinoKit sustainable. We love the area and the people, but business growth, particularly in technology, is difficult in rural settings.”