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written by Drew Wardle  |  Photos Provided

Alissa McDonald, Co-Founder PopPD
(Peer Learning for Educators, by Educators)

When thinking about the latest developments in artificial intelligence, it’s hard not to imagine apocalyptic scenes of the future, where humanity has become enslaved by killer robots. However, the reality may prove to be a lot less glamorous, especially in high schools where one local company is leveraging technology to improve peer-to-peer learning for educators.

“Instead of teachers putting on a tutorial video of some sort for the students to watch, we need more of an interactive learning environment,” said Alissa McDonald, a former teacher at South Glens Falls High School. In 2022, McDonald, along with Megan Kensington, also a former teacher, decided to create PopPD (Peer Learning for Educators, by Educators), an innovative tech start-up that opens an exchange of educational methods and shares tips among teachers. In the last year, the company has grown from 250 users to approximately 600. 

Ideally, teachers would be sharing different classes, teaching styles, communication methods, etc., created by teachers for teachers within a shared network hosted by PopPD’s software. In addition, anyone in search of a class would potentially be able to watch a demo-style video created by the originating classroom.

According to McDonald, these demos could be presented differently than other traditional styles of communication, adding a more modern touch. 

"We’re trying to allow teachers to share methods
in a very actionable way.”

McDonald mentioned the use of podcasts, which would allow students to break down the challenge they had just undertaken by explaining it through a play-by-play analysis. The short-form video format, which was made popular by Tik-Tok, the social media app, may also be utilized in future classes.

By its very nature, the way PopPD’s business model thrives is by encouraging teachers to share their own ideas with other educators near or far. The software works as a marketplace where content creators - the teachers in the classroom - receive 70% of a sale while PopPD receives the remaining 30%.

McDonald retired as a teacher in 2019 when she became pregnant. Soon after, she launched her Teacher Hustle Podcast where she became even more acquainted with the teaching community. Her online following grew to more than 15,000 educators worldwide. 

“I started an online business for teachers to help them build brands. The biggest struggle for them is that they are always in the classroom and don’t have time to share their ideas globally,” she said.

Regardless of how intimidating the future of technology and AI may seem at times, some teachers struggled with the more basic software needed for virtual teachings, such as Skype, Zoom, and the like. McDonald pointed to this as part of an overarching problem that many schools face in the bigger picture. 

“Professional development for teachers overall needs to be improved. Typically, they fly in a consultant from out of town - it's expensive - and training is sometimes once a year. Then they leave and teachers are on their own,” McDonald said.

“During COVID, a challenge was teaching some educators how to use some of the virtual technology. Coming out of COVID, there are specific nuanced everyday challenges in the classroom that are being overlooked.”

Currently, PopPD is in the process of raising funds. They have almost reached their goal of $500,000 after receiving a payment of $300,000 from Beta Boom.