Saanich-based online company gains momentum in B.C. high schools

Chatter High entices students, teachers with cash and prizes

Neither the founder of ChatterHigh nor the educators who have embraced the website deny it’s a company, supported largely by businesses with their own vested interests, targeting high school students.

It’s also a fundraising tool that 2,048 students at 81 public and private schools in B.C. accessed last year.

On ChatterHigh.com, students, teachers, parents and alumni earn points by answering multiple choice quizzes, and later use those points to enter draws for prizes as small as gas cards, and up to big ticket items such as iPads and scholarships.

The questions are provided by a variety of sources – post-secondary institutions, attractions and industries, anywhere from Q College to the B.C. Turkey Farmers – all of whom share the goal of attracting traffic deep into their own websites.

Each quiz question includes a hint in the form of a link to a question provider’s website where the answer can be found with some light reading. Each click on the hint links allows the person answering the questions to earn bonus points toward entering draws, and earns Chatter High some cash, as question providers pay six to 10 cents per click, depending on how targeted their audience is. Each high school also receives a portion of these proceeds.

Lee Taal, director of operations for Chatter High, which has offices in Royal Oak and Vancouver, describes the relationship between schools and as a self-funding model between the user and the organization trying to connect with them.

“I’m completely comfortable with it,” Taal said. “The overwhelming feedback is that this is a very good thing.”

Spectrum Community School principal Judy Harrison agrees. Not only did the 640 students, teachers and parents from the Spectrum community registered on Chatter High earn a $2,500 prize toward the school’s first dry grad party last month, but Taal was also asked to deliver the keynote address to the 2012 graduating class. It was the first time someone from the business sector took on the role, though his talk reached well beyond Chatter HIgh, Harrison said.

“It was serendipitous how many people it drew in,” Harrison said, adding that she and some of her colleagues engaged in a little healthy competition when earning points toward a resort prize draw.

Harrison justifies the inclusion of businesses on the site, most which have no clear connection to education, since they’re merely providing incentives for students, such as gift certificates for gas or ferry travel.

“I guess we’re all enticed by prizes,” Harrison said. “The (most) time was spent on answering the questions, so that’s where it was consistent.”

While Patrick Duncan, associate superintendent for the Greater Victoria School District, hasn’t experienced any negative feedback from Chatter High so far, he acknowledges the fine line the district treads between supporting commercialism and giving schools alternatives to generate funds.

“It’s a line that all principals have to look at when you’re looking at fundraising opportunities and involving any commercial enterprises,” Duncan said. “I know our principals are careful, but that is a difficult line. It’s a principal’s prerogative and duty to be watching this.”

When a student at Mount Douglas secondary asked Taal directly if his participation on the site was supporting a business, Taal said he had no qualms telling the student the truth. Chatter High is clearly a business, not a non-profit organization, he said.

“It’s the right choice for us. We could make it a non-profit, but then we would have to spend a lot of our time fundraising, whereas the organizations that we’re trying to help with this collaboration, they have budgets. Their plan is to spend some money to do this engagement already, so that’s where the money should come from.”

Chatter High will host four competitions for major prizes this September through November in Greater Vancouver and the Island. The combined population of the group of schools included is one-quarter of the province’s high school students and Taal has plans for expansion.

“Like most start-ups, it’s not profitable yet,” he said. “We’re not planning on it this year … We hope it will be in the future.”

nnorth@saanichnews.com