Forest and Trees – Ontario Educator Style

A couple of weeks ago, I released my LiveBinders effort which was a way of sharing all the Ontario Educators who also had active blogs in one form or another.  The LiveBinder format allows for the easy display of any kind of links in your browser and, through tabs, an easy way for me to categorize the blogs by content.  I was pleased with the results and I think it was unique way to showcase the results of some of the excellent works from folks throughout the province as they share their ideas with their colleagues, the rest of the province, and indeed, anyone in the world who happens to drop by their blog.

So, in one spot, you could navigate to any Ontario educator blog, read it, and then rather than wandering around, link by link, to see what else was new, catch it all in one spot.  They just appear in the LiveBinder window and the navigation remains at the top of the screen so that you can quickly reach out and see what someone else has to say.  So, if I wanted to see @jaccalder’s latest, it’s just a matter of clicking on her “Ramblings” title and voila.

Whenever you try to do something like this and be inclusive, you realize very quickly that you’re not inclusive by any stretch of the imagination.  Within minutes of posting the blog entry, I received a message from another Ontario Educator asking why their blog wasn’t included and could I add theirs?  The answer is twofold – first of all, I don’t know every blog in the province and secondly, absolutely.

I then came to the realization that this probably wouldn’t be the only person.  A little noodle scratching later and I thought – you know, the content in a LiveBinder is just webpages.  Why don’t I write one to collect information from anyone who wanted to contribute and put it into a table so that I could use the web to collect this data rather than waiting for anyone new to come along and have to engage in a dialogue to get the necessary information.  I could write an active server page with an Access database like I did years ago when I wrote the Webquest Locator to collect and display webquests according to subject level.  So, I got about the task of writing something. I’m always challenged by appearance and design but maybe I could at least do something functional.

Then, for whatever reason, I paused and thought – man – you are so old school.  Sure, given enough time and FTP services, you could make this functional BUT the whole premise behind LiveBinders is that it displays webpages in the window.  All that I’m looking to do is collect four fields of information.  There’s a far easier method.  Haven’t you been the one that encourages people to use the excellent resources available on the web?  Literally, in seconds, I had a Google Form created – and it looked good too.  There was, in fact a template that had almost Twitter-like colours and even included some birds in its design.

I could spend hours on design and not get anything that looked that good!  With the appropriate tool, it was done in seconds.  Since, with each tab in the LiveBinder, you have to land somewhere, I elected to land on this collection form.  It looks great and it is absolutely functional.  The results go into a Google Spreadsheet serving as a modern-day table for this simple project and I just make the document notify me whenever someone happens to make an entry.  Then, I check to make sure that it’s legit – spammers are always looking for new ways to spread their poisonous word – and it becomes part of the collection.

It worked well.  From the original layout, to date, about a dozen new blogs that I didn’t know existed have been added to the collection.  Since it’s up there and live, I’m hoping that it will grow so that we can showcase the efforts of as many Ontario educators as possible.  If you know of one that’s not there, please have the author swing by and fill out the form.  I’d love to have them included.

Back to the original concept though, there was an important takeaway for me.  Even with all the skills that I might have in my arsenal, I need to make sure that I look at a problem from all angles.  With so many great tools at my disposal, brute force should only be a last resort!  Think it through, Doug.  Hence the title of this entry.


links for 2011-01-13