September 06, 2007

Google Maps to help locate Scottish schools

Lts_google_maps Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS) have started to plot where schools are using Google Maps in the national directory, like this example of Abbeyhill Primary. It should not only help visitors to the schools, but also probationers wondering where they've been sent, providing valuable official information next to the map.

So far the 'A's and 'B's are covered, with the rest of Scotland's 3000 schools to follow. I've been reassured that a smart cookie at LTS has got a source code made up which automatically converts school postcodes from the Scottish Government's central database into latitude and longitude, which can then be used to plot locations on the map. By and large, it's fairly accurate, although in some more far flung areas the school building can clearly be seen to be out by a 100m or so from the marked location. Something the guys are working on.

The next thing I'm hoping we can do is take the same information an create one master map, on which all Scottish schools are plotted along with the Scottish Schools Online information - the official website, but in reverse.

At the moment, if the Scottish Government receives changes of schools' details, this goes into the Government-LTS project, Scottish Schools Online, which gives LTS a fighting chance of keeping a Google Map up-to-date. Ideally we would be able to release that original KML file and let people play around with it, something I personally would love to see.

But there are some really practical and rather serious reasons why we can't, or won't, be able to do that yet, I think. The main one is to do with keep information accurate. If the KML file were downloaded, uploaded again to Google Maps and added to we would have a superb resource from the teaching profession or from students for as long as the core information was accurate. The minute that core information (that the school exists, its inspectorate reports, stats, contact details etc) changed, though, then the Googlejuice-high Google Maps of inaccurate information would come up first, above the accurate information held in LTS's site. Those generally searching for accurate information about the school are disserved. Do you see the conundrum?

When the data set changes, which it does every year as school roles change, schools open and get shut down, how can we keep everyone's maps up-to-date?

At the moment I'm not sure that the solution exists. I'm pretty sure it doesn't, but would love to be corrected. Again, going around in circles, I end up back at the solution whereby one centrally updated map, with all the core information uneditable by others and kept current by the Government, has a "Google Maps Wiki-ised" feature which allows others to chop and change information about blogs in that authority, good websites, news, feeds and so on in and around that. Until that comes, it's hard to free up that data. Any ideas?


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Interesting development, and a more sophisticated, comprehensive version of the basic model I have been trying to create, of a Google Blog map. However, you mention the issue of "wikifying" maps which can be chopped and changed-have a look at OpenStreetMap ( ), a free editable map of the whole world. This might have a huge possibilities...

We have used the new map embedding feature from Google earth on our school website to replace this...

with this...

Without having thought of a way of actually making it work, one possible way to have a wide range of wiki-ised information and keep core information correct would be to have a map that checks from a number of different sources. All the official data like school rolls and locations could come from a centrally controlled database, while the extra stuff could be made available for all to edit.

Perhaps the editable database could have a few given sections to be filled in (flickr and delicious feeds, school website feed, etc) and then some more flexible space for anything else to be put in that the users might think of - links to other projects they are involved in, local information websites, a school events schedule brought in from Google Calendar.

I don't know how the mechanics of that would work though...

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Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

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