Monday, July 11, 2011
I finally get a great sense of accomplishment in being able to publish and embed this map. It's been somewhat of a labour of love since March. That was shortly after the year three school locations were announced by the Ontario Ministry of Education. Not knowing as much as I do now, I started, manually, mapping all the schools where FDK had been announced using Google Maps.That was a pain in my behind and several other body parts as it required a lot of cutting and pasting and manual correction as each address was searched. Google Maps also appears to have a limit of only a few hundred pins visible at a time for those entered manually.
Part of this frustration is a bigger conversation over open data-- specifically the lack thereof in the Ontario government. Instead of say, offering this information in an easily downloadable format, the ministry forces us to look up schools by municipality, school board or school name on the School Information Finder.
Things changed, and accelerated somewhat, when I participated in some social-media training at work and was introduced to Google Fusion Tables. Anyone with a Google account (and these can be setup for any email address) can use Fusion Tables, which is an incredibly powerful little website. So a few weeks ago, using the SIF, I started cutting and pasting all the information on the web into one large Excel spreadsheet (see its GoogleDocs version here). The bonus being that by this point in time, the ministry had announced implementation dates for all Ontario elementary schools, so the map went from including only the first three years of sites to all of them. Had I known about Google Refine at the time, this too would have been easier as I was manually moving cells around in Excel for over 3,500 schools and with the proper scripting I might have gotten Google Refine to do all that hard work for me.
Even once I uploaded the table to Google Fusion Tables there was still a lot of work to do. For example, it didn't like trying to map addresses with postal codes that weren't imported correctly-- which was all of them. Then, it insisted on plotting some schools in places such as California and the U.S. midwest, which required some manual dot-placing. The last challenge was to get them to show up in the five pretty colours they do now.
So other than that wild sense of accomplishment, what else?
As best I can tell, no one outside the Ministry of Education has ever plotted the location of the over 3,500 elementary schools in Ontario that would have kindergarten grades in them. As a result, the map does have caveats. First, it's only as good as the data provided. The ministry website doesn't include any address or FDK information for 19 schools, so they're not on the map (although they are on the spreadsheet). It also goes based on the address information provided therein, which may not be accurate in some cases where school addresses are not specific street or road numbers.
Perhaps most importantly, any information for a school that's recently been involved in a school-closure review or is currently in one is subject to some error. I checked schools I know for accuracy and in one case the location of the future schools was correct and the to-be-closed schools are not listed. In another, where trustees didn't vote on an outcome until late April, all three schools involved are listed and plotted, even though by 2013 when the program starts only one of the three will remain.
Please load it in your full browser, poke around, play and investigate. I will be doing some further analysis and mapping on the site (for this blog and hopefully my newspaper chain depending on what the data shows me), but for now here you go.