Do You Dream of Databases? 2

“Sunset on a Set of Boxes Sitting,” image by aforgrave, on Flickr

Cross-Posted from a long comment response to a Doug Peterson (@dougpete) question, “Whatever Happened to Filemaker Pro?” on his Doug – Off The Record blog.

I knew when I read Doug’s post this morning that it would be impossible for me to let it go without commenting. But where to start? How could I start and not go on for hours and hours? And I expect that he knew that it would be difficult for me to not reply. I remember the day when John Taylor introduced us to one another at ECOO. I’m fairly certain he was looking at pushing the OSAPAC database of licensed software to the web from FileMaker at the time.

My original thought was that I would reply by writing my own post on my own blog. But the post would be out of the blue and wouldn’t have the context that Doug’s post provided. In the end, I posted a long comment on Doug’s blog, and based it on his prompt questions. To go broader would open the floodgates and I’d never get any sleep. But I did decide to cross-post it here to EdVisioned.ca all the same. After all, I spent upwards of five years from 1998 to 2003 breathing, eating, and sleeping in Filemaker. I’m sure I had a few Filemaker-inspired dreams along the way.

Have you ever developed a database application in Filemaker Pro?

Database101Oh, yeah. You know I have! It all began with a demo version on floppy disk in the back of Guy Kawasaki’s Database 101 book, purchased one lazy Sunday afternoon while browsing computer section at the the local bookseller, a year or so after I started teaching. That was pre-Chapters/Indigo, pre-Internet. But I did have a Mac, and a background in programming and Hypercard, and the first real project was to develop a lesson planner for a summer course I was taking. Why spend all that time formatting the pages when common fields across the various lessons in the unit could be automagically arranged, and I could add and re-sort the lessons with a nice table of contents to boot? I remember carrying that Mac to and from class and school in one of those big bags.

“Ontario Curriculum Unit Planner,” photo by aforgrave, on Flickr

Subsequent to that, the Class Organizer was a database that I developed and then shared at an ECOO SIG-ELEM in Kingston (Doug wrote about Special Interest Groups last weekend), and then came a school report card in my third year of teaching — followed by district Report Cards, Provincial Report Cards, and then the Ontario Curriculum Unit Planner (units still available via Queen’s University as PDFs) for the Ministry of Education.

Do you have a need for a database in the things you do on a computer?

To this day, I maintain student records and manage a bunch of classroom tasks from within Filemaker. Record keeping is the very raison d’être of a database, but the reality is that most folks do not “think” in terms of databases. I’ve had conversations with people over the years (looking at you, Peter Skillen) about how our thought processes and problem solving are influenced by the tools we understand and use. You are familiar with The Law of the Instrument, perhaps as initially clarified by Abraham Maslow in 1966: “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” For years and years, the hammer of choice for many in Ontario was WordPerfect, and every single problem was solved with it. Now, decades later, comfort with spreadsheets has increased, but the subtleties of difference between spreadsheets and databases are lost to most. While visiting the Google Showcase at pre-ISTE NECC in 2009, I recall asking their booth folks if Google had a database program under development to complement Docs, Sheets, Slides — and I just received blank stares from the folks there. Now, a few years later, even Microsoft’s Access has disappeared from Office365. Databases are a hidden entity. They manage our finances, they organize and store our blog posts behind the interface of WordPress, but most people do NOT think of a database when faced with a database problem. It is not in our toolbox.

What sorts of things do you collect that would be suitable for inclusion in a database?
There was a time when I worked towards what one might call The Grand Unification of Data Architecture, where any and all information worth capturing was stored within a set of linked databases and was available to be searched and cross-linked and referenced with other related bits of data. Calendar entries, journal entries, financial data, family and contact information, events, presentations, goals, books and movies and media, quotes and research findings, long-range plans, any and all information belonged gathered together in a single related data-entity. As it has turned out, in the same way Facebook has given a web presence to the masses in a way that HTML never did, the multitude of mobile apps that exist today for managing groceries, workouts, friends, photos, and so on have provided everyone with a splintered and fractured collection of databases that can be used without truly understanding the methods beneath. Have a problem? There’s an app for that, no need to solve the problem yourself.

keep-calm-there-s-an-app-for-that-MODIf you’re not using a Filemaker Pro version, what are you using instead?
Over the years, I have played around with other data structures, MySQL being the most long-standing complement to my use of the latest versions of Filemaker. When the web really kicked into gear in the 2000s, the gathering and provision of data via AJAX became a new technological pursuit for me. That meant working with MySQL, HTML/CSS, and Javascript — three separate components. From the days of FileMaker 2.1 through FileMaker 15, one of the strongest features of FileMaker has been the way in which it marries the traditional modal-view-controller components within the domain of one application. With Filemaker, developers simultaneously manage the data structure, the interface, and the business logic. The most recent releases of Filemaker continue to support publishing web interface as well as generating mobile apps. For me, however, with today’s prevalence of apps and cloud computing, a lot of my data is stored within someone else’s data architecture. There are instances when I wish it were easier to hook the bits together, but the need to create things from scratch out of necessity has been supplanted over time with ready access to a multitude of specialized apps. The emerging potential of APIs has yet to be realized.

A Hammer, a Screwdriver, and a Flashlight?
In closing, as with coding, there is an untapped depth of problem solving potential that today’s learners are missing out on because the strengths and benefits of database structure and manipulation are not readily understood by folks. We have a wonderful category of tool available to support our thinking, but it’s not in the toolbox of the masses. A screwdriver may have joined the hammer for some, and perhaps a flashlight once in a while, but we really have yet to explore the full set of tools to which we truly need access. Databases are one such tool.

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“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” – Abraham Maslow, 1966.


#ThinkingFlow

Transcript

Like you, I spent much of my time learning to think with a pencil in my hand. The results of our school learning and thinking were captured on paper that wound up on the teacher’s desk. Textbooks and notebooks were both medium and message. Although the pencil remains a versatile tool that influences our thinking processes, we need learners to be agile with a variety of tools.

Today’s learners have the potential easily create and manipulate documents, photos, audio and video files, are developed across a variety of different devices and a in variety of non-paper formats. The work of their learning no longer simply translates into stacks of paper on a teacher’s desk.

As our learning and working flow more easily from one medium to another, how will this affect the flow of our thinking?
How must we adjust learning over the next three years in support of a smoother #thinkingflow?

Attributions

 


Getting Charged Up About #edCamps

"Devices a-Charging" animatedGIF by @aforgrave

“Devices a-Charging” animatedGIF by @aforgrave

On the eve of #edCampPTBO (Peterborough, ON), a goodly number of us have our iDevices and batteries plugged-in and charging in preparation for tomorrow’s learning. With the Twitter chats, the shared Google notes, photographs, and websites to bookmark, educators tomorrow will be connecting both face-to-face (F2F) and over the Internet.

Having attended two Ontario #edCamps so far this fall — (#edCampToronto and #edCampBarrie, images above) — and ten Ontario #edCamps to date over the past three years, I continue to be inspired by the energy and enthusiasm that teachers all over the globe share when they gather together on Saturday mornings for grass-roots organized professional development. For the most part, these events are not organized by school districts, but rather by active and self-directed educators within a geographical area — quite frequently mobilized and organized through conversations on Twitter. Check out the hashtag #edCamp.

I am especially pleased to know that there will be twenty-five #edCamps taking place over this coming weekend and next. I’ve not always paid attention to the numbers each weekend in the past, but I’m thinking that this current intensity is reflecting the continued surge in interest in the #edCamp personal professional learning model. (Scanning ahead into 2015, the currently scheduled events average around 4-5 per weekend. Here in Ontario, and following quickly on the heels of Toronto, Barrie, and Peterborough,  #JEDCamp Toronto will run on Sunday, October 26th, and November 8th will feature bothOntario’s #edCampOttawa and #edCampSWO (South Western Ontario).  April 18th will bring #edCampHam (Hamilton), and informed sources tell me that #edCampIsland (Manitoulin Island) 2015 will take place  in May.  Keep an eye on the edCamp Wiki for new announcements.

"25 EdCamps Over the Next Two Weekends" image by @aforgrave from edCamp.wikispaces.com

“25 EdCamps Over the Next Two Weekends” image by @aforgrave from edCamp.wikispaces.com

Featuring participant crowd-sourced agendas, participant-facilitated conversations and sessions, the free-form nature of the day lends itself very well to individualized and differentiated learning. With anywhere from 5-10 concurrent sessions to choose from, participants vote and then devote their time according to the “rule of two feet” — if a particular session is not meeting their needs, participants simply move to another session and pick up there.

If you’ve not yet attended an #edCamp to find out what the buzz is all about, why not?

Update: Images from #edCampPTBO (Peterborough)

[simple-flickr set=”72157648420575007″]

 

 

 


Live, from #edCampBarrie

#edCampBarrie is underway!  Here is Tracy (@TracyMcPhail) assembling the Session Board.

"Building the Session Board at #edCampBarrie" animated GIF

“Building the Session Board at #edCampBarrie” animated GIF

And a collection of photos from the day ….

[simple-flickr set=”72157648113269101″]


Relive 30 Days of Learning in Ontario

“30 Days of Learning in Ontario April 2014 Collage” by Andrew Forgrave, on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA)

Ontario educators Donna Frye and Mark W. Carbone have been spearheading the Ontario School and System Leaders Edtech MOOCommunity this spring. In April, the OSSEMOOC blog shared 30 guest posts, one each day, written by Ontario educators as they reflect on aspects of their own professional learning over the past month.  The broad prompt for the posts was “What Did I Learn Today?” and today Donna and Mark continued to encourage us all to make our own professional learning more visible and more collaborative:

We all have a story to tell, and we learn from each other. Together we are stronger and wiser. Connected learning takes many forms: observing, reading, asking, reflecting, writing, speaking, audio, video and collaborating. Connected learning and leading is a participatory culture. It takes time, time to jump in, time to create new routines and time to build comfort. Courage is needed to put yourself “out there” and find your voice. It is worth the risk to gain insight, broader perspectives and recognize that “the smartest person in the room is the room”.

from 30 Days of Learning in Ontario: What Did We Learn Today? (posted today, May 1st)

The Posts

If you did not have an opportunity to follow the 30 Days of Learning in Ontario, I invite you to relive the experience by reading and commenting on the following posts from the past 30 days!

As we advance into the month of May, the Ontario School and System Leaders Edtech MOOCommunity will move ahead to explore the topic of Digital Citizenship, and I look forward to following, and participating in, the conversations that ensue.

Join in by following @ossemooc on Twitter, by monitoring the #ossemooc tag, and keeping an eye on the OSSEMOOC blog.

The learning continues …


Clouds, Docs, and Posts from #edCampSWO and #edCampLDN

CloudsDocsPosts500

“Clouds, Docs, Posts” by aforgrave, on Flickr

Yesterday, I followed #edCampSWO and #edCampLDN from afar, and wrote about the experience.  Here are some of the key pieces for easy access:

The Interactive TAG clouds & Twitter archive

The shared gDoc Notes

Forms to Gather Follow-Up Blog posts


Addendum: What I Learned TODAY!

I will confess I spent about an hour last night trying to get the #edCampSWO and #edCampLDN Blog Post Google Spreadsheets (above) to display something other than the raw responses from the Forms. I did manage to find posts on the web referencing the HYPERLINK and CONCATENATE functions with the intention of combining the Title and the URL cells from the Form Data into a single cell which would display the Title but link to the URL. I didn’t have any success, as the formula continually reverted to just the Title without the link. I similarly tried to create an active link to each authors’ Twitter profile and achieved the same, non-clickable result.  I also wanted to remove the Timestamp column — automatically inserted by the Form, but not really needed in the display. It would have been a simple five minute task to simple hand-code the information into the post — but I wanted it to dynamically update as new posts appear via the submission forms.

cogdog-watercolor-200_reasonably_small

This morning, as I received notification that it was my turn in my Words with Friends game with my #ds106 colleague and friend Alan Levine (@cogdog), I sent him a chat message asking if he had any experience in fiddling with Google forms to display properly.  His reply referenced “Google being picky about wanting double quotes on strings” and “Try doing the formulas on a second sheet. It doesnt like messing with form response.”  I shared the spreadsheet with him, and in short order, he had a clickable @Twittername link. I had to fiddle with the third column formula to get it to display the blog Title rather than the URL, but it was easy to get it to work following the Twitter example.

Note that the now-published columns come from a new sheet “Blog Posts” and so the cell references below are back to the original sheet “Form Responses.”  To leave out the Timestamp column (or any other unwanted column), simply don’t include it on the now-published sheet.

For reference, the following formula displays the Title from cell C2 but links to the URL in cell D2, provided that there is data in that row (determined by an entry in cell B2, which contains the author’s name):

=if(‘Form Responses’!B2=””;””;(HYPERLINK(‘Form Responses’!D2, ‘Form Responses’!C2)))

The formula to concatenate the users’ Twitter handle onto the base Twitter URL and display it as a link is:

=if(‘Form Responses’!B2=””;””;HYPERLINK(CONCAT(“http://twitter.com/”,’Form Responses’!E2), ‘Form Responses’!E2))

Thanks, Alan! The learning continues! What will YOU learn today?