Create a searchable online subject choice database
February 10, 2008 6:34 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a piece of web software that will take all our schools subject details and offer them as a searchable database, but also have some simple way of outputting a hard-copy booklet for distribution.

I'm trying to put our school's current hard-copy Curriculum Guide online in a searchable format other than PDF - preferably so that, for example, a student in year 8 could see the subject paths throughout the next five years laid out for them automatically by the software with descriptions of each.

I could just put a PDF online, but it'd mean parents would have to download and try to understand a huge PDF file. I could also chop it into smaller parts, but that could get too messy to follow as well. What would be ideal is some sort of open source software made for subject choices that would also output a booklet if desired.

I realise it's a big ask. And writing a customised solution is probably the best idea, but I'm not a coder and I don't think we'll have the money for an outside data company to do it. I thought I'd at least put it out there and see if ANYONE has any experience with something similar. I apologise if I've not been terribly clear - please let me know if you think you can help but need clarification.
posted by joshnunn to Computers & Internet (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I do not have a solution for you, but I have enough data processing knowledge to ask some important questions (perhaps your answers will help others more familiar with educational software give you ideas).

1. Are you saying that your current Curriculum Guide is *purely* hard copy (unlikely) or rather that it is in some format submitted to a professional printer? Because there is an old programmer's law that says whenever you put something in two places there's one thing you can be sure of: it's not the same thing. If you put your current Curriculum on-line by typing it into some software or database and then later it changes, are you willing to keep making the changes twice, once for the version that gets printed and once for the on-line version viewed by the parents? Or do you plan to make the on-line version be the official one?

2. I do not believe you mentioned what platform you are planning on running this on. Does the school expose a server to the Internet, or do you have a contract with a Web hosting company? In either case, would the server be running a Windows or Linux operating system?

3. I realize you say you are not a coder, but just so you know some of the technical terms. This application sounds like a classic LAMP setup would work (Linux Apache MySQL PHP). The data is held in a database, maintained and viewed through an HTML Web page built/interpreted by PHP. Your comment about building the PDF from only a portion of the database would presumably be a results filter driven by drop down boxes on the screen (grade levels, subject major, etc.) There is a free package called FPDF that works with PHP allowing a programmer to easily create basic PDF format documents.

I believe the next questions (but unfortunately I do not have the background to answer them) are:

- does such LAMP software already exist so you do not have to find someone to write it?
- is there an easier solution than my proposal above, something "canned"?
posted by forthright at 7:34 PM on February 10, 2008

A wiki would do the trick. Particularly, Confluence. Each space has an export option that will automatically write out to PDF.
posted by purephase at 8:04 PM on February 10, 2008

The wiki would be ok - but - make sure someone is in charge of maintaining it, and make sure that the wiki contains the cannonical version of your document.
posted by singingfish at 8:24 PM on February 10, 2008

Response by poster: Forthright:
1. It's currently submitted as a Word document with other attachments to the printer. In an ideal world the online version would be canonical.

2. We have a world-facing Windows 2003 box with php/mysql (WIMP).

3. You are exactly spot on with your description, and that's exactly what I want - but I hoped someone here could tell me if something 'canned' exists. But you've said what I meant better than I could.

A wiki sounds good actually. The missing element might be inability to program the flow of subjects, but that could just be a bit of extra typing and linking from a sort of table of contents... Thank you for the Confluence link.

Thanks for the advice. I reckon I'd be in charge, and the online version WOULD be the official version.
posted by joshnunn at 3:13 AM on February 11, 2008

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