Australian Bureau of Statistics Codeplay Challenge.

One of the reasons I decided to pursue a double degree in Education and Design and Technology was because I liked helping, and teaching students to build things. Similarly, one of the reasons I was involved in the Microsoft Student Partner program was because I also liked to see other people helping, supporting and challenging students with technology. The Australian Bureau of Statistics Codeplay Challenge combines the best of both worlds, students being challenged to build things using technology… How can you go wrong?

“We have issued a challenge to all Australian tertiary students to help us design the next generation of open-data tools to help people access, view and use statistical information. Because of the vast and ever-expanding number of formats for capturing data, national statistical offices, government agencies, academic institutions, financial organisations and market research groups are all facing similar challenges regarding how best to easily share and compare information and statistics.” – ABS.

The competition is based around two data formats, DDI and  SDMX. None of which I had heard of until a few weeks ago when I started looking at a possible entry.

I decided to follow through on an idea using the DDI standard which I have submitted to the competition, and you can see here. The DDI Survey Reader takes an overly complicated XML document and extracts questions and available answers and formats, and then applies that to basic controls such as textboxes, dropdowns and checkboxes. If you want to see how it turned out have a look at the project on Codeplex (If you have a suggestion, why not ask to be a contributor?).

I wouldn’t call the application “Finished” however there’s enough there for others to take it and get a better understanding of the DDI Standard (however trivial mine is). However, the problem with the DDI standard (for me) is that even after nearly a month of working on it, I still struggle with how / why it is all connected. I’ve drawn flowcharts, I’ve printed out documents, I’ve even used crazy glue, but for me the document standard does appear to be overly verbose, and overly detailed (Best way I have explained it to friends was if you print out every field, record and relationship in an access database. shuffle it all up and throw it into an xml document). This may just be my failing understanding but this hasn’t been the easiest project undertaken.

The one down side to this competition is that there appears to be a lack of student engagement. While anyone who views my submission will be able to tell I haven’t kept up my programming skills, I felt somewhat obligated to enter. I didn’t enter the competition because I want an Ipad, but rather that I know from first hand experience, when competitions don’t receive enough attention, other people, other places and other competitions are not so likely to happen. As a Teacher, having these kind of opportunities taken away for future students makes me a little bit “frowny face”.

While some aspects of the DDI Survey Reader wont be ready for the competition end date (30/4/11 – Probably should have posted this blog a while ago eh?), it has stirred my interest in programming again, and the DDI format.

Once the Uni semester is over, and I once again have some free time, I will continue to make updates to this project. Which you can keep an eye on from Codeplex or here on my blog.

No doubt you’ll hear about this again when the public side of voting is announce and I have a link for you all to click!

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