GKP project was conceived from a meeting with a friend of mine, Mr.Zhang, back in Jan, 2015. Mr.Zhang has been in China's college education business for 15 year. He has succeeded in building a couple online training services and is also the head of a private college. The GKP project is to consolidate multiple data sources into one place so to facilitate high school graduates and their parents searching and evaluating college and university.

    In this article I'll give a brief introduction of core functions and thoughts behind each design. It also illustrates how we have approached each problem with the solution you are currently seeing.

    User preference

    An important tool is the user preference. Each user can specify her own searching criteria so to narrow down from a general search to a more customized version.

    Set up user preferences

    These settings are related directly to how Chinese college categorize students. Take the Geo requirement setting for example. Let's say that MIT takes 3,000 freshmen each year. Instead of accepting application nation wide, MIT assigns a fixed quota to each state. Some states get more quota comparing to their share of the student population, while others get less. A student from a low quota-to-student ratio state will then have a reduced chance of getting into MIT even though she meets the school's qualification.

    To enforce this arrangement, it is a hard requirement that student can only attend national entrance exam in the state that her birth place is registered (户口) (This is a simplified version, but is generally true). Therefore, regardless where she lives now, she is locked in to the quota assigned to her home state. This is a sad reality.

    Nation level: a school map

    The drive behind this function is that students often have a geo preference in mind. This function is to make it easy when she wants to browse schools based on its geo location.

    Initially I was to build a Google map view with overlayed filter. Geo code was looked up first using Google map API. This alone took about a week to resolve limited by the upper limit Google imposed on each API account and the initial trial and error time. Drawing the map was straightforward using Google map API and marker cluster.

    Using Google map to browse schools

    However, a couple issues with this approach:

    1. Computing markers within the view bound was time consuming. This is especially so when user has few filtering criteria. This will result in displaying all schools on the map. Zooming in will reduce the number of markers. So a potential solution is to set the initial zoom large enough to view only a section of the country's territory.

    2. Some addresses were not resolved or resolved incorrectly. They were viewable on Google map itself, but the returned geo code was different. It feels like Google uses a better version for his own use and serves the rest of us with a lower quality data set. A way to resolve this is to check the address with other geo decoding services. So I tried Baidu map API. That's when all hell broke loose.

    First of all, two systems yielded two different geo codes for the same school address! How could this be? Are they having two different GPS systems? My guess is that their data providers are different. But whose data is correct?

    Further, displayed location on the map are different, sometimes not even close. Then I tried swapping geo code for the purpose of experiment — using Google's geo code to plot on Baidu map. The result was even stranger. This made me to think that either Google or Baidu has massaged their data on purpose in order to create this incompatibility.

    Considering the GFW, I abandoned both maps and back to a simple Chart. Map is drawn using Echarts.

    School map using Echarts

    Legend on the bottom left corner shows school counts categorized into different shades of color. The darker an area is, the more schools there are. Schools in each state are further grouped by its city (shown on the right) and can be drilled down.

    State level: statistics

    Next layer below a national view of all schools on a country map is at state level. Most people have a general idea of state, such as its climate, culture, food, and so forth. So here instead of these information, we focused on aggregated data analysis. In short, schools within the same state boundary will be grouped along different dimensions. Statistics are then computed on the fly to provide quick facts.

    School statistics quickview at State level

    Each dimension can be drilled down to reveal more stats. Among them, two important dimensions are important for a student — Bachelor's vs. Associate program, and tiers.

    School statistics drill down by programs and admission tiers

    The distinction in the degrees are simple to understand. Some schools and programs offer certificate program while others are accredited by the government to issue degrees.

    A unique concept here is the admission tier. In China, all college admissions fall into one of the four tiers listed in descending time order — pre tier, 1st tier, 2nd tier and 3rd tier. Tiers work in a waterfall mode. School start with top tier in an admission cycle and moves down the tiers until all spots are filled. Therefore the lower the tier is, the less likely a top school will come by. On the other hand, lower tier has a lower score requirement. Pre tier is for school with specialized program, eg. military schools. Often, it is also the time when elite students get picked by school. For all others, they have to make a decision prior to the exam day which tier she is going into, and the primary reference is her estimated score.

    School statistics drill down by school types

    Another dimension is the type of school. Students who want to study arts can quickly find schools specializing in that.

    City level

    What would student want to know about a city? First of all, some general data imported from wikipedia. Since wikipedia does not have an API for keyword search, the challenge was to have the computer matching city name to a wiki page and parse the page for imported data bits.

    City wiki

    Next, an interesting idea came up during our discussion. How convenient is it to get to the city from where I live? So we decided to build a train schedule that will show exactly which train are available to take, all stops in between, and the actual time elapse.

    City to city train schedule search engine

    Considering that no map API or travel search engine can mix up flight with train to generate a complete door-to-door route, this function has a great potential to be extended into a service of its own where flight, train, bus and subway data are matched up.

    School level

    Everything comes down to school level where school specific details are laid out to assist prospective students evaluate not only the future academic life but also its social life. Read on our part two — school details.

    — by Feng Xia

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      2015-09-07
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