By: Charles Bowen
Portals have been blessed and cursed in the Net community, and with good reason. At their very best, portals give busy researchers a leg up by offering one-stop surfing for related information. Some legendary portals, especially early on in our collective Web experience, gave us intelligent, friendly alternatives to mere search engines which were still fairly primitive a decade ago.
But at their worst, portals give us false hope. They suggest that the Web really can be corralled into simple alphabetical lists and assembled categories. Bad portals institutionalize tunnel vision, dissuading users from original research with today’s much-improved search engines.
On today’s Internet, the best portals are those that approach their tasks humbly, keep their scope narrow, always mindful of the demographics of their prospective users. Education Index is a good example of a modern portal, inviting you (but also especially students, teachers, and parents) to what it considers “the most useful education-related sites on the Web.” The links can be quickly browsed by subject such as astronomy, chemistry, geology, and physics or by lifestage, from prenatal and infant all the way to college and continuing education.
To look in on the project, visit http://www.educationindex.com, where a simple introductory page provides a quick overview of the resources. Click on the “Subject” icon to reach a topic-by-topic breakdown of the sites reached through this portal. More than 50 alphabetized subjects are linked on the resulting page, ranging from agriculture, anthropology, and archaeology to theology, transportation. and women’s studies. Click any to reach a series of carefully assembled subcategories.
The research possibilities here are impressive. For instance, click the “Music” link on the “Subjects” page, and the site provides links to nearly three dozen notable sites, covering music in general as well as Irish music, Brazilian music, music education, and even the music of Latvia. Click “Statistics” and the resulting list of links goes much beyond the U.S. Census to items such as Chance, the magazine of the American Statistical Association, and StatLab, a great resource for software, datasets, and general statistical information.
Another way to approach the information in the Education Index is to click on the “Lifestage” option on the site’s introductory page. On the subsequent pages are portals to education resources for people of differing age groups. Links on this page take you to sites devoted to pre-natal and infant, preschool, primary education, middle education, secondary education and college. Also here are links related to distant learning, graduate education, continuing education, parenting, and careers.
Other considerations for using the Education Index in your reporting and editing:
1. If you write about the Education Index in your news columns, be sure to mention some of the fun features, such as “The Coffee Shop,” which invites visitors to chat among themselves on topics of interest and to share tips, stories, and experiences. And don’t forget “Weasel World.” A cartoon weasel is the site’s electronic mascot and this section provides games, downloadable files, and safe online entertainment. Then there’s the “Virtual Refrigerator Door” on which visitors can post children’s artwork online.
2. The Education Index is a service of Hobsons, an international college and career publisher, which special attention to students 14 years of age through college. Its most popular services in the U.S. are CollegeView (http://collegeview.com) and Hobsons Student Union (http://hobsonsstudentunion.com).
3. For quicker navigation of the Education Index, look for a graphic toolbar at the top of each page that shows where you are and gives you clickable icons to reach other sections. Also at the bottom of each page is a text-based toolbar.