FLO Tech Tool Tip: SPLOTS

The BCcampus FLO Tech Tool tip for June is all about SPLOTs: like watching the cooking channel – yummy and educational! 

By Jessica Motherwell McFarlane, PhD, and Alan Levinedirector of Membership Strategy and Community Engagement at Open Education Global

Why do we love to watch chefs cook, or video gamers game, or celebrities do DIY house repairs? We love to be engaged in the process — not just see the end result. We enjoy learning by witnessing others try, fail, and succeed. Even when we have no interest in doing the project ourselves, it can still be mesmerizing to witness others tackletheir projects from destruction to final success. Just like watching the cooking channel, SPLOTs — simple, online, privacy-protected sharing spaces — open up a world where learners can not only share their finished projects but also engage us in their yummy step-by-step processes.

Alan — What the Heck Is a SPLOT?

The meaning of SPLOT as an acronym is playful and deliberately a bit ambiguous. SPLOTs arose from an idea Brian Lamb suggested to me on the first day of my Thompson Rivers University Open Learning Research Fellowship. The goal was to create simple-to-use, single purpose creation tools for online learning that did not require students to create accounts or reveal personal information. (For the keenly interested, I refer you to an origin story.)

I have not stopped working on them since, and the main ones are detailed with examples and instructions at http://splot.ca. At the top is a bit of fun with the nebulous meaning of the acronym.

Most of the SPLOTs I created are WordPress themes with baked-in functionality you can customize through an interface without programming knowledge. The three most widely used ones are listed below. I developed the first two while at TRU but have improved them since.

  • TRU Writer: Provides a place for visitors to create the kind of media-rich written content that WordPress offers without any need to learn the inner workings of the platform. It’s aimed to create a place to publish in a magazine-like layout.
  • TRU Collector: Centres around organized collections of images plus optionally written content. This is the one Jessica took and ran with (see below).
  • SPLOTbox: Extends TRU Collector as a site where visitors can share not only images but also video and audio augmented with written content.

Because I know the recipes inside and out, I use SPLOTs often in my own projects. As intuitive as they are to me, I recognize there are quite a few options and settings that make for some long documentation. I get much from feedback from people like Jessica who use SPLOTs in ingenious ways and often suggest features I am able to build into the tools. (Yes, her suggestions are now built into TRU Collector.)

SPLOTs are used by educators in creative and unexpected ways to create course sites where students can post, share, and discuss collections of text and media content. For a fun road-side sign tour, see What the SPLOT is That?from the Twitter-based PressEd Conference.

Before getting too deep into detail, Jessica will explain her use of TRU Collector in her psychology courses, revolving around shared drawn comics.

Jessica — Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly: Intro Psyc Researchers Cook Up Heroes’ Journeys by SPLOT-Sharing Step-by-Step Progress via Stick-Figure Comics

One of my SPLOT adventures began when I wanted to cook up a creative way for first-year psychology learners to share their step-by-step progress on a personal 14-day wellness research project. Each learner had to choose one new daily wellness practice (e.g., they chose one of these: meditation, exercise, no junk food, turning off their devices, seven or more hours of sleep per night, or expressing gratitude for five events that day, etc.). They also measured their mood for 14 days and graphed their results. 

In a traditional classroom, learners typically report their progress to the instructor. I wanted to grow excitement and build research momentum by having learners conceptualize their delicious mental health work as “heroes’ journeys,” then show-and-tell their step-by-step research stories via simple stick-figure scenes posted to our class SPLOT. For each post, each learner was required to randomly peer review two others’ posts. Thus each person read comics and learned from a wide variety of research projects.

Do you want a taste of their astonishing work? Sample some of their comics below. (Note: These comics are from my fall 2021 and spring 2022 Capilano and Kwantlen Polytechnic classes.) Notice that in addition to helping learners participate in one another’s research process, the SPLOT also makes a permanent and gorgeous menu of all their inspiring work.

Step 1: Get Cape: Backstory. See links here and here.

Step 2: Get Cape: Preparing for a Change. See links here and here.

Step 3: Wear Cape: Day One. See links here and here.

Step 4: Wear Cape: Halfway (Day Seven). See links here and here.

Step 5: Wear Cape: Show Me the Data! See links here and here.

Step 6: Flop? — Your Hardest Day. See links here and here.

Step 7: Fly! Highest Height … so Far. See links here and here.

Step 8: Fly. Next “Caper.” Where Will You Fly Next? See links here and here.

Alan and Jessica — Using SPLOTs in the Classroom

Just like cooking, we have aromas and sample dishes to whet your appetites! Here are just a  few ideas for putting SPLOTs to use we have seen or done ourselves.

Alan — How to SPLOT

Try before you don’t buy. See the home base for examples of all SPLOTs with live demos. Add an image, some writing, or media to any of the example sites.

For chefs with experience cooking with WordPress and a place to create (e.g., those who have access to their own web hosting and some experience in setting up WordPress), instructions are provided for each of the SPLOT themes that let you know how to set one up. This involves creating a new WordPress site, installing a “parent” theme, and installing the SPLOT theme. Then there is some setup and configuration. 

Perhaps that is not most of you! Do not fear the kitchen appliances sitting in the back cupboard. We have an easier method.

That is where the OpenETC comes in as one of the greatest things B.C. offers (maybe I’m biased). If you’re not familiar with this cooperative edtech offering, it allows any educator or student in B.C. with an institutional email address to create their own WordPress site, set up and installed for free. See the Get Started information, or if you already have an OpenETC blog, you can make a new site via the WordPress area. There is even a way to start with a preconfigured TRU Writer, TRU Collector, or SPLOTbox site; all you have to do is make it your own.

For more help using the OpenETC for your SPLOTing needs, see the following:

Alan and Jessica — Cook With Us: The Workshop

What? SPLOTapalooza! Explore using SPLOTs to share learning objects, deepen understanding, and build learning community.

Who? Facilitators Alan Levine and Jessica Motherwell McFarlane, PhD

Why? In this session participants will:

  • Recognize that SPLOTs are friendly, tame web thingies that can increase learner engagement and deepen understanding of course content.
  • Practice creating a SPLOT. 
  • Practice posting to a SPLOT.
  • Practice commenting on others’ posts.
  • Tour the SPLOT dashboard for basic functions.
  • Observe dashboard tricks for grading learners’ SPLOTactivity. 
  • Discuss ways to incorporate SPLOTs into your course. 

Session Summary

Bring your smartphone for SPLOTapalooza. Join us for this hands-on, step-by-step workshop on building a SPLOT for your course or event. A SPLOT is an open-source website and collaborative tool that respects participants’ privacy. SPLOT can also be used as a verb (e.g., to SPLOT) that means: 

1. To learn, in the open, as participants not only post their own learning objects (e.g., comics, audio files, text, must-media files, etc.) but also see and comment on others’ posts at the same time. 

(2) To engage in interactional or interrelational learning as all participants co-create an open educational resource. 

Why would you want to SPLOT? It’s a fun, engaging, easy way to help learners benefit from one another’s work in a way that lasts forever. The session will begin with three examples of existing SPLOTS used in Research Methods and Intro Psych courses. Then you will be guided step-by-step through creating a SPLOT for your own course. If time permits, we will reveal website dashboard tricks that make grading learners’ work on SPLOTS even easier.

Register today!

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 © 2022 Jessica Motherwell McFarlane and Alan Levine released under a CC BY license

The featured image for this post (viewable in the BCcampus News section at the bottom of our homepage) is by Ketut Subiyanto