SPLOT!

Table of contents

Introduction

In a previous post, I shared how syndicating blogs is one way to pull together all the work from your students to showcase it on a single site. In another one, I talked about how Inoreader is my current tool of choice to create a blog feed on my course websites. This week, I introduce another easy digital tool that’s all about sharing content.

It’s easy to think that end-of-semester projects where students showcase their work need to be a complex and well-orchestrated. But they don’t. In fact, this week’s tool is so straightforward your contributors don’t even need a blog or an account, depending on what you want them to contribute: a SPLOT. Bear with me. These are fun!

Screenshot of the SPLOT for a course on the history of Chinese material culture, showing images and brief excerpts of text
Screenshot of the history course SPLOT front page

Let me first tell you how I found out how useful SPLOTs are. In Fall 2020, I realized I couldn’t ask my students to learn yet another digital tool just so we could show off the results of our semester-long romp through the history of Chinese material culture. I was on the hunt for something simple, elegant, and perhaps even playful. Above all, I wanted something with minimal fuss for uploading content because we were fully remote for this course, our Digital Learning team had its hands full as 3/4 of the students were off campus, and we were predominantly teaching online. No spare hands available, in other words. The course content relies strongly on the visual and did not lend itself to Pressbooks (which I had some experience with), Scalar which I had used before was too complex to teach in a hurry, and I had no experience with Omeka.

Then the suggestion came from @floatingtim to try out a SPLOT. A what?? It turns out, this is the simplest thing that I could have imagined to gather my students’ project pages or blog posts for their final projects. Students post a link and image to their project on the page, the visitor can click on the “card” to read a bit more and then visit the embedded link to the student blog to see the project in full.

Purrrrfect!

A cat and a male human are on the couch, each holding a gaming controller and they appear to play a video game together. Text "Stay creative: Have fun!"
Have fun! (From Laura’s Growth Mindset Cats)

SPLOT stands for…

  • Smallest Possible Learning Online Tool?
  • The weird sound of something dropping on the floor?
  • Smallest/Simplest * Possible/Portable * Open/Online * Learning/Living * Tool/Technology
    • (Select as appropriate)

For me, the idea of the Smallest Possible Learning Online Tool works quite well, because the point of using this tool was (is) to minimize the labour for me, and the maximize the ROI (return on investment) as I share with the world what we were up to during a semester. I have issues with “disposable” or “one way” assignments, that disappear into a (digital) drawer at the end of the semester. Instead I like to make sure that students of future courses, and other people online, get a chance to see what students have achieved, and hopefully build on it.

But getting a collection ready for display can be a lot of work. That’s why the second edition of China’s Magical Creatures isn’t out yet (Summer 2022 is looking good though), and why the Scalar project of the first edition of the course behind the SPLOT isn’t ready for viewing yet beyond the select parts for the students of the course only (it’s inching up on my to-do list).

With the version of the SPLOT I chose, the TRU Collector, contributors don’t need to make an account or sign up, and can start adding items straight away. I had a long list of requirements because this was a class assignment, but you can make it as simple as “add an image and a brief description”.

Installing a SPLOT on your Domain

SPLOTs are based on WordPress, and there are now quite a few variations on this theme. In our Domain of One’s Own c-panel, we can choose for an easy install of either the TRU Collector or TRU Writer “apps”, and I went with the TRU Collector, which focuses on images. More variations are available from the website, where you get directed to the Github repositories.

Installation from a Domain of One’s Own site is similar to installing WordPress: just click that “Install Application” button, and soon you’ll be in a familiar looking area. The main difference for TRU Collector is that “Posts” are renamed “Collectables”.

Screenshot of the admin side of the SPLOT
Admin side of the SPLOT in the “Collectables” (± Posts) area

Admin-ie stuff

The page where students add their images is called in the set-up “Add to pool”, but in the Menu list, I changed that to “Add to Collection”, a bit more recognizable for us.

That “Add to collection” page is largely a template that asks for all the information you’d want to add, such as the image, name (with the option of remaining anonymous) and a brief description as well as Alt Text for the image. Handy!

Screenshot of the admin side of the "Add to pool" or "Collect" page. Text in the editor window says "Here is the place to add a new photo to this collection. If you are building this site, maybe edit this page to make it special"
The editing area for the Collect (“Add to pool”) page

I changed the brief description at the top as is suggested. We had already tried all of these requirements out in a test SPLOT.

Screenshot of the Front page of my adjusted "Collect" page, with the text adjusted to read:
 "Here is the place to add a new “card” to this collection. Make sure you have the webpage URL to your project handy to link to, and an image to upload, as well as the caption and credits (artist/museum collection) for the image you want to use.

If you encounter any technical issues, let me know! Instructions can be found on the course webpage."
The page after adjusting the text for my course

If a contributor makes a mistake or wants to change something, it’s up to me, as the admin and “editor” of the SPLOT to make changes. That’s why the “Add to collection” page has a section for “Notes to the editor” which suggests leaving contact details. It’s really easy to edit a Collectable The important things to remember are:

  • In the TRU Collector, the “Featured Image” is what catches the eye so if you get a request for a change of the image, that’s where you go.
  • Categories are really useful, but need to be set up in advance of contributors adding Collectables. I brainstormed with the students what would be good categories, so we were sure everybody’s project would feel at home.
  • Tags are also very useful for displaying the Collectables, I left it up to the students to add as many as they thought were useful.

You can find the final SPLOT here: https://hst137.tdh.bergbuilds.domains/projectfall20/ Be sure to page through the “Older Items”, because there are 16 items total on the site, and all of them lead to really interesting blog posts: click on the card, then on the embedded link! (So proud of my students 🥲)

But wait! There’s more!

In Fall ‘21, a student worked on matching the names of herbs from a Chinese Medicine manual with images. We thought about the best way to showcase these. In our weekly workshop class, I showed her the SPLOT we did with the history course in Fall ’20, and suggested she visit the Digital Learning team to help her set up the site and get going.

About ten minutes later, after checking in with another student, she calls me over again and points to an item in the Installatron of her Domain that’s crawling through the installation bar: “It was the TRU Collector you used, wasn’t it? I’m installing it to check it out.” 👀 😁

By the next week’s Workshop, she had started adding the images, and by the end of the semester she had created a small interactive website where you can use tags to see which plants in traditional Chinese medicine support which organs, or treat which conditions. Here’s Jolie’s website: http://joliegirgis.bergbuilds.domains/cms/category/plants/ I am really enchanted by the colourful layout of the cards, and the interactive element of the tags.

Screenshot shows tags in the left menu bar, and colourful images of soybean, Chinese liquorice, Gentian, and other plants.
Screenshot of Jolie’s SPLOT (hey, that rhymes!)

Conclusion

  • It’s quick and easy for people to add content to a website, even when they are a bit tech-averse: no need to sign up, just add some information to a form, and it can be anonymous if they prefer.
  • Categories and tags add a neat element of interaction with the content.
  • It’s easy to install from the admin’s point of view, and easy to maintain, even when collecting larger amounts of information.
  • It’s colourful (depending on the images you choose) and fun.
  • We need more SPLOTs.
About this blog series

This post is part of the second series explaining the digital tools I use for teaching courses online, face-to-face, and mask-to-mask.

If you like this post, please explore the others in the series, and sign up for new posts in the sidebar, under the Growth Mindset Cats 😀, add the blog to your RSS reader, or check back every other Monday, 6pm CET/12 noon EST, so you’ll never miss a post!

Leave a comment with questions and requests for other similar content. Thank you! 😽

2 thoughts on “SPLOT!”

  1. Ohhh thanks so much for this write up, I need to include it as a reference in the documentation. I’ve loved the course sites you set up but the story of your student running with it just makes my day. Or week/month

    I realize there’s a lot to setting them up between all the theme options and the Customizer so I appreciate how you’ve described them here.

    The Reclaim installers are easy and give you some starting structure, plus you get semi-regular updates automatically (although I’ve not pushed new versions to them for a while).

    Thanks for being an active user and spreading the good SPLOT word. And please send me festure suggestions/requests. No promises, but many of the features have come to me that way.

    You get a SPLOT! And you get a SPLOT!

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Alan, and for creating the SPLOT in the first place: it’s such a genius idea because it’s so simple to use! I should use these more often, shouldn’t I? And Jolie did such a great job, I agree, it’s a poster-child story of how easy and fun these are!

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