Apprentice SPLOT Maker

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Continuing my foray into enquiry-based, self-regulated, mastery learning, I’ve been hacking away at some more SPLOT code. After my last efforts I felt like I now had enough knowledge to try customise the SPLOTBox theme to see how well it might fit my requirements for collecting short written evaluations of online resources. As a reminder, the use case I am aiming at is to use a SPLOT as a way of crowdsourcing critiques of online data literacy resources. The task is pretty simple: Find a relevant web resource (or maybe pick one from a predetermined list), evaluate it, and write a short review, along with the usual classification stuff (categories / tags).

Step 1 was to bring SPLOTBox into line with the recent changes Alan had made to TRU Writer and TRU Collector by adding in the various changes to the handling of the special behind-the-scenes authoring user. After testing I submitted a pull request and Alan verified I hadn’t made a total mess. Once the changes were merged into the master repo I did a quick refresh of my fork. Now I was ready to begin…

I like the Garfunkel theme used for SPLOTBox as it has a nice masonry layout for the site Home but a full screen layout when you follow through into a post. I also like the deep footer space where the post metadata can be displayed, keeping the focus on the written content in the main area. However, there are a few things in the other SPLOTs that I really like too. For example TRU Writer has media buttons enabled on the rich text editor, and displays a nice little CC logo along with the license.

Screenshot of TRU Writer metadata showing CC License

SPLOTBox also has some additional media handling code added in, including JS for validating uploaded media to restrict it to video, and of course various form fields and layouts that are tailored for collecting and displaying audio and video from a range of sources. It was quite a bit further away from what I think I want than either TRU Writer or TRU Collector as a result, but this is not necessarily a bad thing at all…

In reality working with this theme to turn it into what I want has involved far more radical surgery than either of my previous hacking attempts. In doing so, I’ve gone quite far into the code and would even venture to say I might now understand a thing or two. I’ve learned a lot about how child themes work, as well as how SPLOTs are designed. It’s also been an interesting insight into how Alan works – looking across these 3 codebases I can see both the same fingerprints and some differences – perhaps reflecting how the idea has matured over the development of each one? The little person in me that gets rather upset about the way my bookcases are organised got a little itchy sometimes I’ll confess (no criticism is implied here – this is an insight into myself and my own pedantry, no more!).

So, what have I done?

  • Stripped out a lot of the media handling, including stripping back JS that validates uploaded media.
  • Laid out the Share form with new / amended fields and added the URL field in; updated all tab indexes.
  • Re-written all customisation options. Updated all the code in functions.php to follow the order of the form fields (that itch again).
  • Updated the layout of a post to put the URL in the top; removed metadata in the main area; bolded all the labels on metadata.
  • Added in the CC license handling with cute images from TRU Writer.
  • Updated styles.css to give it a new name and license info.
  • Updated the footer to give thanks to CogDog and blame to me.

There’s still some more work to be done. A new screenshot is needed. The options page has a few switches that need some attention. Some aren’t relevant any more, others need different defaults (I think). Also the README for GitHub needs re-written.

Is it right now? I’m still not sure. but it’s a whole lot closer.

I’m still not sure that the header area isn’t a bit too deep, I would prefer the filtering by category/tags etc to be at the top of the page, not the bottom, and although I’ve allowed for a featured image, I haven’t been using it.

A little more spit and polish is required to make it shareable, and to make it reliable behind the scenes, but overall I’m pretty pleased with what I’ve done so far. Now I need to carry on filling it up with some real content and see how it feels. To that end, I’ve started something here:

The code is also in a new GitHub repo here:

I think I’m also at the point now where I could take a totally new theme, not yet SPLOT-ified and make a whole new SPLOT. So that’s pretty cool.

6 thoughts on “Apprentice SPLOT Maker

  1. Apprenticeship earned! I’m excited to see you making your own SPLOT and also that you’ve been able to untangle an re-tie my spaghetti code.

    Yes, you are correct that many parts are carried forward bit from SPLOT to SPLOT sometimes depending what the theme enabled or the tool needed. TRU Writer was the first, much got more cleaner with Collector.

    I’m not quite happy with the edit feature for Writer being tied to providing an email, it’s what I could do at the time. I’d like to recast and add to the others a way where an author could create their own passphrase to unlock the editor.

    But Writer also has a better preview (the others have none) so that too should be propagated.

    I do think some kind of browser bookmarklet or extension would be useful for starting your evaluation tool- say you are reading a page, and want to evaluate it? Click a button, and it could launch the share form with the title and URL pre-entered.

    Might be worth thinking about if you want the same URL to be evaluated? Or maybe an option to list sites by title rather than post date? There could be some kind of template for listing them A-Z.

    But mostly, congrats on becoming a SPLOT creator, it’s still an exclusive club.

    1. Waking up to blog comments never gets old!

      I do like the edit and preview options in Writer (though I remember the workflow for preview and the wording feeling a little confusing when I first encountered it). Preview would be easier to port across as a place to start though.

      Edit without an email – would you hold a passphrase as post metadata and rely on users setting something sufficiently secure that others couldn’t guess it? I also wonder if a good Preview workflow might negate the need for an edit option too.

      I like the browser bookmarklet idea – never made one of those, but I’m sure the internet will provide instructions. It would be interesting to see how that worked with a passphrase in place on the site as well. And the A-Z listing is a good idea. I was thinking of a page to list by category too, so maybe something that combines both with some ability to switch…

      What I didn’t blog is that there’s more brewing behind this. I have a fresh un-SPLOTted theme now part way through. Child theme structure is in place and I’m moving the various blocks I need into position. Building one from the ground up I think is the final piece to solidify the learning I’ve done so far!

      Ewan (McAndrew) made an excellent point yesterday too. He pointed out the lack of SPLOT laptop stickers. If this is a real club, I feel we do need stickers.

  2. Yes, I am not sure edit features are needed for short content; minor changes could be sent via a comment or contact link.

    I’ve done previews also via a lightbox overlay, a bit tricky but doable in

    Keep on SPLOTting and am eager to add these to

    And Ewan is very wise, yes, stickers must happen. “I’m a SPLOT Maker”?

      1. I was a bit careless on the source of the image for the SPLOT icon! I know I searched on “splot”, “splat”, “splatter”, pretty sure it was this one colored black found under “Scarlett Johansson #12 Seems royalty free (?)

        The creation date on my logo PSD file is Feb 16, 2015, but I see the icon in a blog post from Jan 30, 2015 … oh wait, it’s much older- the icon on was uploaded Nov 12, 2014 !! p://

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