Getting inside SPLOTs

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Like many, I’m a big fan of the SPLOT, and for a while I’ve wanted to spend a little time looking under the bonnet. Today turned out to be that day.

When I’ve shown SPLOTs to colleagues at Edinburgh, they’ve liked the way that they’re stripped back to a single tight task, with the ability to keep students focused on a specific activity. I’ve also always liked the inherent crowd-sourcing potential that they have, because of the ‘no-login-required’ stuff.

An idea I’ve been batting about with a friend from UCL has been using a SPLOT to easily crowdsource reviews/descriptions of existing web resources that support various aspects of data literacy. This idea is based on some similar examples I’ve seen where groups of students have been asked to curate online medical resources. The task is pretty simple: Find a relevant web resource, evaluate it, and write a short review, along with the usual classification stuff (categories / tags). I’d link to an example but the one I know best seems to be a bit broken and unloved these days. Probably because the maintenance was really tricky on account of needing logins, moderators etc.

I started taking a look at the extent to which existing SPLOTs could be pressed into service to support this kind of activity – a collection of reviews of online resources is not so conceptually different from much of what exists. I focused on TRU-Writer and TRU-Collector because I saw that Alan had just made some improvements to the secret user handling in these (probably I would have gone for SPLOTBox otherwise because I think the full screen space for reading the detail is a bit better).

Starting with TRU-Writer, I could see how a URL could be added into the “Additional Information for Footer” section and it would appear at the end of the long form text. I had a look at Tannis Morgan’s OER in Other Languages site as she is doing something not dissimilar to what I want to. Whilst it’s completely workable, I felt the URL of the web thing being reviewed gets a bit lost, particularly when there’s other text in that footer area. So I rolled up my sleeves, forked that repo and started hacking. I added a new field into the entry form to gather the URL, saved it to the post metadata, updated the functions.php to provide the various Customization options, and updated the post output to display it at the top of each post. You can see my paltry efforts here: http://mechanical-reproduction.com/tru-writer/

So far so good. It took me a wee while to do, as I had to pick through various bits of the code and get my head around how SPLOTs are made, but I’d now had a good look under the bonnet and felt more confident about what I was doing. One thing I wasn’t sure about was whether TRU-Writer is ‘collectory’ enough for what I wanted. I like the boxy format of TRU-Collector, SPLOTBox and TRU-Sounder as you can more easily see how many things you have when you start filtering by category.

Moving on to TRU-Collector, it was harder to see where to put a URL in the existing entry form, and all the text was focused around creating a collection of images. Trying to make TRU-Collector work using the existing fields and updating the guidance text to fudge it was all starting to feel very counter to SPLOT thinking. Still Small but not very Simple and lacking that nice tight focus on a single learning task which gives them their strength.

So I decided to undertake more radical surgery and reconfigure a number of different body parts. I decided to use some of the improved fieldset grouping/legends stuff that is in SPLOTBox, as well as adding in a new field to collect the URL of the online resource being reviewed, re-ordering the form to group items together, changing most of the defaults for the field text and descriptions, forcing the rich media editor to be on all the time (and enabled the media buttons), and updating the output to include the URL of the online thing being reviewed at the top of each post. More paltry efforts are here: http://mechanical-reproduction.com/url-collector/

I’m pretty pleased with how that’s worked out tbh. I think with a bit more spit and polish it will cover our needs pretty nicely. At the moment I have 2 horribly hacked versions of existing SPLOTs, so I think the next step is to take what I’ve done with the TRU-Collector theme and turn it more formally into a Review-Collector SPLOT (open to suggestions for better names).

For the sake of my addled brain, that involves doing the following: Lots of internal renaming to switch ‘trucollector’ for the new name of the SPLOT; tidying up the options page to remove the options around whether to use the rich text editor or not; investigate whether the functionality to email a link to an author so that they can come back and edit can be added in; investigate adding in the Reading Time plugin (nice to have); making the featured image optional and not mandatory; doing a thorough pass over all the menu labels, field labels, descriptive text etc and making sure it’s all updated and making sense; sorting out the spacing between fields on the collection form.

I think, if I do all of that, that might just be a new SPLOT; one for collecting reviews of existing online resources. I can see some further use for this in my own institution. I’d be interested to know if it might be useful to anyone else? I’d also be interested if anyone has any strong preferences for either of the two formats?

If you want to laugh, I’ve added the various files I’ve hacked about into my GitHub repos for safekeeping (TRU-Writer | TRU-Collector)

BTW – if I missed a SPLOT that can already do *exactly* what I want, don’t tell me. Let me live in ignorant bliss for a few days at least.

2 thoughts on “Getting inside SPLOTs

  1. That is some impressive SPLOT slicing and dicing and slashing.

    I’m not sure TRU Writer or TRU Collector quite lends itself to the link curating idea, and yes the Garfunkel theme for SPLOTbox might be closer.

    You might look at the formatting the theme does for the link post-format and use that for all items (as example see first item in a version of the theme I used for a podcast site https://prconnection.cogdog.casa/

    I’d probably start with trying to flesh out the structure/content needs for a collectery item and maybe a more text-organized theme or at least one with a lot that can be glanced at on front page w/o featured images.

    I can’t say I’ve done any SPLOTs like this; it is familiar as an idea that seemed reasonable, but at the same time, the kind of thing that worked well in social bookmarking tools with good tag support.

    There’s always room for more SPLOTs and SPLOT makers

  2. Once again – many thanks for the feedback. Always appreciated and frankly I still get a thrill when I wake up in the morning and find a comment waiting here for me. Never gets old!

    I agree about TRU Writer and TRU Collector – neither is quite right for what I want, but in restrospect they’ve been a fine apprenticeship. SPLOTBox is potentially more suited, but it was also a little too daunting to start there. As you’ve now spotted though – I feel I’ve learned enough to be able to head in that direction. The link-post looks ideal – thanks for the suggestion. I’m definitely going to try that out.

    In terms of the items I need to collect – my dining table is littered with pieces of paper with that scribbled out several times over! I think the collection form I hacked into TRU Collector is pretty close to what I need. Having pondered some more, I think this is about collecting more than a URL – it’s the combo of URL and text commentary that is the “thing” being gathered in. I really wish the site that inspired this was still working as it makes much more sense. By sheer coincidence though I ended up in a conversation with a colleague yesterday where he was talking again about this very thing (online medical resources, which he wants to provide a link to along with some commentary, as re-usable teaching resources).

    I already started looking ahead to other themes that might work better again that Garfunkel, but I think I need to keep serving my apprenticeship and build up to that. So a modified SPLOTBox is next on the list….

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