Reading Time: 4 minutes
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.
Beyond pleased with myself. Am brewing up some code and just made a thing work. It collects and it saves. Now to make it output somewhere else, then work on pretty-fication.
— Anne-Marie Scott (@ammienoot) October 7, 2018
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?
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.