Legos, WordPress, and SPLOTS


Putting all the silliness about the name “SPLOTs” aside, the simplest, best way I know to explain what a SPLOT is and what they can do is to use an analogy.  So I’m going to talk about LEGOs, those wonderful building block toys that are beloved by children (and many adults) and are the bane of any parent who has had to walk barefoot at night in a house where one of those children plays (yes, I have memories, painful memories).

LEGOs are wonderful because of their ease of use and their flexibility. They enable kids to follow their imaginations and create things. There’s no right or wrong way to put LEGOs together. You just snap them together and you can build things. Little things. Big things. Complex things. Models of things that exist and models of things that only exist in the imagination. And then, when you’re done building, you can play with them. Use them to act out scenes. Collect them. Whatever.

I’ve often used LEGOs as an analogy to the Open Learn Lab itself. Being a little dramatic when meeting with a professor to talk Open Learn Lab (OLL) for the first time, I’ve often put a box of LEGOs on the table and then said:

“You’re used to education technologies that are big and complex. Systems that you have to learn how you’re supposed to use it and what you have to do. Open Learn Lab is different. It’s all open source, plain ordinary public web hosting technology. Think of it as you’ve got a big box of LEGOs. We’ve got over 100 open software packages we can install. One of them, WordPress, has over 50,000 free themes available and over 45,000 free plugins available. Just about anything is possible. So let’s start by talking about what you, the professor, wish could be done in your classes using the open web. What can your imagination come up with to help students and yourself learn?”

We use lots of different tools/approaches in the OLL. Some professors have created webpages from raw HTML coding. Others have used other software packages. But the vast majority use WordPress. WordPress is an incredibly popular and flexible software for creating webpages and blogs and managing them. WordPress is so popular, in fact, that well over 35% of all websites world wide, little and giant, are powered by WordPress. It’s huge. It’s incredibly flexible. It’s relatively easy to use. It’s easy to learn. But, (there’s always a but)…

Creating a website in WordPress installation is a lot like getting a box of LEGOs. It’s flexible. It allows your imagination to run wild. It can also be a bit intimidating. Even if it’s not intimidating, it can be time consuming if you have a very specific thing site you want to build. So getting a new, plain vanilla, fresh WordPress installation is like having your LEGOs and dumping the box on the floor. Like this.

or, even worse, it might feel like this.

You know or sort of know what you want it to do. You’ve got an idealized vision in your head. Maybe it looks like this…

a LEGO race car

Now if you have a lot of time, it might be fun to explore those thousands of plugins and themes and see what you can build – just like it’s a lot of fun to dive into the big pile of LEGOs and start snapping things together to see what emerges. But that kind of exploring takes time – and frankly a little bit of LEGO expertise/experience. Of course, the one thing professors, and community college professors more than any other, don’t have is lots of time.

Odds are what you’re imaging is likely similar to something some other professor somewhere else has put together. Or, it’s very likely that the basic structure of what you want to do has already been created somewhere by some other imaginative professor. That’s where SPLOTs come in to play. SPLOTs are like the little boxes of LEGOs that have just the right blocks to put together some small, very targeted things. They come with some basic instructions. They let you get a headstart on creating a specific, targeted website that pretty much does one thing – but does it well. Just like these little boxes of LEGOs.

small box of legos and a lego train engine

It’s a lot faster and quicker to get to something very useful with these little starter packages. These are the SPLOTs of LEGOs.

SPLOTs are easy and quick to install and setup. Just like LEGOs you can still alter and customize them. You can connect them to other SPLOTs to make more complex experiences. The only limit is your imagination.

SPLOTs are being created and shared by people at different schools that all have programs similar to the LCC Open Learn Lab. It’s one of the benefits of open. New ones are coming along all the time. Some are very polished and complete. Some are a semi-complete and resemble a design for a component. Towards the end of this course, I’ll give you some links to explore other SPLOTs in the wild including some of the more sophisticated and complex ones.  But first, if you turn the page, I’ll take a closer look and give some examples of SPLOTs we’re using at LCC.