This post has been rattling around in the only place I keep drafts– my brain. And I am pretty sure I will have spent more time photoshopping the movie poster below than writing something that makes sense.

Jim Groom has been an international Road Warrior himself and I was excited to see he was not only going to Melbourne, but would hang out with DS106 original Rowan Peter.

But then it happened. SPLOTs Down under.

Jim heaped enough praise this dog’s way in his summary blog post (plus scoring nostalgia points here with the Steve Martin reference).

I was pleased to see Jim taking on using the State U stuff developed for last year’s DML workshop which included as pre-configured wordpress installs, a few of the SPLOTs I had a hand in making whilst on a fellowship 2014-15 at Thompson Rivers University.

And look, SPLOTS down under

I could not stop the mind from pop media references, film… yes of course, maybe the penultimate Australian dude movie for me, a baby faced Mel Gibson as Mad Max (1979 not some wanna be remake) aka the Road Warrior.

How to remix SPLOTs in there? How about:

SPLOT MAX remixed poster, found in The Fanzine, they never attributed their image, oh well, likely a copyright faux. This is for parody, just look at Jim!

Is edtech (or ed-tech) in the post apocalypse age, where after an era of ultra consumption, rash minds lend to wars, leaving all the resources scarce and left for individuals to scavenge and/or defend?

Check tomorrow.

But as twitter does, when not fomenting nuclear wars and misogyny, it connected me with Colin Warren and Deakin, and a possible meeting when I am in Melbourne in November (shhhh that has not been announced).

And because some people do not delete their tweets, I can see Colin and I have crossed paths back a ways

As Jim reported the SPLOT interest:

They wanted what was behind Brian Lamb and Alan Levine’s playful acronym SPLOT — is it “Smallest Possible Learning Online Tool”? I’m not sure, but I am sure that it provided a missing piece for folks. They don’t want the blank canvas of a newborn WordPress site. They don’t want to be faced with a “Hello World!” post. In fact, they don’t even want to hear the word WordPress. They just want a tool that helps them accomplish a fairly simple task that, in turn, helps them create a focused community-driven, engaging assignment.

Let me advance this idea.

SPLOTs themselves are not important, it’s the act of, and the way of thinking, of SPLOTting that is.

Many times, in terms of tools, and not just the LMSes, we must fit what we want to do with what features are provided. You do find rare people like Laura Gibbs who, on a non-coding plane, find clever ways around these limitations. I have watched in awe for years bordering on decades how Lisa Lane has fought the LMS limits, the switches to platforms, and she keeps on trying.

The SPLOT was is different; if the small tool does not do what you want, well, you can change the tool. That’s exactly what Tanya Dorey-Ellis did with the TRU Writer SPLOT, maybe the best example I have seen of someone taking a tool in a direction I never anticipated.

I can see the TRU Writer functionality, but she has really bent the tool to her interests, not the other way around.

I was going to wade a bit into the series of posts Jim and Brian have done on the next newerst next next generation LMS, but I’m out of energy and really need to be doing something I have to deliver.

But I agree with JIM, LMS bashing has run it’s course, and for what use. They are here. But that does not mean kowtowing to them or saying they have “won” over the small pieces loosely joined approach, that small pieces will never happen.

Why do we continue to pitch these things as either / or? I work with, create and see effective small pieces loosely joined on a daily, hourly basis/ WTF does “never happen mean”? Like “scale” or “enterprise”.

Try this

So I do not diss the LMS. But I can remember maybe the first time Jim said this (or maybe the first time I heard him say it) to a group of former colleagues at Glendale Community College in 2011, “I don’t mind the LMS. I just feel better when it’s not around.”

There are many things in the world that are important that I just do not find all that interesting or relevant.

But don’t paint me as anti-enterprise software. If they want something to model a next next next next generation LMS, here is one. TurboTax.

If you think your academic subject is complex and beyond applying technology to, take a few lifetimes and read the US Tax code. I have to say that TurboTax takes an undesirable loathsome task and makes it… almost fun (except the year I come out owing $8000).

Turbotax provides multiple pathways – guided or user choice (is that a “dual layer thing” Matt Croslin?). You think your LMS is personalized? TurboTax lets me stop where ever I was and pick right up afterwards. It never feels lockstep, the going through feels, well like I am guided. I always see in real time, in real numbers, my status in the upper left corner (not a progress bar). It does not discard my previous work, in fact it brings it forward each year. It connects with external systems (e.g. to import the deductibles I track in another system). It offers a useful sidebar question and answer thing, I always find answers to obscure questions.

It’s not perfect (my sister has found mistakes in it), but for the complexity of what it deals with, TurboTax is impressive. It makes your LMS look like a pencil entered 1040.

Yes, it’s funny to see people writing about SPLOTs. They really were almost a joke for Brian and I. There was an impetus, a desire Brian expressed to me for wanting small tools people could use that did not necessitate accounts or needed student identity. We started talking about the stuff Tom Woodward was doing with gravity forms for students to publish stuff to WordPress, without seeing WordPress- it was the Field Botany project where students were publishing to the site from the field, photos and information about plants.

The first SPLOT is the least developed and is full of bugs, the Comparator. This was to publish those web things where you can compare / overlay 2 images of the same thing with a slider (JuxtaposeJS does it better). The whole thing of making a thing to post to WordPress from a hidden account was the only way I saw (without using Gravity Forms) to allow people to upload images to the media library.

All that figuring out flowed right into the SPLOT that has gotten the most mileage, the TRU Writer. Beyond Tanya’s riff on it, one of my favorites is the Comparte site we created for UDG Agora for project participants to openly publish their final reports, putting the whole thing in Spanish, and adding a few more form fields.

A SPLOT need not be just WordPress, it just makes a good starting point plus it’s a platform other people can riff from.

I wish I had some time to plink into doing more SPLOTs, it’s been a while. I have some ideas…

And this all comes back to the opportunity I had with the 4 month fellowship at TRU. It was really more a sabbatical, where I was not tasked with a specific thing to build, but the time and space to dream up some ideas (fed from the faculty and staff I was surrounded by). I’ve had the fortune to have this latitude in my first 2 jobs, but as I look around at colleagues, I see less and less of this kind of R&D being done (it’s tempting to say they are all doing LMS stuff, but I said I would be nice).

A SPLOT is never going to revolutionize education, it’s not a replacement for an LMS, and in honesty, they ultimately support a small part of a teaching and learning process. But it’s the idea that matters, of not saying what does a tool allow me to do, but how can I make this tool do what I want it to.

As you drive around those ed tech highways, keep your eyes our for SPLOT MAX:

“He rules the roads.”

“The Maximum Force of the Future.”

“The last law in a world gone out of control. Pray that he’s out there somewhere.”

You can wax about your next next next gen LMS, I’ll take this kind of action

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Thanks for the shout out Alan. Increasingly I’m focusing on small: small steps, small acts, small stories. Small-PLOTs have been a part of that, a part that came close to the beginning – (so I mostly either credit or blame you and Brian, depending on the day ;))

    #thinkingsmall has not changed the world, but I’ve felt it’s impact on *my world.* Noticing the small acts of kindness around me helps me remember the few small things I’m able to do rather than the millions of large ones I cannot change. It makes me kinder & causes me to notice places I can help, where they went unnoticed before. From my small corner of the world, it doesn’t look like scale has revolutionized education, it instead seems to have eroded it. And if scale erodes, maybe small builds. One. Tiny. Step. (one person, one act). At. A. Time.

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