The #OEGlobal19 extended abstract

SPLOTs in Action: Targeted Tools, Targeted Goals – Extended Narrative

Learning management systems (LMS) have become an essential teaching tool in the higher education sector and almost all universities use one or more different systems (Pomerantz et al., 2018). Teachers use LMS primarily as an administrative tool such as informing students about tasks, giving feedback on these and posting lecture slides (Dobbin, 2016). Consequently it is not very surprising that students are generally satisfied with the use of learning platforms, but that the satisfaction decreases when it comes to interactive activities, collaboration (Pomerantz et al., 2018), and the construction of new knowledge or the creation of non-standard media. In practice, the use of the LMS as the defacto digital learning environment seems to be taken for granted by too many teachers. Other options do not seem to be considered or explored, supposedly due to over reported heavy workload (Blix et al., 1994) or the required combination of skill sets (Koehler and Mishra, 2009) or a combination thereof.

Educational research, on the other hand, advocates a completely different approach. Bates (2015) points out, for example, that the starting point in the choice of digital learning environment should always be which target group the course is aimed at and what the learning outcomes are. Another critical voice regarding the LMS is raised by Dalsgaard (2006), who points out that the LMS is not very suitable for a social constructivist pedagogy. What is needed instead are tools that are easy to use and which are perceived to be useful by students as well as teachers (Šumak et al., 2011).

Towards this end, some educational developers are pursuing a focused and functional approach to integrate targeted, yet simple, educational tools in a myriad of ways (cf. Groom and Lamb, 2014). They call these simple tools SPLOTs. The acronym SPLOT was coined by Brian Lamb (Levine, 2014) and while it’s difficult to pin down an exact definition (, 2019), the focus is on simple tools that protect student privacy while providing powerful opportunities for students to create and share media that directly align with learning objectives. SPLOTs support and value open education while making it as easy as possible to post activity in an appealing and accessible way. SPLOTs have been used by several institutions. In the United States, one pioneer in the use of SPLOTs is the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). In the European context, Karlstad University, Sweden, has taken on the approach as part of their externally financed open online course development projects.

At both institutes, SPLOTs have been used for a wide range of purposes across a wide range of disciplines. They have been used to help identify plants using a dichotomous key and to create and share text sets for literacy work. SPLOT authoring patterns offer the ability to create structure and guidance while students are in the process of creating content. This guidance in media res leads to an engaged acquisition of knowledge and the potential for its immediate application. These targeted-authoring-patterns also result in consistently structured content within the larger course-level-collection of information. The individual student creates information that’s valuable independently and as part of a larger data ecosystem. The collection itself then becomes fodder for analysis by the class, future classes, and the community as a whole. VCU continues to leverage platforms that enable the dynamic creation of learning and authoring workflows and continues to work to make the connection between tools, thinking, and content creation as direct as possible. 

In this Action Lab, we will focus on participants using SPLOTs in experiential ways. Participants will get a feel for the simplicity of the tools and how faculty can use diverse media to create community, share information, and spur creativity.  All of our actions will remain as an open resource that can grow and expand beyond this conference Action Lab. 

  • SPLOT Timeline – participants will submit their best experience with authoring on the web. What was the tool? When did it happen? What made it great? Those submissions will create an interactive timeline using Knight Lab’s Timeline JS. The interactive timeline will form the backbone of a conversation on what makes authoring on the web a positive experience and how we can take those premises and apply them to student work in courses with SPLOTs.
  • SPLOT Community – interested participants will create a biography page as part of a community of individuals interested in pursuing the concept of SPLOTs in education. Information volunteered in this process will be used to create affinity groups in the face-to-face space for additional conversation. 
  • SPLOT Tool List – in their face-to-face groups participants will have access to a list of SPLOTs with descriptions and other identified characteristics. They will have the ability to add tools to the list and/or explore tools on the list. All tools will have live demos that do not require registration. 
  • SPLOT Tool Review – the SPLOT Tool List includes the option to review tools. Participants who have experience with tools can review the tools and make connections between the tool and specific courses and projects. 
  • SPLOT Wish List – using TRU Writer groups will generate descriptions of SPLOT tools that they hope to have built. 


Reference list

Bates, A. W. (2015). Teaching in a Digital Age. Retrieved from

Blix, A. G., Cruise, R. J., Mitchell, B. M., & Blix, G. G. (1994). Occupational stress among university teachers. Educational research, 36(2), 157-169.

Dalsgaard, C. (2006). Social software: E-learning beyond learning management systems. European Journal of Open, Distance and e-learning, 9(2).

Dobbin, G. (2016). Exploring the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment: Opportunities and Challenges. Retrieved from

Groom, J., & Lamb, B. (2014). Reclaiming innovation. Educause Review, 49(3), 29-30.

Koehler, M., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK)?. Contemporary issues in technology and teacher education, 9(1), 60-70.

Levine, A. (2014). What the SPLOT?. [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Pomerantz, J., Brown, M. & Brown, D. C. (2018). Foundations for a Next Generation Digital Learning Environment: Faculty, Students, and the LMS. Retrieved from (2019). [online]. Retrieved from 

Šumak, B., Heričko, M., & Pušnik, M. (2011). A meta-analysis of e-learning technology acceptance: The role of user types and e-learning technology types. Computers in Human Behavior, 27(6), 2067-2077.