Becoming a (WordPress) Learner: Using SPLOTbox as a course website in BCUSP 100

Becoming a Learner at the University of Washington Bothell

Guest post by Deborah Hathaway, IAS, and Chelsea Nesvig, UWB/CC Library

The academic journey of each student at UW Bothell is unique – depending on their major, previous educational experiences, and overall goals for their time on campus. When students register for BCUSP 100: General Learning Strategies, they are offered the opportunity to reflect on that unique journey in a variety of creative ways. The course’s more specific title is “The Habits of Highly Successful Students” – this means that the syllabus discusses topics such as  time management, emotional intelligence, engaged learning, and other related themes. However, a larger goal for the students is to provide them with a space to explore what it means to be a learner and a student in college and how to support them as they navigate finding meaning in their educational journey. The first time we collaborated on this course, it happened fully on campus, and students were asked to create a zine that encouraged them to share image-based artifacts and writing that connected their personal experiences with their new academic learning strategies.

When the course moved online in spring 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we found that the physical/tangible nature of zines didn’t translate especially well to an online environment. When the course was taught again the following year, we began to consider which digital tools we could use for students to share their connections to the course material while also potentially opening up their work to a larger audience. With the SPLOTbox template in WordPress, we found a tool that did both!

We reached out to Denise Hattwig, Head of Digital Scholarship at the UW Bothell Library. After discussing the potential options among the library’s digital scholarship tools, we settled on a WordPress site using SPLOTbox for students to upload artifacts connected to course themes. The open nature of this site, Becoming a Learner, offers students the opportunity to share their work and reflections beyond the silo-ed nature of the course learning management system while also better understanding their classmates’ connections to the course themes.

While the creative process of making a physical zine was important to the class previously, having a course website really transformed our approach to some of the course assignments. Students were asked to make weekly posts of an artifact that connected to that week’s topic. In doing so, they needed to consider which artifact they wished to post, but also had the chance to view their classmates’ approach to the weekly prompt. The open nature of the course site required them to consider their audience much differently than if they were turning an assignment in only to their instructor.  Additionally, students completed an open student work activity at the beginning of the quarter, which asked them to consider how sharing their work openly informed what information they shared and how they chose to share it.

The SPLOTbox template provided us a learning opportunity and collaborating with Denise was a critical element to the site being ready for student use early in the quarter and teaching students about working in open environments. Based on our experiences, we’re eager to consider how we can continue this element of open work in the course when it transitions back into an in-person setting. We’re curious to see if our in class discussions deepen as well, since the SPLOTbox site provided a unique opportunity to be vulnerable in their own posts and be a witness to the thought process of their peers.

To read a selection of student reflections, take a look at the reflection page on the Becoming a Learner site.