Best Practices

Interacting with students online

This page covers how to get students started on the platform, and how to interact with students online.

Getting students started

Signing up

The first step is for your students to sign up for an OpenLab account, if they don’t already have one. A few things to note:

  • Students need access to their institutional email to join the OpenLab; this can sometimes be a challenge. It’s important, though, for students to have access to their City Tech email account, since it’s how they will receive essential college communications.
  • The OpenLab help section provides instructions for students for accessing their City Tech email account and creating an OpenLab account – it’s helpful to pass this information along to your students.
  • On an exception basis (for instance, if your student is an ePermit student and will not be assigned a City Tech email, or access to their email is significantly delayed), the OpenLab team will manually set up an account for the student. In this case we will need you to confirm that the student is registered for your course.

Joining your course

The next step is for your students to find and join your course. On the OpenLab this is very easy for courses that are open (i.e. not private or hidden): just provide your students with the link to the course Profile page and ask them to click the “Join Now!” button.

For private courses, the button will instead say “Request Membership”; you will need to approve the students’ membership requests to enable them to join (if your course is hidden, you will need to invite them to join the course). To eliminate this step, faculty who want to work in a private course can leave the course open until all students have joined, then change the setting to private.

Getting started with posts and comments

Generally, we recommend using an introductory post or commenting assignment to help students get familiar with the OpenLab. For example, Jody Rosen has students introduce themselves in a comment in her English 1101 class, while Kate Poirier asks students to introduce themselves in a post in this assignment. The instructor can model how to do this by drafting a post to introduce themselves, as Jill Belli does here. Bonus: including pictures like Jill Belli does (either of themselves or memes or anything they feel is representative of who they are) is a good idea. It makes the introductory assignment more fun, plus gets students familiar with some of the multimedia features of the OpenLab.

At City Tech, the OpenLab also holds a number of “Getting Started” workshops for students and faculty at the start of the semester to offer them support as they use the platform for the first time. While some of the workshop content for students and faculty overlaps, we usually hold separate workshops for each group.

Further Reading:

Interacting with Students Online

How you design your site and interact with students online will largely depend on factors like your class size, your level of familiarity with the site-building platform, and your vision for the course. Some instructors use their course site primarily as a one-way mode of interaction with students, posting information that students need to know for the semester, such as the course schedule or syllabus. Other instructors use their site dynamically, engaging in dialogue with students and encouraging students to dialogue with each other in discussion forums and open assignments.

On the OpenLab, we encourage all interactions to be friendly, supportive, and respectful, and have developed a set of Community Guidelines that everyone should follow. You can  use your online communication with students to model how you would like communication to occur throughout the site.

The nature of working in the open means that issues regarding privacy may come up. Not all students may be comfortable working in public, for example. In fact, students have a right to opt out of open assignments, and to post their work privately or make it password protected; it’s also important to respect students’ wishes if they have chosen to use a pseudonym instead of their real name when working online.

Finally, it would be a FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) violation to grade student work publicly. Thus, while faculty can give students public feedback in the form of comments on their work, actual grades have to be given privately (see below).

Further Reading: