A City Tech OpenLab Project Site for Fellows

Category: Resources

Ideas for discussions

Introductory assignments

Check-in assignments

Inquiry-based assignments

Crowdsourced assignments

Prep for exam assignments

Concluding assignments

Building a Model Course

Understanding the Course Structure

Template Tour

When you create a new course, it has already been set up to support best practices for online, hybrid, or web-enhanced teaching and learning. Organized with students in mind, the Course Template is structured with a top-level navigation menu and related sub-sections. It uses pages for static course information and categories menu items for dynamic course activities and student posts.

The template structure also provides a suggested method to organize your footer and sidebar widget areas and comes with several useful plugins pre-activated.

Course Menu

The Course Template Tour provides a visual overview of the course structure. The following outline shows the information architecture and the intended purpose of each element. Additional content, such as links to a web conferencing app, student portfolios, or library tools, may be added to the sidebar or footer as needed. Before setting up your own Model Course site, you can view the Course Template Demo Site to see the structure:

  1. Course Profile
    This link takes the user to the Course Profile on OpenLab. Like a portal for the course, it displays the option to join the course, lists of members, access to additional tools, a link to the Course Site, and access to course settings for instructors.
  2. Home
    Home displays all posts from students and instructor(s), such as class outlines, announcements, and student work. This dynamic content is published in reverse chronological order. For findability, all content displayed here should also be accessible from the Activities and Student Posts menu items, but you may choose to exclude some content from the homepage using the Category Excluder Plugin.
  3. Course Info
    This section houses official course information, documents, contact information, and other static content.
    1. Syllabus
    2. Schedule
    3. Grading Policy
    4. Contact Info & Communications
  4. Activities
    This section uses Categories to link to dynamic content, including weekly class meeting agendas and learning activities.
    1. Class Agendas
    2. Announcements
    3. Assignments
    4. Surveys & Quizzes
  5. Student Work
    This section uses Categories to link to dynamic content including all student-created posts and student-posts related to specific learning activities.
    1. Discussions
    2. Assignment Posts
  6. Help
    This section uses Categories to link to helpful college and course-related resources, including tutorials, demos, and student support services.
    1. Course Resources
    2. College Resources
    3. OpenLab Help

As you build your Model Course, we can help you decide if it makes sense to add, remove, or move anything in the menu.

Preparing Course Materials

Adapted from The COMD Pedagogy Project by Jenna Spevack

As you embark on building your model course, review, collect, and organize course materials and methods so you can align them with the course template, the College’s credit hour policy, and the recommended Best Practices.

Start with asynchronous

To best accommodate teaching and learning with online components, adapt assignments and teaching materials across all learning modalities: in-person/web-enhanced, hybrid, and fully online.

Although we can’t predict future disruptions, we can plan for them. We can certainly anticipate student or instructor illness, or technology or bandwidth limitations. Design course materials and instruction so students can participate and complete coursework using asynchronous communication methods (discussion, posts/comments, etc).

Attendance and Participation

Student attendance during synchronous meetings is important for student engagement and classroom community, but it is not an official condition of attendance.

Based on the College’s attendance policy, attendance is not a requirement for course completion, but it could affect the student’s grade. Give students clear participation requirements for grading, and multiple ways to meet the requirements in both synchronous and asynchronous modalities, and in written, oral, visual, graphic, numeric, etc formats.

Communicating Instruction

Students need clear instructions on how to navigate course resources and tools at the start of the semester or during an emergency, when students are joining or acclimating to a new course environment. This is true for all course formats: in-person, hybrid, remote synchronous, or asynchronous.

When adapting an existing assignment, review the instructional guidelines and evaluate what kind of additional directions remote learning necessitates. Text-based instructions will likely require support materials, such as links to web-based sources, videos demos, or tutorials. A rubric, a clear list of outcomes, and a schedule of deliverables posted with each assignment will help to clarify expectations. 

Providing a consistent display and delivery of instructional materials will help reduce the inevitable “cognitive load” that students experience both in the learning environment and everyday life.

Students easily can read the assignment narrative and still not comprehend what is expected… Students are more successful on assignments when they know exactly what will be expected…  

Student Involvement & Engagement

The majority of City Tech classes will have a synchronous component, but we should adopt a balance of student learning and interaction methods.

Class “meeting” times should be interactive whether synchronous at a designated time (live in-person, video or chat) or asynchronous (discussion forum, collaborative docs, or post/comment). Minimize extended live or recorded video “lectures.” Opt for short micro lectures and demonstrations using video, animation, or slideshows to support text-based instructional materials and pair with student-led Q&A or inquiry-based activities.

Remote collaboration between students, whether simply commenting/critiquing work in progress or assigning formal learning teams, promotes classroom community and student connections.

Consider Accessibility

Accessibility means that no one is prevented from engaging with the materials you create because of a disability of any kind. No one will need to request a special accommodation to use your materials because they will already be accessible to anyone. Web accessibility helps ensure that anyone can perceive, understand, navigate, interact with, and contribute to the Web (from Web Accessibility in Mind (WebAIM)).

For many of our students English is not their primary language. Others may have learning or accessibility needs that make comprehension of so-called college-level text, audio, or other media challenging.

Review the links below on Accessibility & Universal Design to better communicate with all of your students and to help faculty using your Model Course meet the College’s accessibility standards. The Hemingway App is a great tool to gauge grade-level readability.

Consider Open Pedagogy

Open pedagogy, also known as open educational practices (OEP), is the use of open educational resources (OER) to support learning, or the open sharing of teaching practices with a goal of improving education and training at the institutional, professional, and individual level. When you use open pedagogy in your classroom, you are inviting your students to be part of the teaching process, participating in the co-creation of knowledge.

There are many ways to integrate open pedagogy into your course learning materials. With faculty direction, students can create or add to openly available resources, tools, or collections for current or future students. Some examples include creating or curating exercises for a chapter in an open textbook or course OER, or a collection of images, media resources, or tutorials.

Copyright and Attribution

Before adapting materials for your Model Course, review the City Tech Library’s OER Copyright & Fair Use Module.

Copyright protections apply to both scholarly and creative works that you create and works that you use. Just because something is posted online, that doesn’t mean it’s “open”…it may have been illegally posted by someone else.

When using openly licensed materials in your course, always provide attribution. The OpenLab, in collaboration with the City Tech Library, has developed an attribution plugin to make it easy to add attribution to your posts and pages. For example, the very bottom of this page contains a list of sources used in this module.

Compliance with credit hour policy

As you collect and organize your model course materials and activities, consider the credit hour policy.

If your course is 3 credits, are the credit hours commensurate with course work for an online or hybrid version of the course? How many hours outside of the weekly class “meeting(s)” are students expected to work to meet the activity’s learning outcomes?


Here are some resources for creating and adapting course materials to address the challenges and opportunities of online, hybrid, and web-enhanced education.


  1. 4 Expert Strategies for Designing an Online Course. Amy Rottmann and Salena Rabidoux. Inside Higher Ed. March 15, 2017. License unknown. 
  2. Introduction to Accessibility. Bree Zuckerman. OER Fellowship at City Tech. Licensed under CC BY-NC
  3. What is Open PedagogyBCcampus OpenED. Licensed under CC BY
  4. OER Copyright & Fair Use Module. CUNY Office of Library Services Copyright Committee. City Tech Library. Licensed under CC BY. / Adapted from the original work 

Distance Education and Continuity Best Practices

The standards below are designed to help faculty follow best practices in their teaching and ensure that the Department meets its obligations to students regarding delivery of instruction, as required by the U.S. Department of Education (USED), the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), and NASAD Accreditation. These standards apply to all courses, whether web-enhanced, hybrid, or fully online, and may be used to inform peer evaluation of teaching.

Course Information Standards
An online course space is provided, maintained, and is accessible to all students in the course.
The online course space is well-organized and easy to navigate, with no broken links, blank sections, or missing information.
Students are provided with clear instructions for finding and using the online course space.
The online course space displays contact information for the instructor and department, office hours, and instructor availability and response times.
The online course space contains clear and up-to-date course information, including syllabus with learning objectives, course schedule, and policies (including academic integrity, online etiquette, use of computer resources, participation, and grading policies).
The course schedule clearly indicates if and when any synchronous or in-person sessions will be held, the material being covered, and coursework requirements with clear deadlines and expectations for student participation.
The online course space provides information and guidance for using any required communication tools (e.g. video conferencing, discussion forum), recognizing students’ variable access to technology and the internet, both on campus and in remote learning environments.
The online course space provides links to useful information, including technical help, student support services, library resources, and other information appropriate to the discipline.
Course Content Standards
Instructional materials are provided for each class meeting or project milestone. Materials are current, easily accessed, and relevant to the course objectives. Use of open educational resources (OER) is strongly encouraged.
If instructional materials are presented synchronously (via video conferencing), recordings of class meetings, lecture slides, and/or notes are logically organized and presented for students who are unable to attend at that time.
All instructional materials meet the College’s accessibility standards and include materials in alternative formats when necessary.
All instructional materials comply with copyright law.
The coursework requirements comply with the College’s credit hour policy for in-person, hybrid, and online education.
Coursework includes scaffolded assignments designed to help students achieve the course learning objectives.
Students are provided with clear written instructions for each assignment that describe the assignment, when and how to submit it, and how it will be assessed and graded.
Assignments provide students with opportunities to work in multiple modes and media, to suit different learning preferences and take advantage of the features available in the online course space.
Students are given opportunities to share their work online and receive peer feedback.
Student work presented online complies with the College’s accessibility best practices.
The coursework requirements comply with the College’s credit hour policy for in-person, hybrid, and online education.
Communications & Interactivity Standards
Instructor and students regularly use the online course space for asynchronous communications (discussions, blog posts, peer feedback, etc.).
At the beginning of the term, the instructor sets a welcoming tone and facilitates introductions.
The instructor routinely posts announcements in the online course space to provide students with useful information and help them stay on track.
The instructor takes an active role throughout the course, communicating with students as a group and individually, conducting discussions, and providing feedback, both graded and ungraded.
Students have frequent opportunities for interaction with other students and the instructor in the online course space, including group and class discussions. Communication activities are used to further student learning and/or build a sense of community among learners.
Students are provided with clear instructions for communication in the course’s online space, including when and how to post, and how their contributions will be assessed and graded.
Students are provided with clear instructions for participation during synchronous/video meetings, including preparation, contributions to discussions, and timeliness.
Instructor and student interactions comply with best practices for communicating online.
Assessment & Evaluation Standards
Feedback about student performance is provided in a timely manner throughout the course.
Multiple and varied assessment opportunities are included to create a record/baseline of performance over time. Opportunities for self-assessment are provided.
Students are provided with clear written instructions for any formal assessments (quizzes, projects, essays, exams), including when and how they will be conducted/collected, and how they will be graded. Accommodations are made as needed for student accessibility and other considerations.
Student privacy is respected when providing feedback and grades, in accordance with FERPA requirements.
Students are referred to appropriate support services when needed, such as tutoring, counseling, etc.
Students are encouraged to give feedback on course content, use of technology, and accessibility.

Sources: OLAC rubric for evaluating online syllabusOLAC Assessment RubricOLAC Online or Hybrid Course Syllabus Suggested Guidelines, Best Practices, and Examples, and Faculty Observation Form – Online/Hybrid Courses, and BMCC’s eLearning Checklist