OpenLab Development Updates: June – September 2019

There were a number of new features, themes, and functionality updates on the OpenLab in the June, August, and September releases that are relevant for OER sites.

New Features and Themes

  • Education Pro Theme: This theme is designed for OER sites on the OpenLab, although it can be used for any type of site. It has been customized to improve the design, ensure accessibility, and to include styles that would be useful for an OER.
  • Commons License Widget: Available for use on all OpenLab sites, this widget was built based on the one developed for the CUNY Academic Commons, which allows site admins to choose a Creative Commons license to display in their site’s sidebar. Although all content on the OpenLab is automatically licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license, the widget allows you to display a license more prominently on your own site, or to choose a different license.
  • PDF Embedder Premium Plugin: This plugin was retired due to accessibility and usability issues. It will continue to work on sites where it’s already activated but will no longer be available for activation on new sites.
  • Print this Page: There is now a ‘Print this Page’ button you can add to the bottom of pages and posts, which allows readers to print a nicely-formatted version of the page or post (you can see it in action at the bottom of this post). On a site’s Dashboard, when editing an individual page or post, there’s a checkbox asking if you want to display a ‘Print this Page’ button. If selected, the link will appear on the page or post. You can also enable or disable the button by default on all pages and posts in Dashboard > Settings > Reading. 

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the OpenLab team.

Open Scholarship in the News

Open Access appeared in the news recently, with an endorsement by the Big Ten Academic Alliance. The Alliance includes ten research Universities, mostly located in the Midwest, as well as New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The statement, collectively authored by the Provosts, characterizes academic publishing as “a price-inelastic market, with little relationship between demand and price,” referencing the rapid and continued inflation in journal subscription prices. The statement affirms the importance of openly accessible research, encouraging institutions to “advance more sustainable modes of funding publishing.”

OER and LGTBQ? A recent article from New America, a “think and action tank,” speculates on the possible benefit of Open Educational Resources (OER) for LGBTQ students. Noting that LGBTQ students are notoriously under served by the educational system (“never taught material that reflects, represents, or validates their identity”), the author concludes that OER could theoretically offer solutions to that problem, by offering high-quality, “queer-inclusive” content.

Given that there is currently very little OER content specifically geared towards queer students/topics in the field, this argument is purely theoretical. Prof. Matt Brim, at the College of Staten Island, challenged his graduate students to seek out such content, with his project Free Queer CUNY. In the absence of openly-licensed Queer Studies materials, his students curated a variety of disparate readings and sources from around the web.

Open Educational Resources in the News

Let’s take a look at the ways OER have emerged in the news lately. 

  • CityTech’s OER Librarian, Cailean Cooney, was featured in a recent article about online learning. Cooney notes that “faculty are generally very sensitive and aware of our student population,” and that the program is structured to support their needs.
  •  Another article from InsideHigherEd posits OER as an “institutional survival strategy, making the pitch that OER is a “win-win.”
  •  The Justice EReader is a new project developed at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, “offering a collection of key texts on the topic of justice, broadly defined, that functions as an intellectual hub for conversations about justice among undergraduate students and their teachers at the college.” As an OER, this project is freely accessible for widespread use.

If you’re still not clear about the dynamics of OER in the classroom, check out our previous blog post reflections by OER Fellows. Also, you can take a look at the OER developed within the Fellowship at CityTech, here.

OpenLab Development Updates: May 2019

Last month, there were no OER-specific OpenLab updates to report, but there were a few that are relevant to OER in the May OpenLab release.

New Features and Updates

  • Course and Project “Type” was added as a heading on the search results page, when you filter Courses or Projects by Type (e.g. FYLC, OER, or Cloneable).
  • Breadcrumb navigation is now included in the default site for new courses, in order to improve navigation on a site’s subpages. Currently breadcrumbs are available with the OpenLab Twenty Sixteen and OpenLab Twenty Thirteen themes, but they will now be included by default on all new course sites, created after the May 15 release.  A few things to note:
    1. If you change from the default theme to anything other than OpenLab Twenty Sixteen and OpenLab Twenty Thirteen, the breadcrumbs will no longer appear.
    2. If you want to keep the default theme but don’t want the breadcrumbs, you can remove them by deactivating the Breadcrumb NavXT plugin in Dashboard > Plugins.
    3. You shouldn’t need to change any of the plugin settings, but if you do, you can find them in Dashboard > Settings > Breadcrumb NavXT.

Bug Fixes

  1. In rare cases where a course was cloned through shared cloning but the original source course was deleted, it appeared in the credits as “Course – “.  Now, if the original course was deleted, nothing appears in the credits line.
  2. For OpenLab members using the new WordPress Block Editor (Gutenberg), you may have noticed that the OpenLab toolbar at the top of your site covered up some of the elements at the top of the Block Editor page. This was fixed so that it no longer overlaps.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact the OpenLab team.

Involving Students in OER

Given that Open Educational Resources (OER) are a relatively recent development in higher education, many people are still exploring the ways they can be leveraged towards the goal of increased student engagement.

For the most part, OER are made available online, thereby granting all users access ( (as long as the individual has a working Wi-Fi connection and internet-ready device). But OER are not synonymous with “digital,” since they require the additional consideration of being openly-licensed.

Theoretically, a printed course pack could also qualify as an open resource, if it had been released under an open license. For this reason, identifying the specific advantage of OER (as opposed to digital materials or online learning) can be tricky. A variety of projects are underway to explore this issue.

1) Prof. Matt Brim (College of Staten Island, CUNY) challenged his graduate students to seek out materials that could be integrated into OER, for the field of Queer Studies. The resulting site, Free Queer CUNY, showcases these items and offers student feedback about how they could be used in class.

2) Although created for a high school class, the concept has potential for the college level as well – students were asked to “translate” Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities into 21st century English. Their “translation” is offered as a parallel to the original, providing an interesting comparison for discussion.

Feedback on the Learning Objects assignment from U. of British Columbia

3) A Physics course from the University of British Columbia requires students to create “learning objects.” The concept is that if students interact with the material with the goal of teaching others, it will enrich their own experience.

And finally, here is a list of Open Pedagogy Assignments, compiled into a shared doc by educator Quill West.

Working Session – 3/29

  • OER Creation Checklist
  • Review documentation for what we covered in the last session
  • How to disable comments on your pages / posts:
    • Go to Dashboard > Settings > Discussion Settings > Uncheck “Allow people to post comments on new articles”
    • To retroactively disable comments on a page or post level go to a Post > click “Screen option” at the very top right hand corner. A drop-down will appear. Click comments or discussion. This will make a pop-up appear at the bottom of the screen. Uncheck “Allow comments.”



OpenLab Development Updates: January – March 2019

This is the second post in what will become a monthly series highlighting any new features, functionality, or bug fixes on the OpenLab that are relevant for OER sites.

New Plugins and Themes

    • Mammoth .docx converter plugin: allows for easier copy and pasting from Microsoft Word without losing formatting, which should be helpful in adding materials like a syllabus to an OER site.  Something to keep in mind with this plugin is that the more semantic the Word doc is (e.g. use of Heading and paragraph styles), the better the formatting will translate to  posts and pages. Claire Cahen, an OpenLab Digital Pedagogy Fellow, has written a helpful post about the plugin and its functionality.
    • OpenLab Twenty Thirteen: This is a child theme of Twenty Thirteen.  The only difference between the two is that activating the theme also automatically activates the plugin, Breadcrumb NavXT, which adds breadcrumb links to pages, making it easier to navigate sites that might have a large number of pages. The plugin may be deactivated if you don’t want to use breadcrumbs, but it is only compatible with the OpenLab Twenty Thirteen and OpenLab Twenty Sixteen themes.
    • Shortcodes Ultimate plugin: provides more than 50 shortcodes that can be used in the post or page editor to add different kinds of functionality and visual elements, such as dropcaps, accordions, tabs, sliders, and more, to posts and pages. You can preview the available shortcodes on the plugin site.
    • Search and Filter plugin: allows you to add advanced options for searching and filtering posts on your site, such as the ability to allow people to filter posts by tags within particular categories, and more.


This post is adapted from the monthly series This Month in the OpenLab, written and published on the Open Road blog by the OpenLab community team.

OpenLab Development Updates: 2017-2018

This is the first post in what will become a monthly series highlighting any new features, functionality, or bug fixes on the OpenLab that are relevant for OER sites.

New Features and Functionality

  • Improvement of OER identification and searching. This includes: creation of a system for the visual identification of OERs on the OpenLab, creating a functionality and procedure for designating courses as OERs so they will have a visual “badge” as well as an identification on the backend that will allow users to better search for OERs on the OpenLab
  • Broadening the functionality of Course Cloning.  Faculty can designate their courses “shareable,” which allows any other OpenLab faculty member to clone the course.  Step-by-step instructions for shared cloning are included in OpenLab Help.
  • Disable Discussion, Docs, and Files. Many OER sites don’t use these tools, located on a course or project’s profile page.  These can now be disabled by going to Profile > Settings > Settings, and then scrolling down to the section for Discussion, Docs, and Files Settings.
  • Improvements to the Navigation Menu widget. The menu that appears in the widget no longer includes the Group Profile and Home links by default. This should be helpful for anyone who wishes to use a menu in the sidebar for sites with more complex navigation structures.

New Plugins and Themes

  • Easy Table of Contents: This plugin improves upon the functionality of the older Table of Contents Plus plugin that is no longer being maintained by its developer. We recommend using Easy Table of Contents rather than Table of Contents Plus, but the latter does still work.
  • PDF Embedder Premium: This plugin expands the functionality of the PDF Embedder plugin, including a download button for embedded PDFs, the ability to show active links in PDFs, and a better views on mobile. If you’re already using PDF Embedder, you can continue to use it, but in order to take advantage of the new features, you’ll need to deactivate it, and activate the premium version. It appears in the list of plugins on your site dashboard just below PDF Embedder, and is called PDF Embedder Premium.
  • Easy Custom Sidebars: This plugin allows you to show a different sidebars, on different pages of your site. It replaces Dynamic Widgets, which had a similar functionality, but was more difficult to set up.
  • OpenLab Twenty Sixteen theme and Breadcrumb NavXT plugin: OpenLab Twenty Sixteen is a child theme of Twenty Sixteen, and is quite similar, with the following changes: there’s no black border around the site, and some of the margins around the content are decreased so there’s less white space. The size of the site title is larger,  some of the heading styles are different, and bulleted and numbered lists are indented. Activating the theme also automatically activates the new plugin, Breadcrumb NavXT, which adds breadcrumb links to pages, making it easier to navigate sites that might have many different pages, like OER sites. The plugin may be deactivated if you don’t want to use breadcrumbs, but it can only be used with the Twenty Sixteen theme.
  • Anthologize plugin improvements. A number of improvements were made to the plugin including:
    • When editing a project, you are now able to view more details about each page and post, including categories, tags, and author, as you’re choosing them to add to a project. In addition, when exporting a project to save as a pdf or other file type, the author is now generated automatically from all post and page authors included in that project.
    • Changes to the formatting and options available for PDF exports, including improvements in the way image captions display, and the way text wraps around images. There are also now options for including the author and date for a post or page being included in a project.
    • A number of accessibility improvements to the dashboard interface were also made.
  • TablePress: This plugin provides a very robust but simple way to add tables to any post or page. The tables can be anything from simple to more complex tables that can be sorted or filtered, or split into multiple pages. The tables are mobile-friendly and accessible.
  • WP Accessibility: This plugin makes a number of improvements to the accessibility of OpenLab sites. On the OpenLab, the main function will be ensuring that everyone remembers to add alt text to images. It also removes the target attribute from links so they do not open in a new tab.  This is not a good practice for both accessibility and usability, but if you feel it is necessary, you can find instructions to change this setting on the WP Accessibility help page in OpenLab Help.  You can also find out more about the plugin on the WP Accessibility plugin page.
  • Accordion Shortcodes: This plugin allows you to add sections of text or other elements to their site that can be expanded or collapsed.  It is both mobile-friendly and accessible.
  •  Cite: This plugin adds a box at the bottom of any post or page with citation information that readers can easily copy and paste.


This post is adapted from the monthly series This Month in the OpenLab, written and published on the Open Road blog by the OpenLab community team.

CUNY University Student Senate Endorses OER

This month, the University Student Senate (an elected body of student representatives from across the 24 CUNY colleges) voted to endorse Open Educational Resources (OER).

The resolution, released on February 23, 2019, addresses key points relating to open resources as a whole, especially the final resolution – “the University Student Senate encourages the City University of New York to offer the support needed to faculty in order to adopt open textbooks .” This line hones in on a primary issue in terms of OER adoption, which is the time and labor needed to assess and adopt new materials, and integrate them into existing courses.

The USS also notes that “textbook publishers have not responded adequately to the concerns of student faculty, and other stakeholders,” particularly in terms of cost effectiveness for textbooks. This has been the driving factor behind the development of OER as a worldwide phenomenon: the potential to resist the traditional model, in which publishers develop copyrighted materials, and sell them at high cost to students and educators.

In the context of OER efforts at CUNY, student awareness has been a primary goal – encouraging the use of open resources, and making students aware of Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) courses through CUNYFirst. The statement from USS thereby marks a significant turning point, where the generalized need for low-cost materials now seems to be turning into a focused and direct advocacy by CUNY students.