Pedagogy Profile: Jason Ellis

What is your role on the OpenLab team?Headshot of a white man with voluminous hair and a beard smiling while wearing a black jacket and green striped tie

I am an OpenLab Co-Director and part of the OpenLab Community Team. This is my first year as a part of the OpenLab leadership, but I have been using OpenLab for the past five years and continue to use it in my current ENG2575, Technical Writing class.

Screenshot of Prof. Ellis's homepage for Technical Writing, featuring a lefthand sidebar image of a femme in a helmet with analog computing text spelled backwards across the visor. The main page contains the title of the course and another retro sci-fi image of space ships and a white head with short brownish hair.
Prof. Ellis’s Technical Writing course homepage

Describe your experience using the OpenLab to support your pedagogy.

Before joining the City Tech faculty, I used WordPress and various social media platforms with my students at Georgia Tech. When I heard about the OpenLab at City Tech during my transition, I jumped at the chance to try out this homegrown platform that combined WordPress with social media elements via Buddypress. 

OpenLab enables me to help students learn more about openness, collaboration, public-facing audiences, multimodal composition, and by doing rather than simply showing. I have taught classes from ENG1101, English Composition I to ENG2420, Science Fiction to ENG3760, Digital Storytelling with the OpenLab.

And, I like sharing a quote with my students from the science fiction writer William Gibson: “the street finds its own use for things.” This is true for OpenLab. I make use of it to meet the goals set for my classes and those that I want to offer my students. Likewise, I encourage my students to learn how to use OpenLab as they would any other digital tool and imagine how they can use it for their purposes and leverage it to meet the goals that they set for themselves.

Photo of a black-and-white plastic cat with their head cocked atop a beige box with the words "professional computer" displayed in white text on a black background
courtesy of Prof. Ellis

Can you describe the ways you have integrated the OpenLab into your pedagogical practices here at City Tech or elsewhere?

I want to make information easily accessible to my students in the places where they are (on smartphones and computers), I want my students to realize that the writing that they do has more audiences than their instructors and includes many possible audiences online, I want my students to read and engage the writing of their peers, and I want to offer students open educational resources (OER) or zero textbook cost (ZTC). OpenLab supports all these pedagogical initiatives.

For students’ needs as they transition to the workplace or graduate school, I encourage students to think about how the writing that they do on OpenLab creates a record of their intellectual development and how the projects that they post serve as proof that they have needed communication skills. Students can curate their work into a Portfolio that they can link to from their LinkedIn.com profile, personal domain, or resume.

I share my reasoning with students behind the things that I do and the things that I ask them to do with or on the OpenLab. It’s important that they understand why OpenLab is an invaluable, homegrown resource that improves their access and interaction in the classroom while preparing them for job seeking and the workplace.

How have the OpenLab and other open digital pedagogy tools transformed or expanded your pedagogy, and the pedagogical values you’re able to realize in your courses and educational practice? 

OpenLab makes it very easy for me to work with students in the classroom and asynchronously between class meetings. I keep my past classes on the OpenLab, because students have reported back to me that they refer to them to remember something relevant to their other classes or work. And, I tell students that they are free to browse my other classes on OpenLab, because they might learn something from them or consider taking one of my other classes based on what they discover. 

Aside from courses, how does the OpenLab support your pedagogical practices and ambitions? 

In addition to teaching with the OpenLab, I use it for collaboration and outreach. I started the project site Science Fiction at City Tech about four years ago to promote the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, advertise our annual science fiction symposium, and share teaching materials. Also, and perhaps more importantly, the project site has grown to promote student involvement in the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, such as through helping build the finding aid and class visits, and it is a central resource for sharing video of past symposium presentations. 

Photo of Samuel L. Delany, an older Black man with a long gray beard, holding a copy of one of his books in the City Tech Library science fiction collection. He wears all black and carries a black cane, a pleased look on his face
Snapshot of Samuel R. Delany visiting City Tech’s Science Fiction Collection

I created the Retrocomputing at City Tech project site to catalog the vintage computer resources that I keep in my office and regularly use in my classes. My intent was to highlight these artifacts that are available—some I own, and some CUNY owns—for use in classes. While I’m still working to make this project site as successful as the Science Fiction at City Tech site, the fact that I could get it up and running quickly with OpenLab, I consider a win.

Open Pedagogy Event (9/19): Access Beyond the ADA

Access Beyond the ADA

Thursday, September 19, 2019, 4:30-6:00pm (N227 Faculty Commons)

*Refreshments will be served. (Thanks to Faculty Commons for its generous support of this event!)

*Part-time faculty are eligible to receive a stipend for participation.

*Please RSVP by commenting on this post. Please share this invitation with your colleagues!

In frameworks of disability justice, the term accessibility conveys the degree to which a space, process, or concept is accessible, while access instead denotes the process by which accessibility is achieved. Join the OpenLab Team, City Tech faculty and staff, and CUNY colleagues at our next Open Pedagogy event, where we’ll be discussing different ways of thinking through access on the OpenLab and in digital pedagogy more broadly.

While the ADA governs the widespread adoption of reasonable accommodations for faculty, staff, and students in higher education, we’re curious what other forms of access are important to consider in open digital pedagogy. We’ll work to expand our understanding of “access” beyond compliance and discuss some practical skills and tools that may help augment a more inclusive pedagogy that anticipates and values difference in teaching and learning. We’ll consider the following questions:

  • How can open digital pedagogy impact, augment, and enhance access?
  • What are the limits of technology’s impact on access and accessibility?
  • What barriers to access have you encountered as faculty and staff? What about the barriers you’ve experienced students facing? 
  • What resources have helped you to improve access in your academic courses and projects?

This event is the first of two in our Fall 2019 Open Pedagogy series on access in open digital pedagogy. We’re excited to continue our conversation around how “access”–practically and conceptually–can be integrated into teaching and learning on the OpenLab.

Save the date for our upcoming Open Pedagogy event, “Access Pedagogy,” where we will discuss some strategies for implementing access into teaching materials, assignments, and student engagement on November 7, 2019 from 4:30-6:00pm in N227 Faculty Commons

Recommended Readings:

*If you’re interested in the Hamraie article above, please reach out to openlab@citytech.cuny.edu for a PDF copy

Image credit: useless-3 by rené van haeften is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Access Open Hours

August 21, 2019 1:00-3:00 PM in G603

This year, we’re highlighting accessibility best practices on the web, specifically working on the OpenLab! This includes usability, providing content in multiple formats (text, audio, video, etc.), and providing descriptions for users using screen readers, among many other strategies. We’ll be running our Open Pedagogy series on this theme all year, so please join us for these more discussion-based events!

 

For these Open Hours (8/21/19), participants will have the chance to work on developing their own courses and projects, but we’ll also be talking through some simple accessibility protocols to incorporate into your OpenLab sites. 

 

Defining Access

Scholars in disability studies and pedagogy center a broad definition of access: instead of requiring that students disclose access needs to an on-campus disability services office, scholars recommend integrating accessibility in the syllabus and day-to-day classroom management. 

 

Accessible Syllabus provides a bounty of possible strategies to practice inclusive learning, including some alternatives to traditional deadlines, developing grading contracts with students, and offering students resources in the form of an inclusive learning statement. 

 

The OpenLab team is committed to sharing best practices in sharing and collaborating in digital spaces, and has developed a Summary of Accessibility on the OpenLab. It’s important to remember that when we share content on the OpenLab, we don’t want to create additional barriers for students.

 

Digital Access

The web offers formal options for including content, including posting audio or video versions of lectures and announcements, allowing users to modify colors and font sizes to accommodate low-vision needs, and other options for making use of multimedia formats. However, it’s important to also include transcripts and/or captions alongside multimedia formats in order to best serve users with different kinds of access needs. 

 

Even simple choices, like including hyperlinks in the course syllabus or on the homepage, can help demonstrate a commitment to interactive and independent engagement with site content by allowing students to visit linked sites at their own pace rather than listing blurbs for resources directly on the syllabus. The OpenLab’s Help section offers additional support for reading ease and accessibility when composing in digital spaces. 

 

Accessible Syllabus includes an in-depth list of strategies for making text on your site user-friendly, including recommendations for “thinking about learning disabilities that affect reading, such as dyslexia” as well as simple measures to improve readability, including using bold typeface to highlight important information.  

 

City Tech’s Library has also incorporated a focus on accessibility into the professional development faculty members participate in to develop open educational resources. The materials gathered for the Introduction to Accessibility Module that specific group are useful to anyone developing materials to share on the OpenLab. 

 

What is access? group activity

When thinking of the terms “access/ability” or “accommodations,” what comes to mind?

Jot down a few terms/examples.

Share with a partner, then share with the group!

What common ideas about accessibility do we share? Where do our ideas diverge?

 

Resources:

Accessible Syllabus

Summary of Accessibility on the OpenLab

Reading Ease and Accessibility

Introduction to Accessibility: A Module for OER Faculty

Pedagogy Profile: Ryoya Terao

What Department/Program are your affiliated with?Bust photo of professor Ryoya Terao, a man in glasses and a green jacket

ENT (Entertainment Technology)

What is your role in that Department/Program?

Faculty, associate professor, instructor, oversees most of the video courses.

When did you begin working at City Tech?

Fall 2010

Describe your experience joining the OpenLab and when/how you began actively using the platform to support your pedagogy.

I’m not teaching these courses this semester, but actively started using OpenLab a few years ago in ENT 1190 (Video Technology, formerly known as Introduction to Film and Video Production) and ENT 3290 (Digital Video Camera). Currently, the department uses OpenLab for all sections of ENT 4499 (Culmination Project).

Why did you decide to start using the OpenLab? 

For ENT 1190 and 3290, online discussions with some pictures and copying links, OpenLab is more useful than BB, and some students said, they don’t log on to BB often, and they don’t even like the appearance of it.

Can you describe the ways you have integrated the OpenLab into your pedagogical practices?

For online discussions for group projects, it is useful. On OpenLab, it is easy for me to track down who make meaningful contributions actively. I also gave assignments for students to weekly upload some photos (this was in ENT 3290 a year ago).

How has the OpenLab transformed or expanded your pedagogy, and the pedagogical values you’re able to realize in your courses and educational practice? 

As it is more visual and it allows us to upload visual materials than BB, it is useful when I teach video courses.

Aside from courses, how does the OpenLab support your pedagogical practices and ambitions?

For college wide committees, OpenLab is used [robustly], and it is one good way to be informed and communicate with City Tech colleagues.

Recap: Curating Faculty/Staff Portfolios

On Thursday, April 4, faculty and staff from City Tech got together for the second of two Open Pedagogy events the OpenLab hosted this semester where participants discussed “curating a faculty/staff Portfolio.”

Quite aptly, a participant kicked the evening off by reminding us that, whether we are aware of it or not, we tend to leave a trail of digital footprints. Sometimes, like when students pull up our Rate my Professor reviews, these footprints suggest something about our pedagogy. How can we use academic portfolios, we wondered, to curate a more intentional digital presence?

This was one of  the main questions animating the discussion. Folks shared different strategies for building academic portfolios, including chronicling past syllabi, using previous OpenLab course sites as repositories—evidence, even—of previous pedagogical work, archiving invitations to serve on panels and other planned events, and selecting finished researched to showcase. One participant noted the multiple advantages of maintaining an academic portfolio on the OpenLab. For graphic designers, architects, photographers, and videographers, OpenLab academic portfolios lend themselves to showcasing visuals in high resolution—something that is not always a possibility in their print counterparts. Moreover, for those who teach (and learn!) on the OpenLab, the ability to link out to one’s other projects and/or courses is a uniquely helpful practice.

A number of staff—including librarians and members of the OpenLab team—and faculty in non-teaching roles led a discussion about how to present work done outside of the classroom. In these roles, staff often find themselves giving workshops, or training faculty and students in specific and skilled tasks. What would it mean, we wondered, to consider this work as pedagogy?

Finally, we closed our discussion with the question: are portfolios exclusively spaces for perfection—vehicles to portray our best work and successes? Or can they also be spaces for reflection—organic examinations of our “failures” and teachable moments? Many of us had (understandably) defaulted to using portfolios solely as required by our institutions: regular benchmarks of accomplishments made available for institutional review. We asked: how can academic portfolios grow more capacious? How often do we publicly reflect on our pedagogical experiences? Why not use the OpenLab’s affordances to think through teaching and learning—inside and outside the classroom—and invite others into the conversation?

Pedagogy Profile: Jennifer Sears

For this Pedagogy Profile, we heard from Jennifer Sears, an Assistant Professor in the English Department and a Faculty Leader for the First Year Learning Communities program.

Photo of white woman sipping coffee while wearing a black beret and sweater

When did you begin working at City Tech?

I became a full-time faculty member in fall 2014. Prior to that appointment, I was a substitute Lecturer and adjunct professor in the English Department and taught in the First Year Summer Programs.

Describe your experience joining the OpenLab and when/how you began actively using the platform to support your pedagogy. Why did you decide to start using the OpenLab?

I first used the OpenLab in March 2014 when I created Words Have Lives, a tutoring site for developmental writing students. Lauri Aguirre, Director of First Year Programs, asked me to design the site as a “commons” with the intention that future Developmental Writing tutors and students might use and develop the materials even further. I remember I had fun figuring out that site! I’d done some blogging already, so some of the functions and the navigation tools were familiar. I liked the title I chose–Words Have Lives–and wanted it to have a “Brooklyn” theme. Some of the photographs are from my Williamsburg neighborhood and a walk over the Williamsburg Bridge on a memorably sunny day. Photo of graffiti on concrete that reads "Brooklyn 4 Life"For that first project, the students were primarily recipients of emails with links to resources and also reminders for upcoming tests.

My next project was for the First Year Summer Program (FYSP) a few months later, in the summer semesters of 2014. I co-wrote a Common Reading Project with a fellow English professor, Robert Ostrom, focusing on Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. I wanted to add an OpenLab site to make the project more visibly appealing for instructors to take into their classrooms. With posts on the OpenLab, they could quickly find online resources about Malcolm Gladwell including video interviews and articles.

The reason it worked for the FYSP Common Reading project was because we had multiple faculty, primarily adjunct instructors working at different times and working in different locations. Building a sense of teaching within a community is difficult when instructors don’t have face to face contact with each other, and the OpenLab facilitates this with more visual impact than sharing files on Google Drive or Blackboard. Though there are other ways to share materials among faculty, what was immediately clear was the visual advantage of using the Open Lab.

The challenge of using the OpenLab in 2014 was an obvious one: most faculty weren’t OpenLab yet, and so we had to make everything available in multiple formats and try to help people learn how to log in. But this has changed dramatically in the past five years.

Can you describe the ways you have integrated the OpenLab into your pedagogical practices?

The first course I integrated with OpenLab was an upper level Professional Writing course. I had students create blog posts to write about their professional interests and to think about the professional audience they were targeting. They created several interesting projects. Two projects that come to mind are “Pimp My Dog,” a student’s project about dog grooming. Another I remember was created by a student from California who wrote a site on surfing and the identification of different types of waves. I still saw the site as a blogging platform, and this is what I used it to teach.

In the First Year Learning Communities (FYLC), we use the OpenLab. For students, we have a “My Stories” project for first semester students describing their experiences at the college. The peer leaders, upper level students, in this program also interact with first semester students on the OpenLab. This is one of the powerful possibilities, I think, that the platform facilitates, students meeting students they wouldn’t otherwise meet.

As an instructor in First Year Learning Communities, the linked courses we teach are more easy to link on the sites. One of the FYLC cohorts that integrated the OpenLab most effectively was created with psychology professor Barbara Chutroo. We developed a class that considered the rising rates of depression and stress during the first semester of college and ways to deal with potential stressors. We used the OpenLab in a couple of ways. One was that they all uploaded their student profile and talked about how they came to City Tech. One of the students, Karan Soekhoe, a photographer, uploaded a photo and talked about how beautiful the area was. Photo of One World Trade and the Brooklyn Bridge across the East RiverOther students uploaded personal images. It was through these courses that I started considering the OpenLab as a place for students to actively contribute.

I’ve been active in OER development in a variety of ways. I did the training for OERs and created the “Brain on the Page” OER course for the combination 92W/ENG 1101 course. I then worked as a co-organizer for four English department ENG 1101 courses that were under the OER initiative. Having been part of those efforts, I now use primarily no-cost textbooks and host most of the materials on the OpenLab. What I like about these resources in addition to the fact that they are accessible to students, is that they allow me to easily refresh my own teaching and pedagogical materials every semester.

How has the OpenLab transformed or expanded your pedagogy, and the pedagogical values you’re able to realize in your courses and educational practice?

OpenLab has expanded my pedagogy in a couple of ways. I’ve incorporated a wider range of materials with an emphasis on current materials. I find I’m exploring more ways to get students working online and interacting with other students. I’ve had to rethink what online writing is as a genre and consider how to approach it. This is an increasingly important part of our students’ professional lives.

In 2014, students floundered and often needed help to get started. In 2019, many students need little assistance to get started. More first semester students are posting and uploading materials with relative ease. This shows change in our students and in the continuing development of the OpenLab. I’m still learning about widgets and techniques to make this easier for students and at the same time, they are getting more and more fluent before they get here.

Pedagogy Profile: Librarian Nora Almeida

This month we’re profiling Professor Nora Almeida, an Instruction and Outreach Librarian. Professor Almeida assumed her current position in 2015, after joining the City Tech community in 2013 as an adjunct librarian.Headshot of Nora Almeida, Instruction Librarian

What Department/Program are you affiliated with?

City Tech Library

Describe your experience joining the OpenLab and when/how you began actively using the platform to support your pedagogy.

I started using OpenLab in 2013 when I joined City Tech as an adjunct and was teaching LIB1201 “Research and Documentation for the Information Age.” I used the platform to host course materials, the course schedule, and assignments but also wanted to build some kind of online community for students. Blogging is a big component of the course and I like that students can read and respond to each other’s posts. I think that making my course ‘open’ and involving my students in decisions about who can (and should) see their work also presented a great opportunity to talk about online identity, intellectual property, and digital privacy—concepts that relate directly to LIB1201 course content.

Why did you decide to start using the OpenLab?

I’m pretty comfortable with WordPress and like the flexibility of designing my own curriculum AND the platform that I present it on. Many of the out-of-box Learning Management Systems I’ve used at other institutions are constraining and clunky to use. They are built like silos and it’s hard to have any input into the online identity of your course, which I think is important in terms of reflecting what the class is about. I know that OpenLab is intimidating to some new students but it’s more practical to have some fluency in a WordPress-based platform when you graduate from college than it is to have used a proprietary platform that no one outside of higher education has event heard of. So I present it to my students as a way to learn a little bit about a technology that they might actually encounter again in a job.

Can you describe the ways you have integrated the OpenLab into your pedagogical practices?

Aside from blogging, I have had students in my credit-courses create project sites on OpenLab for collaborative high-stakes assignments. I do research assignments with students but have stopped requiring formal research papers because students aren’t forced to think about structure or rhetorical mode—they just write a standard 5 paragraph essay and try to shove a few quotes in there. So, in response, I have integrated projects into my curriculum that involve producing podcasts, creating maps, or developing photo-essays based on research. The students then design part of an OpenLab project site that includes all of the project components—an annotated bibliography that summarizes the sources they found, written reflections, and their podcast or essay or map. I leave the site organization and visual design up to them but that’s a formal part of how the projects are evaluated. I emphasize that designing their project site should be intentional and thoughtful.  We do a lot of field trips for the placed-based interdisciplinary courses that I teach and I have started to try to frame primary source “documentation” as something that students actively participate in creating on OpenLab.

How has the OpenLab transformed or expanded your pedagogy, and the pedagogical values you’re able to realize in your courses and educational practice?

In both credit courses and library instruction, I think about context and collaboration as a central elements of my pedagogy. I usually co-teach a special topics interdisciplinary course called Learning Places and I also spend a lot of time in other people’s classrooms, which has made me really cognizant of the (sometimes fraught) expectations and emotions we all carry with us into classrooms. I think that intentional, critical pedagogy is always context aware and that if I’m doing my job, I’m acknowledging that we’re all in these shifting and precarious positions in relation to each other, in relation to institutional structures, and in relation to what we’re learning. So I try to approach pedagogy (in physical and digital spaces) in a way that engages people and makes them feel like they are actively involved in shaping outcomes. I try to highlight that what we (all) bring to the table matters.

Prof. Almeida's students get involved with DACA activism

In terms of what this has to do with OpenLab, as a librarian and critical pedagogy proponent, I’m coming from a place where cultivating openness (in the form of accessible and interactive environments—digital and otherwise) is really important to me. I’m interested in a digital spaces that my students and I have some power to shape. 

Prof. Almeida's student projects

Aside from courses, how does the OpenLab support your pedagogical practices and ambitions?

I think it’s awesome that the OpenLab team foregrounds pedagogy—that the conversation is about open pedagogy and how that translates to tech rather than trying to make how we teach fit into a proprietary commercial platforms. I also think that as a whole, higher education, hasn’t fully thought through what it means to outsource education to private companies who are making money off student data or automating test scores or selling us copyrighted lecture slides. All this to say, I think it’s great that we’re building the tools that we—City Tech students and faculty—specifically need.

Beyond my role as an instructor, I see OpenLab as a great tool for connecting across disciplines and engaging communities beyond City Tech. The OpenLab team helped the library develop some custom widgets and I think it’s really important that there is less of a divide between the resources the library has to support instruction and the place(s) where instruction happens. I’ve also been involved in the library Open Education Resources (OER) initiative and think the OpenLab has been important to ensure that we have a good infrastructure that is scalable and adaptable. Dealing with the textbook affordability crisis facing our students is important to address right now but we also need an open scalable platform that ensures the initiative is sustainable. The OER committee is also using OpenLab to help faculty learn about instructional design and accessibility and copyright—which they can carry forward into other projects. Projects like the OER initiative and Living Lab illustrate that we can build infrastructure on OpenLab to support each other, to help streamline curricula, and to build on (rather than replicate) each other’s work.