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 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.

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.

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.

Pedagogy Profile: Professor Javiela Evangelista

Prof. Evangelista headshotThis month we’re profiling Professor Javiela Evangelista, an Assistant Professor and Caribbeanist in the African American Studies Department. Professor Evangelista assumed her current position in 2016, after joining the City Tech community in 2013 as an adjunct lecturer.

How and why did you begin using the OpenLab, and how have you integrated the platform into your pedagogical practices? 

I started using OpenLab actively as Open Educational Resources (OER) Fellow (2017-1018).  I developed the OER website on Openlab Fall 2017 and implemented it in my Africana Folklore: AFR 1130 course, Spring 2018. AFR 1130 is a foundational course for the department. In the course we learn about central concepts, issues and events in the African Diaspora and improve our writing. The course supports the department’s mission to “bring research, critical analysis, and interpretation to bear on the contributions of peoples of African descent to the genesis and the development of human civilization.” By providing a foundational understanding of the African diaspora, the course aims to better enable students to navigate future courses in the department.

The majority of the readings – from ebooks, to peer reviewed articles, websites for cultural institutions, to videos – are accessible from the Openlab. The Openlab provided a central space for the OER which aims to provide greater access, with material that is free of cost to students. This access can serve our students with budgetary constraints and also help the college keep up with relevant material and in a wide range of mediums, which often encourages greater student engagement. Towards this end the Openlab served our course by enabling the organization of the material by theme and in the case of AFR 1130, by geographic area. We added tags to each post to make material easily searchable and to allow for reorganization in the future, by cultural themes or chronologically, for example. The syllabus is posted as a pdf and also imbedded onto the page for easy access and scrolling. We added a table of contents modeled after wikipedia at the beginning of major sections, which helps students and readers know what to expect on the page, and also makes navigation much easier (especially from cell phones, which may be an important consideration for access).

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

With AFR 1130 as an OER, I was obligated to step outside of my comfort zone and explore a range of materials which the Openlab hosted. In order to cover an expansive geographical content (the entire African diaspora) and timeframe (14thc – present), I made an effort to cast a wide net when searching for material, not only to share in class, but also for students to review at home. This led to students listening to podcasts and watching Ted Talks by some of the same authors that we would have simply read in my other courses. For example, in AFR 1130 to conclude the course, students often read “#Ferguson: Digital Protest, Hashtag Ethnography and the Racial Politics of Social Media in the United States,” by Yarimar Bonilla and Jonathan Rosa in order to evaluate social media as a form of folklore and cultural production.  When researching Bonilla’s OERs I found one of her interviews on the Brian Lehrer Radio Show “How Colonialism in the Caribbean Affects Hurricane Prep and Recovery.” Posted on the Openlab, this new material enabled us to analyze the importance of journalism (particularly independent media) as a form of folklore, while also addressing the politics of Puerto Rico as an unincorporated territory.

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

I am an activist and public anthropologist whose social justice research, addresses civil liberties and human rights in the African diaspora. My research is in service of the public, and as a result, I participate in collaborative work with those impacted by the issues I aim to address, from research design through implementation. At it’s best, academic work expands the classroom and engages the public in support of social justice. The open nature of the Openlab works in concert with my values and pedagogy. It is important that there is transparency and access in our work. Historian Manning Marable argues that due to racial inequality which results in omissions and misrepresentations in knowledge production, African American Studies has always been and should continue to be, not only descriptive, but also corrective and prescriptive.  This is a guiding principle in my research and also my pedagogy. In all of the courses that I teach, students engage in “pracademics,” essentially the theory that those who research inequality should also contribute to changing it, in practice (Davis 2003).

In the new course AFR 2402ID The Heritage of Imperialism (which I am currently developing an Openlab site for) and AFR 1130, we take a field trip visit to Democracy Now Studios! (DN!) in order to view a recording and have a discussion with staff. During the visit, student’s learn about the value of independent media as a corrective within our society. In preparation for the visit to DN!, students analyze how stories are framed by comparing CNN’s coverage of the “riots” in Baltimore, with DN!’s coverage of the same events as an “uprising.” I teach students to define and utilize the concepts of imperialism, race, and diaspora while demonstrating an understanding of the vast application and complexity of these concepts.

Studens sit in semi-circle speaking with Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! studios.
Students speaking with Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! studios.

In AFR 2402ID students also learn to analyze contemporary connections to imperialism for African descendants in consideration of various points of view. For example, students learn that contemporary continuities of imperialism may manifest in communities that are economically and politically marginalized, as well as privileged communities. Likewise, students come to understand the legacy of imperialism as not solely oppressive, but also resistive. I also guide students to analyze how race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, migration, capitalism and labor, the state and militarism, and ideals of expansion and expulsion are related to the historical and contemporary development of various African diasporic societies and hence the heritage of imperialism within the African diaspora. By considering the heritage of imperialism in their own lives and in conversation with guest activists, educators, healthcare providers and journalists for example, students engage in place-based learning and further contribute to NYCCT’s interdisciplinary mission. As a cultural anthropologist, ethnography and testimony are centered in my courses to amplify marginalized concerns and to explore strategies that may serve as correctives. The Openlab provides an important place for these conversations in a space open to the public.

As a result of a year long Writing Across the Curriculum Fellowship at Lehman College,  I initiated a Writing Resource Center within blackboard to support students as they strengthen their writing, which is a central goal in my courses. I plan to add the Resource Center to the Openlab. In the interim, the assignments are posted on Blackboard.

My teaching approach includes scaffolded assignments, formal and informal writing, and high and low stakes assignments to enable student growth through practice and process.More specifically, we use writing to: 1) Understand, summarize, analyze, and critique course material using informal and formal writing. 2) Employ writing as an essential tool for learning course material. 3) Formulate and support a central argument or claim in their formal writing assignments.4) Effectively integrate and organize evidence to support their claims. 5) Practice writing for different purposes, audiences, and in various media. 6) Follow the writing conventions of the discipline and its related professions. 7) Follow the conventions of English grammar and mechanics in their writing. 8) Compose multiple drafts in order to proofread, and revise clear and logical sentences using correct spelling, conventional punctuation, correct grammar and syntax. Use varied sentence structure. Order and connect sentences and paragraphs effectively, using transitions and parallelism. 9) Apply feedback from faculty and peers during the revision process. 10) Cite sources within the text and on a reference page according to APA, MLA or Chicago style guidelines.

A group shot of students visiting Democracy Now! studios.
A group shot of students visiting Democracy Now! studios.

Pedagogy Profile: Professor Masato Nakamura

Headshot of Professor Nakamura. This month we’re profiling Professor Masato Nakamura, an Assistant Professor and BTech Coordinator in the departments of Mechanical Engineering Technology and Industrial Design Technology. Professor Nakamura  joined the City Tech community in August 2011.

How were you introduced the platform and when/how did you begin actively using the platform to support your pedagogy?

When I started teaching courses in the programs of Mechanical Engineering Technology and Industrial Design Technology in Fall 2011, I was looking for a platform that had an interactive online communication capability, as well as a simple process for uploading information, such as posting announcements, exercises, and homework assignments. Especially, I was looking for a platform that was publicly available, but there wasn’t much between twitter and a website.

OpenLab is very “open“ for any students who want access to the course information using computers at home, smart phones during their commute from home to campus, and their internship site, as well as during lectures in a classroom. Since almost all students in MECH and IND programs are involved in computer lab projects, OpenLab was a good fit.

Why did you decide to start using the OpenLab?

The OpenLab is a web-based platform that offers students easy access to info from computers, smartphones or any other tablet without any access restrictions. Also as an educator, it allows me to seamlessly share contents that I wrote on a whiteboard into a course page on the OpenLab. Unlike other Learning Management Systems (LMS) such as Blackboard LMS, the Openlab is user friendly, even for new students who don’t have a login account yet, which is important for class management as a lecturer.  

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

Students love posting something to instagram, facebook, twitter, blogs, or other messaging systems to communicate with friends and family. In the beginning of the class, I usually post a small question such as “What’s new today?”, “How was the last homework?”, “Did you find any interesting engineering technology news/topics this week?” While taking attendance, I ask students to post their comments. This is a useful way of reminding them with a signal or action that we got together today, here in the classroom, to study mechanical engineering technology and the ways it connects to the industry and real world.

This complements lectures which usually include very narrow topics, and sometimes prompt students ask: “Why we study this topic?” and “How is it connected to the practical?” Through the OpenLab, I communicate this with students.

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

Teaching engineering technology, I see some students are struggling with an exercise, while others are not, especially when we use software and computers. Each student’s progress is so different. For example, some are almost done with a task, while some are still working on earlier steps.

Differences in learning speed cannot be handled using one or two whiteboard(s) or a handout. However, the OpenLab is a system through which I can easily update content (for example the procedure of an exercise) and add more explanation.

For pedagogical practices, this is a real-time interactive update in the classroom based on an observation of students’ real-time learning processes.

Aside from courses, how does the OpenLab support your pedagogical practices and ambitions? (Note: Think broadly about public education initiatives, course coordination, non-academic student support, clubs, and projects, etc.)

For research activities, students and I are conducting research on renewable energy and environmental simulation at MECH Department’s Energy and Environmental Simulation Laboratory. We are using the OpenLab for updating research progress and enhancing lab members’ communication.

Pedagogy Profile: Professor Michael Krondl

This month we’re profiling Professor Michael Krondl, an adjunct lecturer in the Hospitality Management Department who teaches Introduction to Food Service Management and Culinary Tourism. Professor Krondl joined the City Tech community in January 2011.

How were you introduced the platform and when/how did you begin actively using the platform to support your pedagogy?

Honestly, I can’t remember when I started using Open Lab, maybe four years ago?* I first started using it in my Culinary Tourism class since it seemed like a good place to collect short blog posts from students about locations we visited.  Later I started using it in my Intro to Hospitality Management class, mostly because I thought first year students would find it easier to use than Blackboard.

*According to Professor Krondl’s OpenLab profile, he joined in 2012.

Why did you decide to start using the OpenLab?

In the case of the Culinary Tourism course, it allowed me to get students to interact in a way that is similar to the way the general public interacts with review sites, that is by writing their own reviews using the OpenLab as a publishing platform.

In the intro class, the OpenLab just seemed like a more intuitive way to organize material.  Moreover, in this course students are expected to write a variety of assignments in differing formats; the platform provided a forum for yet another form of writing, that is writing a review.

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

I can’t add much to the above. As described, in the tourism class, the OpenLab provides a way of organizing class info for students, and also serving as a place to post and comment on each other’s assignments.  More or less the same story with the intro class.

For the intro class this semester, there is an additional component – mainly that the course site is now an Open Educational Resource (OER), so the website acts as a virtual textbook.  I have long been looking for a textbook that we could use in class and finally realized that it would be simpler to organize a set of curated readings on the OpenLab. Thus the site acts as both a forum for interaction and a textbook. And the students don’t have to pay for it!

The reality is that I find Open Lab to be one useful tool among many. It is by no means a panacea so I use it for what it’s good for: an attractive (if not always intuitive way of organizing information) and a reasonably good platform for discussion.

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 classes, my main ambition is to expand the students’ view of the hospitality industry and the world. In both cases they are required to go out in the world and report back via posts on our course site, hosted on the OpenLab.  This varies in effectiveness–students come from a variety of educational backgrounds, often have limited writing skills, and can lack motivation–but it’s a heck of a lot better than just handing in pieces of paper for me to look at.

Aside from courses, how does the OpenLab support your pedagogical practices and ambitions? (Note: Think broadly about public education initiatives, course coordination, non-academic student support, clubs, and projects, etc.)

I don’t use it other than for the courses.

Pedagogy Profile: Professor Jackie Blain

Headshot of Professor Jackie Blain.This month we’re profiling Professor Jackie Blain, an adjunct lecturer in the English Department who teaches Composition (ENG 1101 and 1121), Technical Writing (ENG 2575), and Developmental Writing in the First Year Summer Program. In addition, Professor Blain taught an interdisciplinary course with the Computer Science Technology (CST) Department, and is involved in the First Year Learning Community (FYLC) program. She joined the City Tech community as a Tutor-Assistant in the Learning Center in Fall 2014, became a Consultant with the English 1101-1102 Tutoring Grant in Spring 2015, and became an Adjunct in the English Department in Fall 2015. 

How were you introduced the platform and when/how did you begin actively using the platform to support your pedagogy?

I began using the OpenLab when I did my first FYLC class in Fall 2016 because it was recommended that we explore using it. The workshops run by the OpenLab made it easy to set up and use, and I saw that it could give me a range of student interactivity projects that I couldn’t really get with Blackboard. However, to be honest, I really fumbled around at first and tried to make the OpenLab simply replace Blackboard. But as I’ve learned more about the strengths of the platform, and looked at the courses that have been spotlighted by the OpenLab Community Team, the way I use it has changed to help support my pedagogical goals, and it’s been easy to do.

Why did you decide to start using the OpenLab?

As I mentioned, the FYLC program recommended that we look at it, but I’ve long been interested in multimodal literacies and the role/use of computers in the composition classroom. I have taught online and hybrid as well as in the classroom and used a variety of LMS software over the past 15 years, and I ran a WordPress blog of my own some years ago. So the OpenLab seemed both like a shiny new tech object (which is hard for me to ignore) and a place where I could try to pull various threads of my own pedagogy together using everything I had learned about teaching online and face-to-face.

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

My own pedagogical practice is very student-centered and interactive, and while I push
students to be more critically aware of their world, I also try to meet them where they are. The difficulty many of our students at City Tech have in getting time on a laptop or desktop computer shouldn’t be underestimated, and the OpenLab, because it is based on a responsive WordPress template that’s easy to use on a phone, has increased my student engagement, especially on low-stakes writing assignments. Yes, they often do them on the train, but they do them. Pedagogically, that is always my goal.

How I do this is I have students post their responses on to questions I ask about the reading on the OpenLab (often using their phones, and often do so while they’re on the train), but, again they do them. I then use those responses to build on their critical thinking skills by having them discuss in class what they wrote, first in pairs, then combined with another pair to broaden the discussion. I walk around, watching, listening, and asking questions to deepen their thinking before bringing the whole class together to ask the groups to share their biggest takeaways. The OpenLab gives these students a chance to write quickly without worrying about a grade, and over the term they become more confident in both their writing and in their ability to analyze something critically.

Overall, I have three general areas that I use OpenLab for. First, I simply house course materials including handouts and links. Two, teams post their final group projects (although this is still a work in progress for me and something I need to learn more about doing well). Finally, and most importantly, it serves as a powerful vehicle for those low-stakes writing assignments I mentioned. One additional nice thing has been that if a student has a question, I can usually say, “Look on the OpenLab,” they pull out their phones, and “Oh yeah. Thanks, Professor” as they walk away. They learn quickly.

Aside from courses, how does the OpenLab support your pedagogical practices and ambitions? (Note: Think broadly about public education initiatives, course coordination, non-academic student support, clubs, and projects, etc.)

This Fall, my students will be involved in the Our Stories Project, which I hope helps them through the difficult adjustment into college. As an adjunct of a certain age, my career ambitions are pretty modest, but I would like to pull together a research project for the Spring about the effect of First Year Learning Communities on First Year Composition using OpenLab to help gather information.

Pedagogy Profile: Professor Kate Poirier

Headshot of Professor Kate Poirier.This week we’re profiling Professor Kate Poirier who teaches in the Mathematics Department. Prof. Poirier joined the City Tech community as an Assistant Professor in the Fall of 2013.

How were you introduced the platform and when/how did you begin actively using the platform to support your pedagogy?

I taught an Honors Calculus class in Spring 2014 and, since it was a small group of enthusiastic students, I thought it would be a good time to experiment with something new. The experience was so positive—it worked for me and for the students—I’ve never looked back.

Why did you decide to start using the OpenLab?

I’ve maintained my own course websites before and I’ve used Blackboard for communication with students, but I found both of those to be somewhat clunky, annoying to set up, and still not exactly what I wanted.

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

I use the OpenLab to communicate with students throughout the semester, but often the communication is one-way (I’ll post something and they’ll read it; maybe they’ll comment on the post). So I like to experiment with giving students assignments to submit posts of their own on the OpenLab, as well to help them understand that it’s *our* site, not *my* site.

My favorite assignment comes at the beginning of the semester. I ask students to submit a post introducing themselves to the class and to comment on each other’s posts. I usually submit an introduction of my own as well. This has the advantage that students quickly become familiar with how easy it is to use the OpenLab and it gives us all a chance to get to know right away who’s in the class and why they’re taking it. I’ve found out some interesting things about my students this way!

Other assignments depend on what class I’m teaching. I’m teaching MAT 1275 right now. Before each test, students are posting sample exercises from the homework with their full solutions. Students can comment on these posts if they suspect there’s an error or if they have a question about what’s written. These posts all are categorized as “Test Review” so the category serves as a crowd-sourced review sheet for the whole class. Students are submitting similar posts categorized as “Test Solutions.” What I like about these assignments is that they force the students to work together as a team to produce a usable resource and they also force the students take ownership and responsibility for their own test preparation, rather than looking to the instructor to do this for them.

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

I used to feel like I had to cram so much into my lecture since it was the only time I had real contact with my students (except for those who came to office hours). The casual blog format of the OpenLab especially allows for more conversations that aren’t necessarily directly related to course content. At times, I’ve used the OpenLab to try to make connections between material from the course and other topics that might be useful for students even if it’s outside the required content. It’s also helpful for sharing events around the college or even just articles  or resources I’ve come across on the internet that might be of interest the students. I taught a Math Education course recently where the conversations we had as part of the course were so stimulating, they continued on the OpenLab well after the course had ended.

All of this helps to enhance the human aspects of teaching and learning that are more about making connections and not necessarily about specific content delivery. Such connections can be harder to achieve in a traditional setting—sometimes the only opportunity is during office hours with the handful of students who happen to be there at any given time—and I’m grateful that the OpenLab makes it so easy to make these connections public.

Something that is new and particularly useful is the integrated “Ask for Help” feature in WeBWorK. WeBWorK is an open-source online homework program that many instructors in the Math Department use as part of their course. In the past, there was a button students could use to email their instructors with help with particular WeBWorK questions. This was helpful, but instructors might end up answering the same question over and over again. In MAT 1275, now, this button has been replaced with one that takes students to a page on an OpenLab site that serves as a question-and-answer forum about that particular WeBWorK problem. This connects not just the students in a class and their instructor, but *all* students in the college taking the course and *all* instructors teaching it. Students can ask and answer their own questions but they can also see the discussions surrounding the exact problem in mind. This further serves to connect students and instructors to the broader college community, which is certainly in line with the spirit of the OpenLab.

Aside from courses, how does the OpenLab support your pedagogical practices and ambitions? (Note: Think broadly about public education initiatives, course coordination, non-academic student support, clubs, and projects, etc.)

The OpenLab makes it so easy for any group that is working collaboratively. I’ve used it extensively in all my roles at City Tech for dynamic, effective, and efficient communication among collaborators. I hate using email to work on something with a team, but I love using the OpenLab.

The OpenLab also makes it so easy to collect important resources and documents into a single repository. I work closely with the math tutors in the Atrium Learning Center and have created an OpenLab site with all the resources they might need in one place. The site was so easy to set up and has worked so well, that we’re planning to put together something like it for students seeking tutoring too. One of the things that can be hard for students—especially young students—is knowing where to look for the resources they need—indeed knowing which resources they might need. By putting these things in one predictable place and making them available to everyone, we make it easier for students to navigate college life so that they can focus more on succeeding in their programs and finding their place at CityTech.

Pedagogy Profile: Professor John De Santis

headshot of Professor De Santis.This week we’re profiling Professor John De Santis who teaches COMD2427 Typographic Design III in the Communication Design Department. Prof. De Santis joined the City Tech community as an adjunct professor in the Fall of 2016.

How were you introduced the platform and when/how did you begin actively using the platform to support your pedagogy?

In my first semester here, after speaking with my course leader, I took a look at the OpenLab. I attended a seminar on it and then created an OpenLab course. The site contains basic information, online resources and assignments. My current course load is multiple sections of Typography III, which focuses on advanced typographic design principles and applications for web, print and motion. In subsequent semesters the subject kept evolving and naturally expanded my OpenLab course and project content.

Why did you decide to start using the OpenLab?

It has an intuitive interface that allows for easy creation and management of dynamic course content. The OpenLab’s quick ability to share and communicate typographic topics pulled from online sources in the field directly to students was a key factor.  The support staff was also very helpful with any questions, etc. It made it more efficient than trying to integrate Blackboard into course.

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

I utilize the OpenLab in a variety of applications. My goal was to create a focal point for typographic design principles, history, creative process and current trends. Students are able to refer back to relevant information for projects, assignments, and lectures as needed during project design and production. The OpenLab also enhances the depth and accessibility of assignment/project content. 
I also incorporate it into assignment/project administration and grading outcomes. The OpenLab is part of my method of instruction, design evaluation, assessment, as well as communication.

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

The OpenLab enables me to incorporate time constraints and technical requirements of the real world environment in the classroom.

By requiring usage of OpenLab and specific upload protocols such as file and post naming conventions, correct categorization of posts etc, students learn how to meet specific requirements, which will be essential to their future careers in design and other fields.

Screenshot of Type Talk assignmentThe OpenLab has also assisted in developing student-critique skills and process. For example, in a weekly critique series of industry typographic work called “Type Talk”, students comment on the work posted and can interact with the other student critiques.

It gives me the ability to expand on the timeliness of relevant content and topics pulled from design industry.

I am also able to incorporate course curated multimedia content from,, interactive learning tools, portals, social media feeds and news.

“Type Challenges” are in class typographic and creative exercises I created on the OpenLab; they enhanced instruction of the design and creative processes with time constraints including uploads to the OpenLab as final outcome.

Screenshot of Type Challenges

Aside from courses, how does the OpenLab support your pedagogical practices and ambitions? (Note: Think broadly about public education initiatives, course coordination, non-academic student support, clubs, and projects, etc.)

Technology usage in pedagogy is an integral part of instruction. OpenLab utilizes appropriate applications within course structure which drives and enhances learning outcomes and awareness. I have found that students get a sense of accomplishment in their course assignments when the public is given access and exposure to their work. For example one of my assigned projects, the OpenLab Brooklyn Historical Society Project, was assigned to multiple sections of Typography III.

 Screenshot of Brooklyn Historical Society course posters