In the Spotlight: Teaching Math in a Remote Semester

Even in more “normal” times, few subjects cause college undergrads more anxiety than Math! Add to this the stress of distance education during a global pandemic and, well, you have a definite challenge on your hands. 

However, the Math department has done incredible work this semester, leveraging the OpenLab to facilitate effective remote teaching. This week, I spotlight three of their recent initiatives.

Model Courses

Over the summer, three departments/ programs created Model Courses: Communication Design, the English Department’s First Year Writing program, and Mathematics. These model courses are subject-specific and open to all faculty to clone to use with their students, via the OpenLab’s shared cloning feature. They contain course information, sample assignments, and resources for students–all of which are designed to help faculty meet recommended best practices for teaching online. Math faculty can choose to use these courses in whole or in part, adapting them to meet their needs. Because the courses are public, faculty can still access course materials if they are using another platform (e.g. Blackboard) to teach. You can find these model courses in the Courses directory by checking the “Model” checkbox.

Course Hubs

The Math Department also created Course Hubs, each boasting a collection of vetted open source materials that address core topics. These were created through the OpenLab Model Course Initiative and made publicly available on the OpenLab. In the space of a few weeks, Hubs were created for seven different math courses, including the traditional sequence from Algebra through Calculus and a number of others. In preparation for a fully-online semester and in support of a large and heterogenous department, the team collected student- and faculty-facing resources to support a wide variety of distance-learning activities and approaches, including online lessons, course coordination information, and more. We especially like that these resources include videos that are useful to students, and training opportunities for faculty adapting to distance education!

Assignments to Foreground the Human Side of Math

While the model courses and course hubs provide faculty with valuable teaching resources, they are, at the end of the day, tools that have to be made effective by the instructors implementing them. No tool will ever replace the boost in confidence students receive when surrounded by supportive faculty members and peers. This is why assignments like Prof. Kate Poirier’s are so important. Prof. Poirier invited students from one of her more advanced math classes to post advice to students in her introductory class. Conversely, students in the introductory course were invited to post questions to more advanced students. You can view some of the wonderful advice the more advanced students gave here, and the questions newer students had here. There are too many witty, compassionate, and insightful comments to list here, but as a highlight, I’ll just mention student Sierra Morales’ post encouraging newer students to slow down and write their work step-by-step (no rushing to get quizzes in first!), and to “practice writing out your method and reason for solving each problem the way you did.” The post ends by reminding students to be patient, invest in themselves, and seek out peer advisement when needed. I also want to point readers to Kate Poirier’s other creative assignment inviting students to watch and respond to a viral TikTok video on “whether Math is real” (i.e. useful in real life). In the absence of face-to-face interaction, this online dialogue is heart-warming and necessary–an undervalued but brilliant component of successful learning and teaching.

Congratulations to the Math Department and Math instructors on their innovative work this semester! Make sure to check out these resources and assignments for inspiration!

In the Spotlight: Experiential Art & Design Club

This week, I spotlight the amazing student-led group, the Experiential Art & Design Club. This club provides a “space to create & playtest digital experiences”: you can join to “make video games, immersive art, AR filters, websites, and literally anything else you can think of.” How has this club adapted to remote learning? They’ve moved 100% online and use the OpenLab to maintain an effective digital presence! Some highlights from their OpenLab site and profile include:

  • Featuring links to their Discord (where they meet every two weeks) and Instagram on their profile page.
On their profile page, the club features links to their social media accounts.
  • A “Sign-Up Now!” button at the top of their home page, where it is difficult to miss–and that’s a good thing!
EXP Club's "Sign Up Now" button sits at the top of their home page,
  • A sign-up form in the right-hand widget sidebar of their site, again making it as easy as possible for folks to join the club and get in touch with club leaders.

  • FAQs directly on the site’s home page. These are featured at the bottom of the page, in a collapsible accordion menu which doesn’t take up too much space. The reader can glance at the questions when first landing on the site, and decide whether or not they need answers before joining the club. I love that these questions address potential student insecurities about participating: “I suck at coding,” one of these questions reads, “can I still join?” The club leaders want to reassure you: “the whole point of our meetings is to get better. None of us started off where we are right now. If you’re bad at it, come anyway.”

Finally, beyond maintaining a wonderful site, the EXP club has also adapted their 2020 activities to fit the constraints of a pandemic-stricken world. They note: “For 2020, we’re switching to quick solo projects so everyone can try something new at their own pace. These ‘challenges’ take place every 2 weeks and come with inspiration, tutorials + download links to get started. Check out all of those here.”

This site provides a great example of how to use the OpenLab to keep your club members active and engaged. Check them out for inspiration!

This Month on the OpenLab: November 2020 Release

Red squirrel amidst fall leaves on the ground.
“Red Squirrel” by hedera.baltica.

On November 19, 2020 we released version 1.7.47 of the OpenLab. It included two new features and five new plugins, as well as a few minor plugin and theme updates.

New Features

  1. We added a link on Course, Project, and Club directory pages allowing OpenLab members to create or clone these groups from the directory page, in addition to the usual location in My OpenLab. Please note that you must be logged in for the links to be visible, and the link on the Courses directory page will only be visible to faculty.

    New link on course directory page to create or clone a course.

  2. We added a link to My OpenLab on the red login box on the homepage of the OpenLab, to make it even quicker and easier to access.

    Link to my profile in the log-in/welcome box on the OpenLab homepage.

Plugins

We added five new plugins:

  1. Advanced Sidebar Menu: allows you to add a widget to your sidebar that generates a menu based on the section of your site you’re viewing. It will show all the subpages related to the page being viewed, and could be helpful for sites with large amounts of content.

  2. Nested Pages – This plugin replaces the functionality of the Page Mash plugin, which is no longer supported and has been retired. It provides an easy interface for dragging and dropping pages to change the order and hierarchy of all pages on your site.

  3. Breadcrumb – This plugin allows you to add breadcrumb navigation to any theme, and using a shortcode. We have another plugin called Breadcrumb NavXT, but it only works with OpenLab Twenty Sixteen and OpenLab Twenty Thirteen themes. 

  4. Pager Widget – This simple widget allows you to add next and back links to navigate between pages on your site. 

  5. ARI Fancy Lightbox – this plugin adds a mobile-friendly lightbox effect to images on any site. It works with individual images, native WordPress galleries, and can also be used with the NextGEN Gallery plugin as the preferred lightbox for NextGEN galleries.

Documentation for the new plugins is coming soon.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

In the Spotlight: The Fifth Annual Science Fiction Symposium

This week, we spotlight the Fifth Annual Science Fiction Symposium on Race and Science Fiction, to be held on Thursday, Nov. 19 from 9:00am-5:00pm online via Zoom Webinar.

This year’s symposium is co-organized by Wanett Clyde, Jason W. Ellis, Lucas Kwong, and A. Lavelle Porter, and features a keynote address by Jonathan W. Gray on “Past Tense, Future Perfect: American Atrocities in HBO’s Watchmen and Lovecraft Country.”

To participate in this free event, attendees will need to (1) Signup for a free Zoom account here (if you don’t already have one), and (2) Register here to receive access instructions to the Zoom Webinar. Participants may register any time before or during the event!

For those who would like to watch the event without registering, you can join the YouTube Livestream here.

You can also click here to view the full conference program and learn more about the presenters.

Hope to see you there!

New OpenLab Screencast: Pages and Posts

We are pleased to offer a new set of support materials for OpenLab users: screencasts! With video, audio, and captions, these screencasts provide step-by-step instructions for how to use different OpenLab features in a multimodal format.

Today, we’re introducing a new video in our series on the basic building blocks of OpenLab sites. In this one, we’ll focus on how to create pages and posts. This series could be particularly useful for students creating eportfolios in the second half of the semester, for staff beginning new projects, or for faculty designing course sites for the winter term.

To see our other screencasts, click here or visit our YouTube channel.

In the Spotlight: OER at City Tech

This week, I spotlight the library’s fantastic new(ish) resource: the O.E.R at City Tech OpenLab site. As a reminder, the acronym “O.E.R” stands for Open Educational Resources and “refers to any educational content that is free and openly-licensed.” From the academic year 2017-2018 to the present, NY State has awarded CUNY $4 million annually to “scale-up O.E.Rs” across the university system. This site is your go-to hub for all things O.E.R at City Tech and–dare we say–at CUNY. Its main function is to showcase exemplary O.E.Rs at the college, but it also includes other invaluable resources, such as O.E.Rs developed CUNY-wide (not just City Tech-specific), different search engines and repositories from which to search for O.E.Rs developed worldwide, and a curated list of O.E.Rs by Subject, relevant to the disciplines offered at City Tech.

The entire site is worth checking-out, but I’d like to draw your attention to a page titled Find O.E.R to teach with. This page builds out from more generalized O.E.R search tools to repositories that showcase a specific digital medium. Thus, you’ll find a list of search engines to help you with Getting Started on your quest to find O.E.Rs, but also narrower repositories of open textbooks and curricula and open courses. Lest we forget, O.E.R refers not only to texts or websites, but  also to audio files, images, and videos, that is to say to things like free digital recordings of concerts and music, public domain photography, and TED talks. The site helpfully points the visitor to search directories to find each of these, including highly specialized repositories that curate collections of media such as “pictures of trans and non-binary models” and “music remixes under Creative Commons licenses.” I highly recommend navigating to this page as you teach this semester and look for new, creative, online tools to enhance your pedagogy. Using multimedia is important to meet the needs of different learning styles, and the library has done us all a great favor by highlighting these resources and search tools.

I also recommend following the O.E.R at City Tech News blog which, highlights “one O.E.R relevant to each school at City Tech in every (weekly) post.” The O.E.R featured here are exemplary and can inspire your teaching in a remote semester.

Curious about O.E.R.? Visit the site to learn more. Note also that if you’d like to get more involved in developing O.E.R at City Tech, the site lays out different workshops and faculty development programs to help you do so. Happy exploration! 

In the Spotlight: Architecture Club

The Architecture Club has existed for over 30 years at City Tech! This week, I spotlight their OpenLab site, which shows how clubs can use the OpenLab to keep members engaged during this period of distance education. Below are some noteworthy features of their site.

A dynamic homepage

In OpenLab workshops, we encourage members to think through whether they would like their homepage to be static or dynamic. Static homepages, we explain, work well to communicate information that is unlikely to change much throughout a semester. For example, a club’s homepage might include a welcome message and an overview of the site. The copy written at the start of the semester for this page will likely need very little updating.  A dynamic homepage, however, might be better if the club maintains an active blog with time-sensitive information to be communicated to members. 

The Architecture Club shows how well the latter format works in a remote semester. Their homepage takes the form of a regularly updated blog with announcements reminding visitors of upcoming club events. In separate posts, they recap those events for anyone who misses them. The club also posts resources that are helpful for architecture students, and uses short blog posts to invite conversation from club members and keep the spirit of the club alive. I especially like this recent post that shared pictures of last year’s Halloween, when the club had a pumpkin carving  contest wherein the winner ended up “having their pumpkin printed as an adorable keychain!” The flurry of regular activity on this blog tells the visitor that club life is going strong, even during the pandemic.

Updates to the Welcome Widget

The right-hand sidebar of the site features a text widget with a “Welcome to the Architecture Club!” message. In “normal” times, this message might feature a sentence or two about the club, as well as where it meets, and contact information for the club leader. In the context of distance education, however, the Architecture Club has smartly updated the text to tell the visitor “we are now online” and to provide the Zoom link to their club meetings so that newcomers can easily pop in.

An Events Widget

It’s always a good idea to include a club calendar of events on your site, which the Architecture Cub does. But just to make extra-sure that visitors know about the latest club happenings, they also use the Events List Widget to display upcoming events on the right-hand sidebar. Smart! 

It’s not easy to keep a club going during this period of distance education, but the Architecture Club shows that a well-maintained OpenLab site is both a tool for communicating information and keeping community together. I encourage all club leaders to visit the site for inspiration!

In the Spotlight: Pharmacology (DEN 2315)

Header image for Pharmacology (DEN 2315), rainbow-colored lined up in a row.

This week, I spotlight Dr. Bowers’ Pharmacology OpenLab course, which implements some innovative practices well-suited to distance education. These include:

  • Indicating virtual meeting locations (i.e. OpenLab and Zoom links) right at the top of the syllabus. This is information you want students to access easily and placing it at the top of the page increases your chances of making sure no one misses it.
  • Separate pages and menu tabs for lecture slides, lecture video, and lecture audio. Students who are members of the class can download and print the slides, and stream the videos or just the audio for the class lectures. This gives different media through which to learn course material and is a great way to meet the needs of students with different learning styles. I’ll also note that providing a “just audio” alternative to video streams of lectures is a smart way to reach learners who may get distracted by video but do well with an audio recording. It also does a favor to the many of us who have issues with slow internet at home, and for whom audio is more easily streamed uninterrupted than video, which takes more bandwidth.
Students can access course content from the main navigation menu, but have 3 options: one for downloading slides, another for streaming video, and another for streaming audio.
  • A contact form inserted directly into the main navigation menu. As screenshotted below, this contact form invites students to write a message to their instructor and is a wonderful way to promote student-instructor communication. You can read more about using the plugin Contact Form 7 to create these kinds of forms and add them to your site here.
This contact form has four fields: one for the student’s name, a second for the student’s email, a third for the subject of the message, and a forth for the body of the message.

Do you have other tips for making your lectures more accessible online? For encouraging your students to contact you? Join the conversation by replying to this post!

In the Spotlight: ComD Internship Coordination Site

Last week, I spotlighted ComD Advisement Information site, which digitally guides students through the advisement process, and is replete with  information they need to stay on track and complete their majors. This week, I spotlight the ComD Internship Coordination site, which “is designed to help” students “find fieldwork/ situations of approximately eight hours per week at an internship site approved by the Department Internship instructor such as an advertising agency, graphic design firm, corporate design office, publications art department, photography or illustration studio, TV or multimedia production company.”

On the site’s blog, students will find timely announcements about (now virtual) events to attend to find jobs and internships. But the site also includes pages that outline Requirements and Documents for the ComD Internship, tips on Where to Find an Internship, Networking, and Writing Resources. Students will also find resources for Portfolio and Resume creation.

If you are a ComD student and thinking about how to gain professional experience in your field, make sure to check out the site

This Month on the OpenLab: October 2020 Release

Dog with halloween costume
HAPPY HALLOWEEN from Benni and me by Bennilover is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

On October 15, 2020 we released version 1.7.46 of the OpenLab. It was a small release, which included a few small bug fixes and some minor plugin updates.

  1. Due to an oversight, the Highlighter Pro plugin installed in the August release wasn’t visible for activation to OpenLab Members. This has been fixed so it will appear in the list of plugins for any OpenLab site, where it can be activated.
  2. When a site using Gravity Forms was cloned, the forms were being copied to the new site, but they weren’t automatically embedded in the posts or pages on the new site, and had to be manually added again. The cloning of Gravity Forms is now working correctly.
  3. We cleaned up some confusing text on the Dashboard interface for the OpenLab Gradebook widget.

As always, please contact us with any questions!