In the Spotlight: The OpenLab for Students

The OpenLab for Students is a short tutorial to “help students learn, work and share their ideas using the OpenLab!” It covers topics from creating a student account to finding and joining courses to participating in those courses. It also includes tips for success in online learning and a quiz to help you assess your knowledge of the platform. If you are a student, we recommend the tutorial for any stage of your City Tech career: it’s a great project to join and refer back as you start your semester, which most likely involves quite a bit of remote learning! You can read through the entire project in about an hour, and front and back buttons at the bottom of each page make it easy to navigate and skip ahead to information that is most useful to you. We also recommend that faculty refer students to the tutorial to orient them to the OpenLab. Below are some highlights you’ll definitely want to check out:

  • A short video tutorial (45 seconds!) on posting on the OpenLab. If some of your instructors are teaching on the OpenLab this semester, you will almost certainly be asked to post on your course site. The process isn’t too complicated, but it does involve a few steps: watch this video and pause it as needed as you create your first few posts.

  • Tips and and links to help documentation for using the Block Editor. As the module notes: “There are two ways to create a post: you can use the Block Editor or the Classic Editor…WordPress will be retiring the Classic Editor in 2021, so it’s best to use the Block Editor.” To that end, the tutorial links to step-by-step by help on using the Block editor, including an entry on writing a post and another on working with blocks.

  • The tips for success in online learning are a great beginning of semester read! No one–and I mean no one–has found the transition to remote learning easy. You are not alone if you are struggling in this regard. As the tutorial notes, “it can be hard to focus during online classes,” especially if you don’t have an adequate space to work or functioning technology to get your work done. The tutorial gives advice as to how to navigate these challenges, including how to communicate with your professor about the difficulties you may be experiencing in this period. It also provides links and contact information for many more college-widge resources that are available online and can help support you.

Make sure to join this tutorial and refer back to it often!

In the Spotlight: Connect Days Career and Technology Teacher Education

Header image for CTTE Connect Days Site, three students looking at a computer in a City Tech Classroom.

The transition to distance learning has challenged the City Tech community to create new digital resources for incoming students and faculty. Professor Sue Brandt and others developed an innovative Connect Days template, which different departments can customize to provide an online orientation to the degrees and certificates offered at the college. This week we spotlight the Career and Technology Teacher Education’s Connect Days site:

An Easy-to-Digest Home Page

The Career and Technology Teacher Education’s  (CTTE) Connect Days Home page is informative and easy to read. It begins with a warm welcome message from the chair, who includes a headshot of himself to help students associate “a face with the name”–something that can be nice in this era of remote learning! The page also makes good use of infographics, presenting flow charts that explain the different pathways students can take to Bachelor of Science in Education degrees. Finally, CTTE makes sure that practical and timely information is highly visible on the site’s landing page by including their remote advisement schedule.

Pages for Faculty, Staff and Student Leaders

Following the Connects Days template, CTTE has included pages not only for faculty and staff profiles, but for profiles of student leaders. This gives new students a sense not only of who will be teaching them, but of what veteran students are doing with their major, in other words what they can look forward to accomplishing! Notice that these pages include headshots of and contact information for each person profiled, another important practice to follow in this era of remote learning.

Multimedia Virtual Tours

Few of us may be setting foot into the campus this semester, but we think it’s safe to say that almost everyone is looking forward to a future when we can make full use of our facilities again. It’s important to let students know what these facilities look like and what resources are available there. To that end, CTTE has included multiple virtual tours of City Tech buildings and CTTE labs/ classrooms. We like that these include written directions to the campus, complemented by a well-labeled street map and pictures of the school buildings. We love that these tours include a promotional video created by existing CTTE students for prospective learners! Note that this video was uploaded to YouTube and embedded into the site: this is a great way to make use of the OpenLab’s multimedia functions, and an advantage of YouTube is that it provides automatic closed captioning, a best practice in terms of accessibility.

Please make sure to visit the CTTE Connect Days site to learn more about the program!

In the Spotlight: Welcome Back & Fall 2020 Programming

Welcome back to all City Tech faculty, students, and staff! We hope your semester is beginning smoothly and that you are settling into a new routine of remote work. Last spring marked an abrupt and challenging transition to distance education. This fall, many of us are going in more psychologically prepared, though we recognize that these continue to be difficult times for many. We hope the resources and tools on the OpenLab can make your semester just a bit easier. There a number of different ways we’re here to support your work:

Fall 2020 Drop-in Office Hours

Meet (virtually) with a member of the OpenLab Community Team for support. These office hours are first-come, first served and are open to students, faculty, and staff.

September

9/3 (Thursday), 4:00-5:00

9/11 (Friday), 10:00-11:00

9/15 (Tuesday), 1:30-2:30

9/20 (Sunday), 4:00-5:00

9/29 (Tuesday), 1:30-2:30

October

10/9 (Friday), 10:00-11:00

10/16 (Friday), 10:00-11:00

10/20 (Tuesday), 1:30-2:30

10/30 (Friday), 10:00-11:00

November

11/5 (Thursday), 4:00-5:00

11/10 (Tuesday), 1:30-2:30

11/15 (Sunday), 4:00-5:00

11/25 (Real Life Wednesday, CUNY Friday), 10:00-11:00

December

12/3 (Thursday), 4:00-5:00

12/6 (Sunday),  4:00-5:00

Office hours are held via Google Hangouts. Click here for further instructions on how to sign-up and join us in our Google Hangout.

Fall 2020 One-on-One Consultations

Meet (virtually) one-on-one with a member of the OpenLab Community Team for support. These office hours require an RSVP, and are open to students, faculty, and staff.

September

9/3 (Thursday), 3:00-4:00

9/11 (Friday), 11:00-12:00

9/15 (Tuesday), 2:30-3:30

9/20 (Sunday), 3:00-4:00

9/29 (Tuesday), 2:30-3:30

October

10/9 (Friday), 11:00-12:00

10/16 (Friday), 11:00-12:00

10/20 (Tuesday), 2:30-3:30

10/30 (Friday), 11:00-12:00

November

11/5 (Thursday), 3:00-4:00

11/10 (Tuesday), 2:30-3:30

11/15 (Sunday), 3:00-4:00

11/25 (Real Life Wednesday, CUNY Friday), 11:00-12:00

December

12/3 (Thursday), 3:00-4:00

12/6 (Sunday),  3:00-4:00

One-on-one consultations are held via Google Hangouts. Click here for further instructions on how to sign-up and join us in our Google Hangout.

Support Documentation

We have help(ful) documentation on the OpenLab that offers step-by-step guides for everything from getting started, to thinking about specific plugins that build out the functionality of your sites and portfolios.

Teaching with the OpenLab

We have a new online self-paced training module for faculty: Teaching with the OpenLab. Read more about it or ask questions at our virtual office hours. The module walks you through creating a course and teaching a course with our new course template. It also provides step-by-step guidance for faculty cloning model courses.

Learning with the OpenLab

Check out The OpenLab for Students, a brand new online tutorial designed to help students use the OpenLab. Learn how to get started, participate in your OpenLab courses, and more!

Email

We are available to support you via email: openlab@citytech.cuny.edu.

Join Our In-House Sites

We encourage you to become members of our in-house sites (you can do so by visiting the profiles of each site). These sites will keep you up-to-date with all things ‘OpenLab’ and offer opportunities for deeper investment with City Tech’s community.

  • Learn more about the OpenLab, including workshops, events, community, and support opportunities on The Open Road. (Profile)
  • Share and discuss resources about open digital pedagogy with other City Tech and CUNY-wide staff and faculty on Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab. (Profile)

This Month on the OpenLab: August 2020 Release

Bee on a yellow flower.
bee & planidium by André De Kesel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

On August 4, 2020 we released version 1.7.44 of the OpenLab. It was a large release, and included multiple new features, new plugins, updates to all existing themes and plugins, and updates to WordPress and BuddyPress, the software that powers the OpenLab.

New Features

  1. We redesigned and expanded the “badges” feature used to differentiate different types of Courses, Projects, Clubs, and Portfolios. Previously, we had badges for Open Educational Resources (OER) and First Year Learning Communities (FYLC), which could be used to filter courses on the directory page. We still have these two badges, but we’ve added the following:
    1. Cloneable: groups that can be cloned via shared cloning
    2. Open: groups that have open privacy settings
    3. Model: courses or projects that serve as cloneable models that have been peer reviewed to meet standards for best practices. Read more about model courses on our self-paced faculty training module, Teaching with the OpenLab.
    4. Department Resource: courses or projects that serve as resources for departments, such as model courses, course hubs, or department project sites.
    5. College Resource: sites that serve as college-wide resources, such as the City Tech Guide.
  2. Related to the new badges, we made a number of significant changes to search on the OpenLab to make it easier to find Courses, Projects, Clubs, and Portfolios:
    1. We revised the search box that appears at the top of the OpenLab site so that it searches across all types of groups—Courses, Projects, Clubs, and Portfolios. For example, if you search for “design” in the top search, you will now see all Courses, Projects, Clubs, and Portfolios with the keyword “design” in the title or description of the group.
    2. On the results page for this site-wide search, you can further refine the results to search only in particular groups, as well as the usual filters of school, department, etc. You can also use the new group badges to narrow down search. These additional ways of searching were also added in each of the group directory pages: Courses, Projects, Clubs, and Portfolios.
  3. The WordPress Block Editor (also known as Gutenberg) is now the default editor for all new sites on the OpenLab, but the Classic Editor is still available for anyone who wishes to use it. Read more on the Open Road about the transition to the Block Editor.
  4. Discussion, Docs, and Files—some of the tools available on a group’s profile—are now deactivated by default when you create a new group with a site. However, they can be turned on in the group profile settings. We found that they are not used very often when the group also has a site and can sometimes be confusing, providing too many potential places to add content. However, they are activated by default for all new groups that don’t have a site.
  5. We made a change to site menus so that the Profile and Home links automatically included in the site menu can be edited or removed. The Profile link can now be found in a section called “OpenLab” so if it’s removed, it can be re-added. The Home link can be re-added as a custom link.
  6. We made a few improvements to the appearance of the Library widgets that can be added to the sidebar of a site.
  7. There were some improvements made behinds the scenes to cloning that will improve the process for groups with a lot of content on the site.

New Plugins

We added four new plugins in this release:

  1. Highlighter Pro: logged-in members of the OpenLab can highlight and comment on specific sections of text on a post or page, allowing for more fine-grained engagement on a site than usual commenting.
  2. Gravity Forms Image Choices allows you to add images to a Gravity Forms quiz or survey.
  3. Setmore Plus allows you to add an appointment scheduler to your site.
  4. Meks Smart Social Widget is a simple plugin allowing you to add icons with links to your social media sites to your site sidebar.

Improvements to existing features

  1. We made some improvements to the Easy Table of Contents plugin—in particular, the feature that allows you to add a TOC widget to your site’s sidebar and “stick” the widget to the side of the page as you scroll down. For sites with a lot of content, this can be useful as a secondary navigation menu.
  2. We made a few small changes to the sign up page to help clarify that members don’t need to use their real name as their username, and that it can’t be changed once signup is complete. We also moved the Display Name field up to appear closer to user name. Display name is what members use to identify themselves publicly and it can be anything they choose.
  3. A number of small display and color improvements were made to the Education Pro, Hemingway, and Hamilton themes.

Retired Plugins

We retired a number of plugins that are no longer being updated and/or are not used by OpenLab members. These plugins will still be active on sites where they’re currently activated but won’t be available for activation on new sites. They include:

  1. Achievements
  2. Awesome Flickr Gallery
  3. BadgeOS
  4. BadgeOS BadgeStack Add-On
  5. Captcha
  6. Cardboard
  7. Category Order & Taxonomy Terms Order
  8. Gravity Forms Directory & Add-ons
  9. HTML Import2
  10. Mihdan: Ajax Edit Comments (Editing comments is now part of default WordPress functionality so the plugin is unnecessary.)
  11. Page Links To
  12. pageMash
  13. Page Tagger
  14. Simple Drop Cap
  15. Simple Pull Quote
  16. Table of Contents Plus (We still have Easy Table of Contents.)
  17. WP Simple Anchor Links
  18. WP-Pro-Quiz
  19. WP-SWFObject
  20. WPBadgeDisplay
  21. WPBadger

Bug Fixes

We fixed one bug and identified another plugin conflict that can’t be fixed right now.

  1. There was an issue with gallery blocks in the Block editor, where when a new gallery block was added, and you tried to add images from the Media Library there would be a message that “No items were found”. Navigating to the “Edit Gallery” link shows that all media library items had already been added.
  2. There’s a conflict between the TinyMCE Advanced plugin and Block editor where when the plugin is activated, the shortcut for choosing a new block type by typing “/block name” doesn’t work. We’re not able to fix this conflict right now, so please be aware of it.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

Teaching with the OpenLab?

Hummingbird flying.
Hummingbird” by Domenic Hoffmann

We have a brand new online self-paced training module for faculty: Teaching with the OpenLab. The site provides resources and best practices to help you use the OpenLab effectively when teaching online, or (in the future) hybrid or in person.

You’ll find step-by-step help for signing up, creating your course, and setting up your course site, whether you’re creating a course on the OpenLab using the new course template, or cloning a model course provided by your department. 

You’ll also find guidance on every aspect of teaching with the OpenLab: preparing course materials, communicating with your students, designing and receiving assignments, providing feedback and grades, and getting your students started. 

Finally, the site provides a list of common-sense best practices for digital pedagogy that you can use to evaluate your approach.

Let us know what you think! There’s a feedback form at the end of the module: as always, your comments will help us help everyone teaching with the OpenLab. 

Need help? Contact us at openlab@citytech.cuny.edu anytime!

The New Course Template

A new look for new courses!

We’ve just introduced a new template for courses on the OpenLab. The OpenLab course template determines how courses appear when they’re first created; existing courses won’t be affected.

Check out the new course template on the Course Template demo site.

Included in the new version:

  • A fresh new look (using the Hemingway theme);
  • A structured menu to help faculty and students find and organize their work using categories;
  • Built-in help and resources for students;
  • A set of recommended plugins and widgets, automatically enabled to make working in the course site easier;
  • An optional discussion post (introductions) to help faculty and students get to know one another;
  • An optional student survey that faculty can use to understand how their students are situated regarding technology, working space, etc.
  • Suggested templates for your syllabus, schedule, class agendas, and assignments.

Why now?

The template is designed to support best practices for teaching online and for using the OpenLab platform, such as using categories to organize course content. It’s also designed to provide a more consistent experience for students using courses on the OpenLab.

Want to make changes?

Please do! As always, you can change your course however you like so that it suits you and your students.

Need help?

We have a Course Template Tour and OpenLab Help overview available now, with a faculty training module coming very soon. In the meantime, as always, you can reach the  friendly OpenLab team at openlab@citytech.cuny.edu.

Course Template Tour (YouTube)

Feedback?

If you have thoughts about the new look for courses, let us know in the comments below or contact us anytime. All feedback – positive or negative – is very welcome!

Introducing the Block Editor

Multicolored blocks lit up in a dark space.
Tetris Blocks” by ShyCityNXR is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

In December 2018 with the release of WordPress 5.0, the Block editor (also known as Gutenberg) became the new default post editor, replacing the editor that has been around since the beginning, now called the “Classic” editor.

The Block editor is much more powerful than just a text editor, making it easier to build page layouts and integrate text with visual page elements, without any coding needed.

It has been installed on the OpenLab for the past year, but the Classic editor has been the default, until now. After the OpenLab summer release on August 4, the Block editor will become the default for all new sites, but the Classic editor will still be available for use on any site, or on individual posts and pages. Existing sites currently using the Classic editor will not be switched to the Block editor, unless you choose to change editors.

We encourage everyone to start using the Block editor, and explore all that you can do with Blocks! However, we have instructions for how to switch to the Classic editor if you would prefer to keep using it.

The Classic editor will be officially supported by WordPress through the end of 2021, and while it will likely continue to work for some time after that, it will become more obsolete over time. 

We have a number of pages in OpenLab Help, including:

There are also many helpful tutorials and introductions online. Here are a few good ones:

And as always, feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns, or stop by our virtual office hours!

In the Spotlight: Virtual Office Hours, Summer 2020

A deer peeking out over a field of yellow flowers.
Deer in a Canola Field by Jim Choate on Flickr.

Greetings City Tech Community!

We wanted to extend our congratulations to all of you on completing an especially trying spring semester. A special shout-out to the class of 2020!

We know many of you will be spending a chunk of your summer developing online academic resources. Some of you will be preparing your fall courses, which may well need to be fully online; some of you will be developing online student orientation materials; others will be continuing the transition to virtual student club life. The OpenLab is a great community-run platform from which to expand your web presence. But we realize that you may need support in setting up your OpenLab site. The OpenLab team is here to help!

We have scheduled virtual office hours for the rest of the summer (see full schedule below).  These offer the opportunity to meet with a member of the OpenLab Community Team. All office hours are held via Google Hangouts and are open to faculty, staff, and students. 

Support in office hours is first-come, first-served. If possible, please reach out to the OpenLab team in advance to let us know what questions you have so we can be prepared.

Click here to sign up for virtual office hours.

Click here to join us in our Google Hangout during the office hours listed below.

Click here for instructions for joining via Google Hangouts.

6/26 Friday 2:00 PM-3:00 PM

7/1  Wednesday 2:00 PM-3:00 PM

7/9 Thursday 12:00 PM-1:00PM

7/17 Friday 2:00 PM-3:00 PM

7/22 Wednesday 2:00 PM-3:00 PM

7/30  Thursday 12:00 PM-1:00 PM

8/7  Friday 2:00 PM-3:00PM 

8/12 Wednesday 2:00 PM-3:00 PM

8/20 Thursday  12:00 PM-1:00 PM

 

In Solidarity with BLM: A Note from the OpenLab Team

Black Lives Matter in lights at a protest
Black Lives Matter” by Ella via Flickr

City Tech’s OpenLab team expresses our solidarity with activists and organizers working incredibly hard to affirm and protect Black lives in the wave of protests surrounding the murders of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black people targeted by white supremacist violence.

We believe that Black lives matter, and that existing structures of oppression maintain racial hierarchies that marginalize Black and brown people. These systems impact the daily lives of CUNY students as well as faculty and staff of color; the complicity of our institutions must be acknowledged and changed. We hope the OpenLab can be a place for open discussion, shared resources, and community building.

We’ll share here some resources we find helpful, and hope you will, too. One place to get started is Black Lives Matter.

This Month on the OpenLab: June 2020 Release

strawberries
Strawberries” by Richard Hemmer is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

On June 2, 2020 we released version 1.7.43 of the OpenLab. It included new features and a few minor updates to plugins and themes.

New Features and Changes

We made one small and three large changes to cloning functionality on the OpenLab, as well as one bug fix.

  1. We expanded cloning to include clubs, in addition to courses and projects.
  2. We expanded shared cloning so that faculty, students, staff, and alumni can clone projects and clubs that have shared cloning enabled. Only faculty can clone courses. All courses, projects, and clubs cloned via shared cloning will display credit to the original author(s).
  3. All pages, posts, and menus that were published on sites being cloning will be published on the newly-cloned site. This is a change from previous functionality, where everything was in draft form. Site admins can review published pages and posts and move anything to draft as necessary.
  4. Previously, forms created with the Gravity Forms plugin weren’t cloned to a new site. Now all data from Gravity Forms (except any connections made to a personal Dropbox account) will be cloned to the new site.
  5. We fixed an issue that prevented folders in the files section of a group profile from being cloned. Now, if folders are being used to organize files, the folders will be cloned to the new site.

We made a number of improvements to the Education Pro theme:

  1. We made the main navigation “sticky” so that it remains visible at the top of the page, as you scroll down.
  2. We streamlined the available menus so it’s more intuitive to create menus and understand where they will appear on the site.
  3. The widget area at the bottom of the theme is now activated, so you can add widgets to both the sidebar, and the bottom (or footer) of the site. We also removed the OpenLab footer when this theme is activated in order to reduce the cluttered appearance of two footers.
  4. Previously, if you uploaded your own custom header image, there was an automatic transparent color overlay added to the image. We’ve removed this overlay so that the image will appear with the original colors. This means you’ll need to be careful that it doesn’t make the site title—which appears over the header image—unreadable.
  5. We enabled the featured image functionality, so you can upload a featured image for different pages and posts.

We made two improvements to the OpenLab Attribution plugin:

  1. The plugin is now network activated plugin so it’s automatically active on all sites.
  2. For block editor users, it’s now more visible in the block editor, so the button to add an attribution is on the top level of the block toolbar.

We made a few small fixes to the OpenLab Gradebook plugin:

  1. There was a bug causing letter grades with a ‘+’ or ‘-‘ to appear with only the letter grade visible in Firefox, and with the +/- slightly cut off in Chrome. This was just for the instructor view; students could see all grades with + or -.
  2. The rows in gradebooks with more than 5 students were becoming progressively more misaligned farther down the page.
  3. We added a deletion warning when deleting an assignment to double check before it’s actually removed. This will help prevent the accidental deletion of assignments from a gradebook.

New Plugins

  1. DCO Comment Attachment: This plugin allows commenters to attach files, such as images, or even PDFs, Word docs, and others, to their comments. There’s also automatic embedding for YouTube and Vimeo videos, as well as Twitter and Facebook posts. For security reasons, this functionality is only available to logged in members of the OpenLab.
  2. Wonder Gallery: This plugin allows you to create playlists and other galleries that include videos embedded from YouTube, Vimeo, and other hosts, as well as images, and posts from your site.
  3. NextGEN Gallery: This photo gallery plugin provides many different options for creating beautiful and responsive photo galleries.
  4. Category Tag Pages: This plugin allows you to add categories and tags to pages. Note that the categories and tags won’t appear on individual pages, as they do for posts, but the pages with categories or tags will appear in category and tag archives.

Accessibility Fixes

We made a few small accessibility fixes to improve color contrast ratios in the following themes:

  1. Hemmingway
  2. Lingonberry

As always, please contact us with any questions!