This Month on the OpenLab: March Release

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Image credit: “March Tree Branch” by _Alicja_

On March 19, we release version 1.7.30 of the OpenLab. It included a number of new features as well as few minor plugin updates and some bug fixes.

New Features

On the OpenLab Courses directory page, we added “Cloneable” as an option Cloneable dropdownunder the “Type” dropdown, so you can now search for courses that allow other OpenLab faculty to clone them.

In another cloning-related update, we made a change to the widget on sites with shared cloning enabled. Anyone who is not faculty, or faculty who are not logged in will now see the text, “Logged-in faculty members can clone this course.” Faculty who are logged in will continue to see a link to “Clone this Course.”

Sharing Widget

We also added a checkbox allowing site admins to control on a more fine-grained level what actions will send email notifications for Notify members checkboxDiscussion, Docs, Files, and Calendar.  Now, any time you add new or edit existing content, you can choose whether or not you want to send an email notification to all members of your group.

 

WP Broken Link Status Checker is a new plugin that allows you to run scans on your site to check for any links that no longer work.  This could be helpful especially for evergreen sites that include links to many external resources, such as OERs.

Bug Fixes

We fixed five bugs in this release.  One caused “Library” to stop appearing as a department choice under the School of Arts and Sciences, meaning there was no way to categorize Library courses.  Now, all projects, clubs, portfolios, and people can choose Library as an option under Arts and Sciences and/or Academic Affairs, and courses can choose Library under Arts and Sciences.  If you teach a Library course this semester, and weren’t able to properly categorize it, you can correct this by going into Profile > Settings, and then choose School: Arts and Sciences > Department: Library.

Another bug was causing the time reported for activity of different kinds in a group (e.g. blog post, comment, discussion post, new doc, etc) as five hours ahead of the correct time in daily and weekly digest email notifications.

There were two bugs fixed in the OpenLab Gradebook plugin.  One caused an issue for people who had cloned a course with Gradebook active on the source course.   The plugin on the new course didn’t allow them to save new gradebooks or add students to a new gradebook.  This issue is fixed for all newly cloned sites, but if you cloned a site prior to March 19 and are experiencing this issue, you can fix it by deactivating the Gradebook plugin and reactivating it.  The second issue was a conflict with the “Page Links To” plugin, which has been fixed.

We also fixed an accessibility issue with the Hemingway theme by adding labels for screen readers for two buttons that were missing the labels that identify the element as a button so users with screen readers are aware of its function.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

In the Spotlight: Anthony Sewell’s ePortfolio

This week, we spotlight a student site that brings humor, self-reflection and a flair for design to the online world of ePortfolios! Anthony Sewell’s ePortfolio  is full of great examples of how you can use the OpenLab to present yourself professionally online, but also let your personality shine through. Here are some highlights:

Anthony’s Portfolio Description on his portfolio profile page takes the time to address the reader directly, thanking them for visiting the site. But it does much, much more, and without being too wordy, still offers a compelling introduction of Anthony’s professional and academic background, as well as an overview of the content of his ePortfolio, which “share[s] with you my work on multiple media platforms.”

Anthony’s sense of humor permeates the site. You see it from the beginning, when reading the tagline for Anthony’s ePortfolio, which notes that he is “1 of 7,374,743,165 [humans] and counting.” But it’s also evident in his blog posts reflecting on his internship, and in the memes and pictures he posts.

This humor conveys Anthony’s personality, without ever overshadowing the professional tone and nature of his ePortfolio, which, from the main navigation menu, cleanly organizes pages with curated Academic Samples of coursework, a bio that includes a video presentation of himself at work, and sample sketches done in his free time. 

A sample sketch Anthony made on the subway.

These are all possible components of a robust ePortfolio. Ultimately, you decide what to showcase and what you believe best reflects your talent and career/ academic achievements. This ePortfolio does a nice job of presenting a wide variety of multimedia content and showcasing skills in graphic design, video editing, and writing.

Ready to start building your own ePortfolio? Check out Anthony’s site for inspiration!

In the Spotlight: Writing in the Workplace (ENG 2570)

This week, we’re spotlighting Professor Blain’s ENG 2570 Writing in the Workplace course, “an advanced composition course emphasizing writing used in business and industry.” The course introduces students to the principles of workplace ethnography, and scaffolds assignments so that students gain a range of technical and analytical writing skills directly applicable to many industries. Visiting this course site might of interest to students thinking about taking the course, as well as faculty/ staff whose courses/ projects are writing-intensive

Public Writing

Professor Blain’s course is public. For students, this means that key assignments involve public writing. Students are asked to post a range of written work, from reflective posts, to workplace memos, to collaborative reports on workplace outcomes. This kind of public writing is a great way to raise the stakes of coursework by widening the potential audience. Students are not just writing for a grade or for their instructor, but for the other students in the course who will read their posts, as well as for anyone in the broader City Tech community who might pop into the site. While this can be intimidating at first, Professor Blain uses many of tools and tricks of Open Digital Pedagogy to ease students into the task. First, using the PDF Embedder Premium plugin, she embeds PDFs spelling out clear guidelines for assignments into her site (see for example here). Students can download, print, or view the assignments guidelines directly from the course site. Second, she scaffolds assignments: the first post students write is a short paragraph in which they reflect on writing and can air their doubts, as well as practice including an image in their posts. Later work, like this virtual workplace ethnography, is more involved. About that virtual workplace ethnography—we particularly like that, to practice writing workplace memos, students first write about a workplace featured in a popular TV show or movie. This playfully grounds the assignment in a (more or less) shared popular culture, allowing students to relate to each other’s work when they read each other’s posts.

Organizing Menus

Organizing a site for a course that is this writing-intensive can be a challenge. The default OpenLab course template features only one “Blog” page where ALL posts are collated and rendered in reverse chronological order. When students post every week, this can get messy. It usually makes more sense, as Professor Blain has done, to separate out student written work by category and course unit. This can be done through “category archives”. Category archives collate all POSTS (not pages) which have been given a specific category (announcements, assignment #1, assignment #2, and final assignment for example) and displays them in reverse chronological order on the screen. This means that the most recent posts (ex. announcements made today) are at the top, while older posts (ex. announcements made last week) are pushed further down the feed. As Professor Blain has done, category archives can be inserted into the main menu so they are easily accessible to visitors of the course site. The “require category” plugin, which requires authors to select a category before publishing their post, is a great way to ensure that students use the categories the instructor has created and post their work to the correct place.

Organizing Site Content

This course site is a good example of a clean, straightforward site design that allows visitors to the site, including students, to easily find the information they’re looking for. Professor Blain achieves this first by keeping her main navigation menu brief: each menu item represents one of three course units. However, because of the many writing assignments required for a class like hers, she uses second-level drop down menus as well to list each of the category archives contained within a course unit. Drop down menus have some drawbacks, including that they are difficult to use on mobile phones—which are the devices most students use for OpenLab coursework. To provide an easy-to-navigate alternative, Professor Blain uses the “Navigation Menu” widget. This widget displays and links out to all category archives and pages as a vertical list in the course’s sidebar. This gives the user an overview of the content of the site and makes it easy to navigate to different parts of the site thereafter.

Check out the site and think through how you might a organize a writing-intensive course!

In the Spotlight: Mammoth.docx Converter

This week, we spotlight a new plugin that we believe will make your life easier: the Mammoth .docx converter!  This plugin allows you to more easily transfer content from Microsoft Word without losing formatting.

As a general rule, it is good practice to save copies of your pages, posts, (and homework assignments!) off the OpenLab, perhaps in Google docs, Microsoft Word, or some other text editor. It also best practice to paste content directly into pages and posts, rather than uploading bulky PDFs and Word Documents onto a site. However, the actual process of copying and pasting content into the WordPress post editor sometimes results in a frustrating loss of formatting. Headers, tables, bold, italics and lists have been known to vanish.

The new Mammoth.docx converter presents a solution! Content created in Microsoft Word can now be uploaded to the OpenLab through the plugin, and will automatically be converted into HTML and pasted into your post editor for you to publish online.

Using the plugin is easy. After you’ve activated it, you will see an option to use the Mammoth.docx converter at the bottom of the page in your post  editor. Click “choose file” to upload a Word document.

Once the upload is complete, you will see the content of the document appear in your post editor.

That’s it!  Keep in mind that the more formatting you include in your original Word document (e.g. headings, paragraph styles, links, lists, and text boxes), the better the formatting will translate in your posts and pages. This means minimal- if any- editing once you’ve uploaded your content. We hope this plugin will be useful to you and encourage you to try it with Word documents that have quite a bit of formatting, for example syllabi.

In the Spotlight: The City Tech Literary Arts Festival

This week, we’re spotlighting the City Tech Literary Arts Festival’s OpenLab site. The Literary Arts Festival is “a yearly celebration of literary accomplishments among City Tech’s students, staff, faculty, and community.” The Festival features both a writing competition and a featured writer who is invited to speak.

This year’s invited speaker is José Olivarez, a son of Mexican immigrants whose debut book of poems, Citizen Illegal is a finalist for the 2019 PEN America Literary Award. You can learn more about José Olivarez and find a link out to his personal website by going to the Featured Writer page of this year’s Literary Arts Festival.

But, equally important, City Tech students can and should submit their own work! The deadline for submitting to the writing competing is March 15, 2019 at 11:59 pm.

The submission categories are: poetry fiction, literary criticism, drama, literary advocacy, and non-fiction. This year, submissions are being accepted directly on the OpenLab site. Want to submit your work? Click here to do so. And make sure to check out some winning entries from 2018 for inspiration!

 

In the Spotlight: the City Tech Library’s Copyright Module


This week we’re spotlighting the City Tech Library’s Open Educational Resources (OER) Copyright Module. The module “covers copyright basics, gives an overview of creative commons licenses, and offers some best practices for using copyrighted and library licensed materials.” This site is an invaluable resource for faculty teaching OERs specifically and working in open digital spaces more broadly. Bookmark this site or make sure you to keep the link around! You’ll probably want (ummm, need) to consult the material on here more than once. The legal world of copyright is, well, complicated and instructors who teach online, in the open, have to learn to embrace its idiosyncrasies. Thankfully, this Copyright Module makes information easy to take in.

The clean structure of the site is helpful in knowing what you can expect of the module and where different information is located. A static homepage outlines and links out to the different module sections- which, conveniently, are each separate pages that be can navigated to from the main menu. This kind of repetition makes site content less easy to miss.

In order, the module sections are: copyright & fair use; creative commons licenses; library materials; and best practices. The first section on copyright & fair use keeps what could be very dense information concise and bulleted. It also demonstrates multimodal pedagogy by giving readers an alternative of watching a YouTube video on fair use rather than reading the written content. The creative commons licenses section links out to and describes resources for generating creative commons licenses, as well as searching these licenses to find one appropriate to the work at hand.

More generally, the module repeatedly illustrates how to effectively link out to external resources- that is, by annotating them! Consider how the following information is presented on the site: “Here are some FAQs about Creative Commons and the licenses that they offer.” Anyone reading this sentence will understand where they’ll be taken to when they click the link! These kinds of annotations equip the reader with what they need to know to pick and choose which of the links they should click, and what external resources they should take the time to look at. The module is rich with resources- and with links out to additional, external resources-but everything is presented in such a way that makes it easy to digest.

Finally, the module ends with… an interactive quiz! The Library makes good use of the WP-Pro-Quiz plugin, which allows you to create and embed quizzes directly into OpenLab sites.

The quiz is posted on the last page of the menu and is set up so that each of the eight quiz questions appear successively, one-at-a-time, only after the preceding question has been answered. Curious about the WP-Pro-Quiz plugin? Want to take the quiz yourself and put your knowledge of fair use and copyright to the test? Visit the site and thank the City Tech librarians!

This Month on the OpenLab: February Release

Image Credit: jolier

February 2019

On February 19, version 1.7.29 of the OpenLab was released. It included a few minor updates for plugins and, as well as a number of new features and some bug fixes.

New Features and Updates

We added a Pronouns field to member profiles, so OpenLab members can now include their preferred pronouns (e.g. she/her/hers) on their profile page.

We also made a change to Portfolio functionality, allowing Discussion, Docs, and Files to be activated on Portfolio Profiles.  To activate any of these tools, navigate to your Portfolio Profile > Settings (in the right-hand menu) > Settings (in the sub-menu at the top of the Settings page).  You can click the checkboxes for any of these tools you would like to activate.

OpenLab members may notice a new theme and new plugin available for activation on OpenLab sites.  The theme is called OpenLab Twenty Thirteen, which is a child theme of Twenty Thirteen.  For now the only difference between the two is that activating the theme also automatically activates the plugin, Breadcrumb NavXT, which adds breadcrumb links to pages, making it easier to navigate sites that might have a large number of pages. The plugin may be deactivated if you don’t want to use breadcrumbs, but it is only compatible with the OpenLab Twenty Thirteen and OpenLab Twenty Sixteen themes.

The plugin is Mammoth .docx converter, which allows you to more easily copy and paste from Microsoft Word without losing formatting.  Something to keep in mind with this plugin is that the more semantic your Word docs are (e.g. use of Heading and paragraph styles), the better the formatting will translate in your posts and pages.

Finally, we made a few accessibility improvements to the settings page for the Breadcrumb NavXT plugin.  These were incorporated by the plugin developer, so they are included for anyone who uses the latest version of the plugin in the broader WordPress community.

Bug Fixes

We fixed three bugs in this release.  One was preventing admins from sending messages to all members of a course, project, or club.  Another was causing the accessibility link in the footer to break, and a third fixed a problem where department and major were no longer required fields when editing a member profile.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

 

In the Spotlight: Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab

This week, as we prepare for our first Open Pedagogy Event of the semester,

Image Credit: Red Bull Curates by Laine Pub Company

we’d like to draw your attention once again to our in-house site, Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab. This site operates as a forum where OpenLab community members can ask questions and stimulate discussion related to teaching and learning on the OpenLab and in open digital environments more generally. The site is replete with carefully cullied resources you can draw on in your teaching, from examples of digital pedagogy assignments to provocative readings on the value of multimedia pedagogy and public writing to information on best practices and tips for open digital pedagogy.  The site’s blogroll is a great place for online discussion on building a curriculum that integrates the OpenLab; each month, our Pedagogy Profiles blog series highlights a different City Tech faculty member who is using the OpenLab in creative ways.

In conjunction with this site, our OpenLab team hosts Open Pedagogy Events, organized around particular themes and concerns related to teaching in open digital environments and more specifically with teaching on the OpenLab. This Thursday (2/21) we’re hosting our first Open Pedagogy event of the semester, Curating Student Work in ePortfolios. The event will be held in the Faculty Commons (N227) from 4:30-6:00pm. Refreshments will be served (thanks to the Provost’s Office for its generous support of this event!). Visit the event posting for more information and to RSVP! We hope to see you there! We also have a follow-up workshop that will look more closely at how to integrate curation into your use of the OpenLab (RSVP here!). Part-time faculty are eligible to receive a stipend for participation in the event and/or workshop.

As always, we encourage you to join the site, follow along and participate in the conversation!

In the Spotlight: First Year Learning Community Badges

When enrolling at City Tech, freshmen and transfer students can choose to participate in learning communities. As noted in the First Year Learning Communities (FYLC) OpenLab Site, FYLCs are “two or more courses with the same students enrolled, linked with an interdisciplinary theme, providing an innovative way for students to learn and form bonds with the college.In these courses, students receive support from peer mentors and faculty in navigating college life and approaching academic work. FYLC faculty have used the OpenLab to bolster the FYLC experience, creating course sites to support interdisciplinary learning/ teaching.  However, settling on site architecture that fruitfully connects multiple courses is not always easy. It is quite a different task from creating a discipline-specific,  individual course or project site. A good starting point in designing a FYLC site might be to look at and draw inspiration from previous FYLCs.

Now you might ask:

How can I find past FYLC sites to use as models in my own work?

Good question! As part of a growing “badging” effort to identify different types of courses on the OpenLab, the OpenLab has now has created “FYLC Badges” that indicate when a course  is a FYLC.

Look for these badges to identify FYLC!

These badges are also searchable. From the homepage, click on the magnifying glass in the upper right, and select courses.

On the Search page, all of the filters may be set to your interests, except “Select Type”; for that field you’ll want to select “First Year Learning Community”. This will pull up any and all FYLC that match the other filters you set.

 

Happy exploration!

 

 

 

In the Spotlight: 28,000 Members and Counting!

Image Credit: Bill Smith

Last semester, the OpenLab hit an impressing milestone, welcoming its 25,000th member at the start of the fall.  This term, the OpenLab reached an even more impressive 28,000 members: we continue our retrospective series here, looking back at how the OpenLab has grown and evolved since its inception in 2011. This growth was made possible by the many City Tech partners and stakeholders who participate in the platform, and push the site in new and exciting directions. A few shout-outs to some of our partners:

  • The OpenLab was created as part of the Title V grant, “A Living Laboratory: Revitalizing General Education for a 21st Century College of Technology.” The Living Lab faculty fellows helped to shape the early days of the OpenLab, and one of its culminating grant projects, the L4 (Living Lab Learning Library) resource exchange site, continues to grow on the OpenLab.

  • Faculty and staff have been building OER course sites on the OpenLab and have an OER Fellowship project site to coordinate their efforts. OER courses are identifiable through an OER badge, which appears on the avatar of the course or project. Courses and projects with an OER badge can also be searched for in course and project directories. You can read more about OER badges in our help section.

  • Students and faculty have been working together on math problems from the open source math homework site, WeBWorK, on the OpenLab WeBWorK site, developed as a part of the Title V grant, “Opening Gateways to Completion: Open Digital Pedagogies for Student Success in STEM.”  The site will be released publicly as a WordPress plugin at the end of the project.

  • The OpenLab has partnered with Commons in a Box, to produce an open platform for teaching and learning that anyone can use. Commons in a Box OpenLab recently launched, and greatly extends the public reach of the work we do here at City Tech.

  • As part of the HSI-STEM Digital Pathways grant, led by the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), in partnership with City Tech and John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and to support students enrolled in STEM courses- especially computer science and digital media arts and technology -BMCC will be one of the first institutions to use Commons in a Box OpenLab beginning in Spring 2019.

  • Open Pedagogy events and Office Hours have been generously hosted by the Faculty Commons and the Office of the Provost.
  • The OpenLab has been collaborating with Student Life & Development, on its programming and shared goals of student engagement and the student experience. We’ve run workshops in partnership with them (such as for Presenting Yourself Online and Clubs) Finally, the OpenLab has collaborated with FYLC and STEM Success to support student advancement.

Each new OpenLab initiative and partner has expanded the possibilities of what work can be curated, showcased, collaborated on and discussed on the platform. We’re excited to see much more of this work unfold in the future. There are, of course, many more OpenLab collaborators than could be named in this brief post.  Let’s keep the conversation going-reply to this post in a comment, and briefly describe OpenLab your site/ project (don’t forget to give us the link!). You are building the OpenLab, and we’d love to highlight your work!