In the Spotlight: The Sixth Annual City Tech Science Fiction Symposium

This week, we spotlight the OpenLab site for Science Fiction at City Tech! The Sixth Annual City Tech Science Fiction Symposium will take place on Thursday, December 9, 2021, 9:00AM-5:00PM. This year’s event is on “Access and SF.” In addition to paper presentation sessions and a research discussion panel, Analog Science Fiction and Fact Magazine is hosting a writer’s panel featuring Alec Nevala-Lee, Marie Vibbert, and Chelsea Obodoechina, and announcing the winner of the first Analog Award for Emerging Black Voices. The event will take place via a Zoom Webinar, and it is free and open to the public.

The program and registration information is available on the Science Fiction at City Tech OpenLab Site. This year’s symposium is co-organized by Jill Belli, Wanett Clyde, Jason W. Ellis, Lucas Kwong, and A. Lavelle Porter.

In the Spotlight: Finding Inspiration on the OpenLab

Welcome back from the holiday break! We’ve reached that time of year where things are busy, but the days are short. Speaking at least for myself, I know I tend to have to fight a bit of inertia. In this edition of the Spotlight, we’re spotlighting one way to get inspiration and learn cool things you can do on the OpenLab without feeling overwhelmed. What is it? The Spotlight itself!

What is the Spotlight?

Every Monday, we feature a different site, project, or activity that someone is doing on the OpenLab that we’ve specially selected for you to check out. For example, last semester, we Spotlighted:

The OpenLab Tutorial for Students page (recommended for students and anyone interested in building online tutorials)
The Student Technology Survey (recommended for all faculty teaching online)
The Fifth Annual Science Fiction Symposium (recommended for anyone who might want to host an event using the OpenLab)
The Experiential Art and Design Club (recommended for students running student organizations)

However, we also suggest checking out Spotlighted sites that don’t directly relate to what you want to do on the OpenLab. For example, in my spotlight of the Connect Days template, I explain some design choices the creators made that help make the site work so well as an admissions tool, such as an easy-to-digest home page, profiles to help prospective students get a sense for who is in each academic department, and multimedia tours.

How Else Can You Use the Spotlight?

Whether you’re faculty, staff, or a student, you can also check out our Spotlight archive to look for other sites on the OpenLab specifically tailored to your interests.

Our Student Archive contains featured course sites so that you can preview classes you might want to take in the future, tips for professional development and presenting yourself online, learning resources, and sites created by other students.

Faculty and Staff:
Our Faculty and Staff Archive is arranged to make it easy to find inspiration for online pedagogy and class sites across disciplines, tips for how to guide students in making e-portfolios for your classes, community opportunities at City Tech, and tips for publicizing and coordinating your scholarship!

What Else is on the Open Road?

Aside from the Spotlight, this OpenLab site also contains OpenLab News, so you can learn about new features and our upcoming events, information on how to attend our OpenLab Open Hours, and screencasts for audiovisual guidance on the nuts and bolts of editing your OpenLab site.

You can always see our Spotlighted content for the week on the home page of the OpenLab, or you can join our project profile to get updates sent directly to your email. We hope you’ll come back each week to see all of the cool stuff your colleagues and classmates are doing on the OpenLab!

This Month on the OpenLab: November 2021 Release

Kitten gnawing on stem of a large squash.
Image by guvo59 is licensed under  CC0.

On November 16, 2021 we released version 1.7.56 of the OpenLab. It included updates, a new plugin, and a few bug fixes.


On Course, Project, Club, and Portfolio sites, we removed the small icon next to the Profile link in the menu because it didn’t appear consistently across all themes. Now, you’ll see brackets around the link text. For example: [Course Profile] 

The ‘Acknowledgements’ widget that appears on a site after it is cloned via shared cloning was not visible in Dashboard > Widgets on non-cloned sites. We made it visible on all sites, so if you have acknowledgements on your group profile that you want to display on the site, you can activate the widget.

We applied minor updates to a few plugins.

New Plugin

We added a new plugin called Top Authors, which allows you to activate a widget listing all authors on your site. This may be especially useful for course sites, to provide an easy way to access the archive of posts for each student. 

Bug Fixes

Hemingway theme: We fixed a few issues with this theme: 

  1. The sidebar was not appearing on mobile devices, meaning that anything in a sidebar widget was not accessible. The sidebar is now appearing at the bottom of the screen on mobile.
  2. When highlighting text in a comment box, the highlight color was nearly the same as the background color of the box, making it difficult to tell what text was highlighted. We changed the highlight color so it is visible.
  3. We fixed an accessibility error caused by a recent update.

Acknowledgements: There were a few minor inconsistencies in the way acknowledgements appeared on course vs. project and club profiles.

Watu Pro Plugin: Previously created quizzes were not appearing properly in the ‘Quizzes’ section of the plugin Dashboard.  

As always, please contact us with any questions!

In the Spotlight: Block Editor Workflow, Pt. 2 of 3

back alley
Photo by Timothy Vollmer on Flickr.

This week, we spotlight how to create reusable blocks in your block editor. What is a reusable block, you ask? Great question! A reusable block is a way to easily access content that repeats on your site. For example, do your assignments frequently end with the same set of instructions (e.g. Please post by Sunday at midnight. Make sure to include relevant citations and end your post with a discussion question to the class)? Does your club frequently post reminders about when and where to meet? This is content that you can save as a reusable block. This will save you from having to create the content anew or copying and pasting it.

To create a reusable block:

  1. Select a block.
  2. Click on the three dots that appear in the toolbar.
  3. Click Add to Reusable blocks.
  4. Give the block a name.
  5. Click Save.

When you want to add your reusable block to a page or post, you can retrieve it by:

  1. Typing a forward slash in your editor, followed by the block’s name (e.g. /assignment block).
  2. Finding it in your block toolbar.

You can learn more about reusable blocks here

Ready to try your hand at this? Feel free to reply to this post if you have any trouble!

In the Spotlight: Open Pedagogy

In conjunction with our first Open Pedagogy Event of the semester, this week we’re spotlighting 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. This site is a good place to find ideas for digital pedagogy assignments, access information on best practices and tips for open digital pedagogy, and engage other faculty about how teaching on the OpenLab changes their curriculum and classroom environments and relations.

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 (11/11) we’re hosting our first Open Pedagogy event of the semester, on Ungrading. Ungrading and its accompanying strategies offer one way to mitigate the harm and exhaustion of the pandemc. Ungrading is essentially student-centered and student-led, demanding that we engage critically with the power dynamics of the classroom. By incorporating grading policies that center students’ goals, hold space for critical self-reflection, and value the process of learning over a product, we can practice equity in our evaluation criteria.

The event will be held via Zoom from 4:00-6:00pm. Visit the event posting for more information and to RSVP! We hope to see you there!

In conclusion, we encourage to join the site, and follow along and participate in the conversation!

In the Spotlight: Plan Week 2021

PLAN Week Site Header Image

PLAN week is upon us! From November 1-5, students can meet with advisors to plan their next steps at City Tech. The PLAN week OpenLab site has all the information you need, “from choosing classes and learning how to register to finding out where to get support and make connections within the college.” 

You can make also learn more by going to academic advising website. The PLAN week committee recommends you spend 20-30 minutes a day this week planning your academic trajectory. You can start today by watching this short video introduction to advising.

Make sure to check the site out, and happy planning!

In the Spotlight: Anne Marie Sowder’s Portfolio

This week, we spotlight Anne Marie Sowder’s OpenLab Portfolio, which highlights her teaching, service and research in innovative ways. It can serve as a great model for faculty who want to use the OpenLab to communicate their accomplishments to colleagues, students and employers. Some things to note about the portfolio:

  • The Welcome page begins by highlighting Professor Sowder’s teaching! Though the main menu links out to her full Teaching Portfolio, Professor Sowder gives readers a sense of who she is as an educator on the landing page. Beginning with her teaching experience signals to the reader that this work is just as important as her research. Smartly, her teaching goals are listed in concise bullet point form, and readers are pointed to the Teaching Portfolio if they would like to know more.

  • The Teaching Portfolio is complete with syllabi, student evaluations, and a teaching philosophy. But I particularly love that Professor Sowder’s Student Researchers are highlighted as well! On the one hand, one of the best ways to communicate to the outside world who you are as an educator is to convey who your students are. On the other hand, students deserve acknowledgement for all of the contributions they make to faculty projects: this is a lovely way to give them the credit that they are due.
  • A research statement can be a lot to take in. But on her Research & Production page, Professor Sowder smartly bolds the information that is most important for readers to know: “I specialize in the analysis of past building practices (recent and distant past) in service of creating a stronger and more resilient built environment”. As evidence, Professor Sowder then links out to publications and  just as importantly, provides well-captioned images of the projects she has worked on.

All in all, this is a strong model of a faculty portfolio that mixes visual elements with a clear and concise narrative. It paints a vivid picture of Professor Sowder’s work and contributions! Visit Anne Marie Sowder’s site if you would like to know more.

This Month on the OpenLab: October 2021 Release

Rabbit in between two pumpkins.
Halloween Bunny” by johncatral is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

On October 19, 2021 we released version 1.7.55 of the OpenLab. It included a new quiz plugin, updates to existing plugins, and a few bug fixes. We also added .docx and .xlsx files to the types allowed for upload on OpenLab sites (.doc and .xls were already permitted).


The new quiz plugin is called WatuPro, and has many features, including the ability to:

  • Use images in questions and answer choices
  • Use LaTeX in the questions and answer choices
  • Mix graded and ungraded questions
  • Show a progress bar for quiz takers
  • Randomize the question order
  • Show correct/incorrect answers on results page or after each question
  • Export to CSV

OpenLab help documentation is coming soon! In the meantime, the plugin site has a thorough user manual.

In addition to the usual minor updates, we updated Gravity Forms and all Gravity Forms add-on plugins. The Gravity Forms updates fixed some issues in the Quiz and Dropbox plugins caused by the outdated versions.

We also retired Gravity Perks, and its associated GP Media Library plugin. These will still be visible on sites where they’re activated, but we recommend that you deactivate them because we’ll no longer be able to apply updates, and over time this may cause issues.

Bug Fixes

We fixed the following bugs:

  • In OpenLab Gradebook, sometimes after creating a new gradebook and attempting to add all users, only a single user called “John Doe” was added.
  • The Akismet plugin (used for spam prevention) was showing an error message on certain sites.
  • Some site admins were experiencing an issue with duplicate comments being submitted on their sites. The fix included in this release should address that problem.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

In the Spotlight: Block Editor Workflow, Pt. 1 of 3

Over the next two months, we will be sharing tips and tricks to using the new(ish) block editor. These posts will be short and focus on just one best practice at a time, giving you space to experiment. 

If you’ve tried your hand at the block editor already, you know there are multiple ways to add new blocks to a page or post. We find, however, that one of the best ways to add a new type of block is to type a forward slash followed by the block name. For example, as pictured below, “/image” or “/heading”.

Then, choose the type of block you want to use. That’s it! This is an easy way to avoid the “pointing and clicking” options, which can interrupt your writing process. Please note though that this only works if you have no other text in the block! 

We hope this was helpful. Please reach back out to us here if you run into trouble! 

WeBWorK Q&A: New WordPress plugin for community-powered Math homework help

We’re excited to announce the release of WeBWorK Q&A, a free WordPress plugin that creates a community forum where students can get help with WeBWorK problems.

WeBWorK Q&A brings together two powerful free and open source platforms: WordPress’s publishing software powers 42% of sites on the internet, and WeBWorK is a widely-adopted platform used to give online assignments in math and science courses. 

The plugin is based on work that’s been happening here on the OpenLab for a while as part of the Opening Gateways project. Some of you may have used the OpenLab’s version of the software on the WeBWorK on the OpenLab site. 

Now we’ve packaged up this software and made it available for anyone in the world to use! 

To find out more, check out the official announcement on the project website.