In the Spotlight: Law 1101- Intro to Paralegal Studies

Header image from Professor Coughlin's Law 1101 site. An picture of two hands holding up a newly sprouting plant.

This week, we spotlight Professor Coughlin’s Law 1101 course, Intro to Paralegal Studies. The course is a great example of how instructors can use their OpenLab site as a dynamic syllabus, by which we mean a one-way communication tool with students. Here, Professor Coughlin provides students with all the information they need to complete their coursework, including a syllabus, class notes and materials, assignments, and answer keys for exams. This is a simple way to use the OpenLab that has a lot of benefits. Course materials live online at a URL students can bookmark and check regularly, and critical information is broken up into small, readable chunks. Site content is clearly labeled and organized in the main navigation menu: a student visiting the site will know at first glance where to retrieve what they need. A few other highlights from the course include:

  • Linking to important documents in multiple places. An advantage of using the OpenLab–and, really, any web platform–is that you do not have to think linearly. A course site is not like a book: information can be included and repeated in multiple places. In fact, repeating yourself–or, in Professor Coughlin’s case, linking to course documents in multiple places–is good practice: it helps ensure that key materials are prominent. We like that,on her Assignments page, Professor Coughlin links back to readings and notes found on the Class notes & materials page.
  • A dynamic home page. Professor Coughlin’s homepage is set to the course blogroll. Since she is using her course as a dynamic syllabus and is the only one posting to the site, her home page exclusively contains her announcements to students. This is a great way to make sure students know, on any given week, what’s on their plate for the course.
  • Using the Google Doc Embedder plugin to upload course documents. While it is best practice to create site content directly from your page/ post editor, it is also smart  for instructors to upload some key documents–such as their syllabus–to their site. This way, students or other site visitors can download and print the docs for themselves.

Thinking about using the OpenLab to teach? Check out Professor Coughlin’s Law 1101 course for a model for how to use a site effectively as a dynamic syllabus.

In the Spotlight: Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab

This week, as we prepare for our second Open Pedagogy Event of the semester, 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 (11/7) we’re hosting our second Open Pedagogy event of the semester, Access Pedagogy. The event will be held in the Faculty Commons (N227) from 4:30-6:00pm. Refreshments will be served (thanks to the Faculty Commons for its generous support of this event!). Visit the event posting for more information and to RSVP! We hope to see you there! We will also consider the theme of “access” throughout this year, focusing in particular on how can a commitment to access can augment and alter digital pedagogies. Part-time faculty are eligible to receive a stipend for participation in the event.

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

In the Spotlight: NYC Men Teach

The NYC men Teach logo.

This week, we spotlight the club site for the CUNY NYC  Men Teach program. At City Tech, the program “provides academic and financial support to… NYC Men Teach fellows” in the teacher degree programs in Math Education and Career and Technical Education. The program’s OpenLab site is well-organized and straightforward, and features all of the key information interested students need to get started. Below are some highlights:

Including Contact Information in Multiple Places

On an OpenLab club or project site, there can be no such thing as featuring contact information too many times. Visitors to the site may not navigate through all of its content, and including contact information in multiple places is a good way to ensure that interested parties know how to follow up. On the NYC  Men Teach site, we like that a “Club Contact” is linked to from the profile page, then again in the form of an email address on the home page, and a third time on the application page.  

Clear Titles for Pages

The NYC Mean teach site is intuitively organized and the pages are clearly labeled in the main navigation menu. From left to right, these pages include a home page that overviews the program, a page on Eligibility which lays out the criteria applicants musts meet, a page for prospective students to Apply, and a final page that offers guidelines on Teacher Certification Exam Prep. At first glance, a visitor to the site can read this navigation menu and know where to go for relevant content.

Linking out to Related Resources

Rather than cram too much detail into their club site, NYC Men Teach link out to other existing resources. For example, they link out to the Mathematics Education and the Career and Technical Teacher Education department sites, as well as the Office of the Mayor’s website about NYC Men Teach. They even include a link to the NYSTCE website registration page for the teacher certification exam. This is a great practice to follow. Linking out guides visitors toward the steps and tools they need to enter the program, but keeps the content on the site sparse enough to be easily digested. 

Overall, the NYC  Men Teach OpenLab site demonstrates how you can effectively build up your program’s web presence, providing your program participants and prospective applicants the information they need to get involved.

In the Spotlight: Nursing Case Management- Role and Process (NUR4030)

This week, we’re spotlighting Professor Thomas’ NUR4030 OER,  Case Management: Role and Process. The course  “focuses on innovative, integrated nursing case and care management models within the context of assessment, planning, collaboration, negotiation, and evaluation.” The course site is clean, simple, and well-organized, and is a great example an OpenLab OER.   

A Static Home Page

Professor Thomas has set the course’s homepage to a welcome page. There, visitors to the site can find a course description and an overview of course objectives. Note that this content is static: it is unlikely to change much throughout the semester and is therefore published as a page, rather than in the dynamic format of blog posts. This is a great way of setting up an OER, which is likely to serve as a one-way conversation between the site administrator and visitors.

Readings, Broken Down By Unit

While the blogosphere and social media worlds of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter have gotten most of us accustomed to long vertical scrolls, it’s still a good idea to break down content on course sites. After all, it is easier to  find information when it is featured in short pages and posts. Professor Thomas makes things intuitive for her students by creating a separate menu tab for course Readings. These are not simply listed on one page, but instead linked to in a drop-down menu in which each course unit represents a separate page. Each page contains links to and citations for the readings for that unit. This makes the coursework and flow for the OER completely unambiguous. 

Navigation Menu Widget

Finally, Professor Thomas makes great use of the Navigation Menu Widget in the site’s right-hand sidebar. This widget features links to all pages linked to from the site’s main navigation menu, including those linked to in the drop-down menu. This gives visitors to the site yet another quick overview of the OER’s content; it allows them to navigate to different parts of the site more easily and offers an alternative to the drop-down menu, which isn’t always easy to read on one’s phone!

Are you building an OER on the OpenLab? Need inspiration for your course or project site? Check out Professor Thomas’ course for inspiration!

This Month on the OpenLab: October 2019 Release

Plastic jack-o-lantern bucket
Cool plastic Jack-O-Lantern in Fort Greene” by Jack Szwergold is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

On October 15, we released version 1.7.36 of the OpenLab.

It was a small release, that included a few minor theme and plugin updates, as well as a change to the way group email subscription options are described, to help clarify the different options (e.g. All email, Daily digest, etc.).

We also retired the theme Twenty Fourteen because of accessibility issues.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

In the Spotlight: Add to My Portfolio

On the OpenLab, you can build your online portfolio, creating a personal site on which you display digital representations of your academic work, interests, and achievements. If you are a City Tech student, you may already have done this as part of your coursework. 

Over the summer, we created an ‘Add to My Portfolio’ button, which makes it easier to add work from courses, projects, or clubs to your portfolio. If you are a student, using this button will save you time as you populate your portfolio with content you have created on other sites. If you are faculty or staff, you can use this button as well, both to add content to your own portfolio and with your students who are developing their OpenLab ePortfolios.

How does the button work, you ask? Great question. Below, we walk you through the functionality, step-by-step.

Add to My Portfolio

If you have an OpenLab portfolio, you can turn on an ‘Add to My Portfolio’ button, which will appear on posts and comments you have created on other OpenLab sites.  This makes it easier to add work from courses, projects, or clubs to your portfolio.  

Enabling the ‘Add to Portfolio’ button

  1. Go to your Portfolio Profile > Settings, and then click Settings in the sub-menu at the top.
  1. Scroll down to the bottom where you’ll see the section, ‘Add to my Portfolio.’ Click the checkbox to enable this feature.

Adding a post or comment to your Portfolio

Once you have enabled the ‘Add to My Portfolio’ button, you will see it appear at the bottom of any post or comment you have created on any other OpenLab site.  

    1. Click the Add to My Portfolio button at the bottom of the post or comment you would like to add to your portfolio. 
    2. A window will pop up asking for a few details:
      1. Format: You can choose to add the content to your portfolio as a post or page. 
      2. Title: The title will automatically be the same as the title of the post you’re adding, but you can change this. If it’s a comment you’ll need to add a title.
      3. Citation: This cannot be edited.  It adds a citation at the top of the post with information about where the post was originally published.
      4. Annotation: You can add an annotation or leave this blank.  An annotation is a short description you can include to tell your reader about the content you’re adding to your portfolio.
          
    3. When you’re finished, click Add to Portfolio.
  1. After adding to your portfolio, you’ll see that the Add to Portfolio button can no longer be clicked, and will say “Added to my Portfolio.”
  2. The content will be saved in draft form on your portfolio as a post or page, depending on the format you chose.  

Publishing the new post or page on your Portfolio site

  1. To publish the content you just added to your portfolio, go to the Dashboard of your portfolio site, and then to Posts or Pages, depending on the format you chose.  You will see the new post or page listed as a draft.
  2. Click on the title of the post or page, where you can edit it or publish as it is.  You can find additional help on editing and publishing posts or pages in OpenLab Help.

Curious about the ‘Add to My Portfolio’ button? Enable it now and try it out on your own site!

Sources:

This page is a derivative of “OpenLab Help” used under CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0.

In the Spotlight: City Tech Guide

This week we spotlight the City Tech Guide, an OpenLab site designed as a resource for new City Tech students. For those of you who are just starting at City Tech this semester, this site is full of great information to help you navigate the sometimes-dizzying world of CUNY. Below are just a few highlights:

  • Under the Academics menu tab, you will find various resources to support your learning. These include guides for working with your academic adviser, a video resource for transfer students, and a video overview of CUNY curriculum requirements.
  • The Calendars menu tab links to several calendars that are useful to refer back to, including City Tech’s calendar and the Student Life calendar of activities. Checking these calendars often is a good way to stay on top of your City Tech schedule–and CUNY holidays!
  • A menu tab for Campus Resources links to information about key areas of City Tech life. A page on clubs can help you find student organizations in which you may want to participate. A Campus Map can guide you through the often-confusing City Tech buildings. And another page for Important College Websites provides links to sites you may want to bookmark, from the Library website to the website for the Financial Aid Office.

All-in-all, the City Tech Guide is a great resource for incoming students. Join the site and refer back to it often–it will make your first semester here at City Tech just a bit easier!

In the Spotlight: Mat1275 Algebra and Trigonometry Template

Mat1275 course profile page, including a brief description of the course.

This week, we spotlight the Mat1275 template course, which the Math department created to facilitate resource-sharing and cloning of the course among instructors. Such resource-sharing is a key way the OpenLab can help support open teaching and learning. Below, we focus on how the template site is built. We provide an overview that may be helpful to other departments wanting to create cloneable templates for their own introductory courses.

From the main menu, we see that the course’s homepage is set to the blogroll. This means that instructor and student posts will be featured on the home page in reverse chronological order. The Math department course uses a “template blogroll” in an innovative way. They create a first post, pinned prominently to the top of the page, which is a “Welcome post” directed not at students in potential Mat1275 courses but at instructors copying the template. The post gives instructions on how to clone the course. To make clear that these should be deleted once the course has been cloned, they are written in red. 

Another template post is also featured on the site. It outlines a potential first assignment for Mat1275, which is simply to have students introduce themselves on the course site. Here too, the post has clear instructions which are worth citing at length: 

 “Write a comment in reply to this post (scroll to the bottom to find the “Leave a Reply” box).  Your comment should be at least 2 paragraphs in length. In the first paragraph, introduce yourself in whatever way you wish (what do you want your classmates to know about you?).  In the second paragraph, choose ONE of the following two topics and write a response. Don’t forget to tell us which topic you chose. Topics (choose ONE).

  1. Was math ever your favorite subject? If so, when was it? What about math made it your favorite? If math has never been your favorite subject, what about it do you not like?
  2. Sometimes people can recognize a time when their opinion of math dramatically changed either for the better or the worse. Tell us about it.”

The main menu links to a page in which instructors can write a brief description “About the Course.” This is a top-level page that, in a drop-down menu, links to other pages for the course syllabus, the course calendar, and course assignments. To make things easier for instructors cloning the template, a sample syllabus has already been drafted. Parts that will need to be customized (e.g. the grading guidelines) are, again, written in red. Another noteworthy detail here is that the course assignments page is in fact not a static page, but a category archive called “assignments.” Using a dynamic blogroll for assignments is useful if your coursework is interactive and will involve students commenting on instructor posts, or creating new posts themselves.

Finally, the template includes a top-level page for resources. A range of items appear in this drop-down menu from instructions on how to use WebWork to video resources to links to different City Tech offices that offer tutoring. Such resources are invaluable; using an OpenLab site to link out to them is a great strategy to make sure that students know that there are various tools to support them in their learning.

This template then, provides a rich starting point for Mat 1275 instructors. Those who clone the course will have a basic site architecture to work with. They will also have foundational content, from a model syllabus to sample assignments to key resources with which to provide students. The site is a great example of how to use the OpenLab to facilitate remixing and copying of course sites. A template like this, which can be customized throughout the semesters, gives departments a durable, open, and highly usable resource to support instructors. Thinking about creating a template site for another core course? Check out the Mat1275 template course for inspiration.

In the Spotlight: Introduction to Accessibility

Header image from the Intro to Accessibility Module. The image is a welcome sign, spelled out with large letters in contrasting colors.

This semester, we are focusing on the theme of access. How can open, digital pedagogies improve student access to learning? How can we ensure course materials and pedagogical resources are accessible to all students? The library’s module, Introduction to Accessibility, provides useful guidelines.

The module is neatly organized. From the main menu,  it contains pages covering: What is Accessibility; Building Blocks; Organization & Layout; Media; Resources and Tools. In this post, we focus crucial content from each page.

What is Accessibility?

This page features a clear definition of accessibility, stating “accessibility means that no one is prevented from engaging with the materials you create because of a disability of any kind. No one will need to request a special accommodation to use your materials because they will already be accessible to anyone.”

Building Blocks

This page walks the reader through different OpenLab site building blocks: Themes, Plugins, and Widgets. It explains how each of these can be made accessible. Note here that the OpenLab only offers accessible themes: “users can press ‘tab’ to skip to the main content on any page. Buttons are labeled to make sense when read aloud by a screen reader.” And, “default colors adhere to accessible contrast ratios.” 

With plugins, however, you will have to be more careful. There are many plugins available on the OpenLab and these have varying levels of accessibility. The module recommends checking a plugin’s accessibility before deciding to use it.

Organization & Layout

This page walks the reader through how to organize information on a site so that it remains accessible. The questions answered include: how to chunk out text and media? How to improve readability and legibility? What is plain language and why use it? 

There is much useful information on this page, and we really recommend you read through all of it. Using the OpenLab to teach is a wonderful way to make course content and resources available to students outside of the classroom. But organizing a content-rich OpenLab site is not always easy. Many of us end up with pages with slightly too much text. Or we end up uploading PDFs and Word Docs containing crucial course content. These kinds of practices can violate accessibility standards, and the information in this module can help ensure you are meeting all of your students’ accessibility rights.

Media

This page provides useful guidelines on making media accessible. It covers things like alt-text, captioning, and autoplay. It also includes recommendations of media platforms to use for embedding videos and audio content into your site.

Resources & Tools

Finally, the module ends with a page that features additional resources and tools. These include CUNY-specific resources, OpenLab resources, and tools to test web accessibility on your site.

All-in-all, this Accessibility module contains invaluable information. We recommend you bookmark it and come back to it whenever you create a new OpenLab site. Best practices to augment student access to learning are always evolving: this module is great resource to make sure you stay up to date!

This Month on the OpenLab: September Release

boxes of apples at the farmer's market
apples” by Night Heron is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND.

On September 17, we released version 1.7.35 of the OpenLab. It included some new features, as well as few minor plugin updates and bug fixes.

New Features and Changes

There were three new features or changes to current functionality included this release:

  1. There’s a new widget available for use on OpenLab sites called Creative Commons License. We built it based on the widget in use on the CUNY Academic Commons, which allows site admins to choose a Creative Commons license to display in their site’s sidebar. Although all content on the OpenLab is automatically licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license, this allows site members to display a license more prominently on their own site, or to choose a different license.
  2. We added explanatory text on the OpenLab signup page beneath the field for username to clarify two things: (1) When signing up for the OpenLab, members don’t need to use their real name. (2) Usernames will be visible in the URL of a member’s profile and cannot be changed. For more general information, read the Open Road post, Privacy in Open Learning.
  3. We retired the PDF Embedder Premium Plugin, due to accessibility and usability issues. It will continue to work on sites where it’s already activated but will no longer be available for activation on new sites.

Bug Fixes

We fixed four small bugs in this release:

  1. There was an issue with the OpenLab Gradebook plugin causing special characters (e.g. accents or other characters, such as å, é, or ã) to appear incorrectly in the downloaded spreadsheet on Mac computers, due to different CSV encoding on Macs.
  2. Another Gradebook issue affecting Mac users was that CSVs created in the Apple program, “Numbers” could not be uploaded into a gradebook, also due to different CSV encoding in Numbers.
  3. We fixed a bug that was affecting certain sites cloned from a Math Department template site. When the TablePress plugin was activated on these sites, the site admin was not able to see the TablePress Settings page.
  4. The OpenLab logo that appears on the sign in page for private sites was incorrectly linked to wordpress.org. It now links to the OpenLab homepage.

As always, please contact us with any questions!