This Month on the OpenLab: February 2024 Release

Orange fritillary butterfly with open wings on a bright yellow, pink, and orange lantana flower.
Valentine’s – a fritillary heart, by Vicki DeLoach, is licensed under CC ​​BY-NC-ND.

On February 13, we released version 1.7.74 of the OpenLab. It included a new theme, a few minor plugin and theme updates, and a bug fix.

New theme

We added a new theme called Typology. It allows for a lot of customization in Dashboard > Theme Options, but also looks good as soon as you activate it, without needing to make any changes. 

Help documentation for the theme is coming soon, but there’s also good documentation from the theme authors. 

Bug fix and other updates

There was a bug in the Discussion forum that appears on a Course, Project, or Club profile that was preventing any pages beyond the first page of discussion from showing. This has been fixed.

We made a few small text changes on the sign up page. One was to clarify that when we ask for your email address to sign up it won’t be displayed publicly on your Profile. We also adjusted the text in the avatar upload section to make it more clear that an avatar doesn’t have to be a picture of yourself – it can be anything that represents you or your interests. 

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As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: January 2024 Release

Cat bounding through the snow with ears back.

On January 23 we released version 1.7.73 of the OpenLab. It included some new features, as well as updates to all existing themes and plugins, including BuddyPress and WordPress, the two primary plugins that power the OpenLab. 

New Features and Functionality

We created additional post privacy options that appear on public sites, allowing you to choose from three different privacy options, for more fine-grained visibility choices when working in the open: 

  • Everyone: This is the default setting, which matches the setting of the open site. 
  • Site members: Only logged-in members of the site can see the post. 
  • OpenLab members: Only logged-in members of the OpenLab can see the post.

You don’t need to activate anything. These options will appear automatically when a site is set to either “Allow search engines to index” or “Ask search engines not to index this site.”

Additional privacy options, as described above.

We added a space for uploading an avatar when people first create an OpenLab account. We’re hoping this will encourage more members to add an avatar to their profile. It doesn’t have to be a picture of yourself – it can be a pet, a drawing, a photograph, or anything!

During the process of portfolio creation, the name and URL of the portfolio has always autofilled with the creator’s first initial and last name. It was possible to change it, but most people did not. In order to better protect members’ privacy and support people’s autonomy in how they choose to be identified on the OpenLab, we removed these default values so that portfolio title and URL must be filled in at the time of creation. People can choose to use their real name or their Display Name, which may not be the same. 

Plugins

We added four new plugins, and retired one plugin, CM Tooltip Glossary, in favor of a more accessible glossary plugin. The new plugins are:

TranslatePress 
We recently added the GTranslate plugin, which allows you to add an automatic translation option to your site. TranslatePress allows you to translate it manually, for a more accurate translation.

Reading Time WP 
This plugin adds an estimated reading time to posts and pages. 

WP Reading Progress 
Used alone or together with Reading Time WP, this plugin adds a progress bar to posts and pages, indicating to the reader how far along they are in the text.

Name Directory 
This plugin allows you to create a glossary, or multiple glossaries for your site. You can also allow others to submit glossary entries. 

Bug Fixes

We fixed an issue where the ‘Favorites’ dropdown in the OpenLab Toolbar was being skipped when navigating the site with a keyboard.

We made a few fixes to the OpenLab Attributions plugin to improve keyboard navigation, and to fix an issue preventing existing attributions from being edited.

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As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: November 2023 Release

Cardinal sitting on a railing.
Autumn Antics by  likeaduck is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND.

On November 15 we released version 1.7.72 of the OpenLab. It included one feature improvement, minor theme and plugin updates, accessibility improvements, and a bug fix.

Adding social media to your profile

In the August release, we introduced a new way to add social media links to your profile. In this release, we improved the mobile interface so the experience is cleaner and easier to use.

Fixes

We made a number of small accessibility fixes around the site, to improve the experience for people using screen readers. 

We also fixed a bug in portfolio creation causing the template chooser containing available site templates to disappear when a template category was chosen from the dropdown menu.


As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: October 2023 Release

On October 11 we released version 1.7.70 of the OpenLab. It included improvements to new features, minor theme and plugin updates, some retired plugins, and a few bug fixes.

Commenting

When embedding an image in a comment, we added a space to include an alt text description of the image.

We also made some improvements to the way links are added to make it a smoother experience.

OpenLab Connections

We made a few improvements to OpenLab Connections

  • Added a notification to show when a change to the content you’re sharing with other groups has been made
  • Clarified when invitations are pending or there’s an outstanding invitation to accept
  • Improved the accuracy when searching for groups to send a connection invite

Retired plugins

We retired a number of plugins that are no longer being supported or had other issues: 

  • WP Broken Link Status Checker (Broken Link Checker is a replacement for this)
  • Edge Suite 
  • Papercite 
  • Watu Quiz 
  • Quiz Maker 

Bug fixes

We made some small accessibility fixes around the site, mainly to improve the structure of headings on a few pages.

The Reckoning assessment plugin added in the August release was not visible in the site Dashboard. It now appears, and can be activated in Dashboard > Plugins. 

We fixed an issue causing the timestamps in email notifications to be 4 hours ahead of the actual time of site activity.

During Course, Project, Club, creation there was an incorrect error message that could appear when choosing the URL for a site. If there were invalid characters entered, the message would say “Sorry, that URL is already taken.” This has been fixed, and we’ve also made a change so that if spaces are included in a URL, instead of generating an error message they will be automatically converted to dashes. 


As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: August 2023 Release

Dog with green life vest jumping in a wave.
Prepare for landing” by Nathan Rupert is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND.

On August 17 we released version 1.7.69 of the OpenLab. It included many new features, as well as updates to all existing themes and plugins, including BuddyPress and WordPress, the two primary plugins that power the OpenLab. 

New features

Choose a Template for your Site!

When you create a new Course, Project, Club, or Portfolio, the site created uses a template that is appropriate for each type of site. For example, new Course sites come with pre-created pages for Syllabus, Assignments, etc. Now, instead of one template for each type of site, there can be multiple templates for different types of Course, Project, Club, or Portfolio Sites. For example, there are two templates for Course sites: Interactive, intended for use with active student posting and commenting, and Informational, for sites containing course materials, with instructor posts. You can choose the type of site template you want to use when you’re creating your new Site. Templates for Projects, Clubs, and Portfolios are coming soon! Learn more in OpenLab Help.

Collaboration Tools

When you create a new Course, Project, or Club, you now have the choice to activate the collaboration tools that appear on the Profile of your group: Discussion, Docs, File Library, and Announcements. Announcements is enabled by default, but you can enable or disable any of the tools during creation, or at any time in Profile > Settings.

Collaboration tools in Group Creation and Settings.

Add to Portfolio

If you have an OpenLab Portfolio, you can turn on an ‘Add to My Portfolio’ button that makes it easier to add work from Courses, Projects, or Clubs to your Portfolio. This Add to Portfolio feature has been around for a while, but many OpenLab members aren’t aware of it. To make it more visible, we’ve added a checkbox to enable or disable it in the first step of Portfolio creation. It can still be found in Portfolio Profile > Settings, where you can enable or disable it at any time.

Option to hide OpenLab Toolbar on Sites

Currently, there’s an OpenLab toolbar that appears at the top of your Course, Project, Club, or Portfolio site. If you would like to hide that toolbar for site visitors who are not logged in (for example, potential employers who are viewing your ePortfolio), there’s now a checkbox where you can do that in Profile > Settings. Logged in OpenLab members will always see the toolbar, as it provides important links to the Dashboard (for site members) or back to other parts of the OpenLab. 

Checkbox to Show WordPress admin bar to non-logged-in visitors

Activity Widget & Block

In the January 2023 release, we introduced the Activity page, which appears on every Course, Project, and Club Profile. It includes all activity and can be filtered by type (posts, comments, docs, etc). After feedback from OpenLab members, we created a version of this activity feed that can be included on a Course, Project, or Club Site. This can be done by adding the OpenLab Activity block to a post or page, or the OpenLab Activity widget to the sidebar or footer of your site. Learn more in OpenLab Help.

Non-active Status for Courses, Projects, Clubs, and Portfolios

This new feature allows admins of a Course, Project, Club, or Portfolio to switch it to ‘Not Active’ status if it’s no longer being actively used. This status change means that new members are not able to join or request membership, unless invited by an admin. A notice will be added to the profile and it will display on the last page of My OpenLab > My Courses, Projects, or Clubs. Faculty may wish to set past courses to ‘Not Active’; that way course materials can remain open and available to the community but students won’t be able to join a past course by mistake. Learn more in OpenLab Help.

OpenLab Connections

OpenLab Connections is a new feature that allows you to link related Courses, Projects, or Clubs and share information between them. For instance, members of one course section can follow activity from a connected section without needing to become members of that section (private content will not be shared). Learn more in OpenLab Help.

Membership Privacy in a Course, Project, or Club

This feature allows OpenLab members to hide their membership in a particular Course, Project, or Club, so that it doesn’t appear to others on their profile, and their activity doesn’t appear in activity feeds around the OpenLab. For example, perhaps you joined a Beanie Babies Collectors club, but don’t necessarily want to advertise your love of Beanie Babies to anyone who views your profile. You could switch your membership to private, and no one would see the membership on your OpenLab Profile.

Rich text formatting options for Discussion

We added rich text formatting for Discussion forum posts and replies. This makes it easier to add images and other text formatting to Discussion.

Improvements to image embedding in Site comments

After gathering more information about how people are using media embedding in comments (introduced in the January 2023 release), we made some improvements to this feature to make it clear when images embed properly. When you click on the image embed icon in the comment editor, and paste in the URL for an image, instead of seeing the URL, you’ll now see the image embedded in the comment editor itself. If embedding isn’t supported for the image you’re using, you will just see the URL appear in the comment editor. 

Image embed icon
Using the image embed icon
Image embedded in comment editor
Image is embedded in comment editor

You can now also embed images from the Site’s Media Library and the Files Library on the Profile. Just click the image embed icon and paste the URL for images saved in either of these places. 

Member Profile and My OpenLab improvements

We changed the interface for adding social links to your profile, and updated the list of platforms. We also added Display Name to the top of the profile to make it more prominent. As a reminder, Display Name is the name that you choose to use on the OpenLab. You don’t have to use your real name, unless you want to! (Learn more about privacy on the OpenLab.)

We cleaned up the design of the page in My OpenLab where you can invite new members to the OpenLab (My Invitations > Invite New Members). Now instead of seeing a long list of your Courses, Projects, and Clubs that you can invite the new member to, you can search for them instead.

Embedding for Padlet, Geogebra, and Desmos

After a number of requests for Padlet embedding, we’re happy to have been able to add it in this release. You can find instructions in OpenLab Help.

We’ve made some improvements to the appearance of Geogebra and Desmos embeds in a page or post. 

OpenLab Calendar

In preparation for better integration of City Tech campus-wide calendars, we removed the OpenLab Calendar that used to appear in the About section of the site. Soon we’ll be adding a feed for the campus-wide news, events, and alerts so it’s easier to find the information you need in one place. And there is still a calendar included on the Profile of all Courses, Projects, and Clubs.

Plugins

We added six new plugins, and made improvements to the two OpenLab grading plugins. 

New plugins

Broken Link Checker is the new and improved version of WP Broken Link Status Checker. You can use it to scan for and alert you to broken links on your site.

Editoria11y Accessibility Checker, developed and maintained by Princeton University’s Web Development Services team, checks your posts and pages for accessibility issues, and displays any existing issues with a thorough description of what they are and how you can address them. It is also helpful as a learning tool, providing easy-to-understand information about making your site more accessible. 

GTranslate allows you to use Google Translate to offer versions of your website in different languages, using Google Translate’s automatic translation service. You can add a widget with a dropdown allowing visitors to choose their language. 

Reckoning is an assessment plugin developed for Blogs@Baruch, and built on by the CUNY Academic Commons, that we’ve brought over to the OpenLab. Made for Course Sites, it allows the instructor to view all member posts and comments in one place. It also incorporates grades from WP Grade Comments, and allows you to export all data to CSV. 

WeBWorK Problem Embed is a new mathematics plugin created as part of City Tech’s “Connect the DOTS” grant that allows faculty to embed WeBWorK math problems on an OpenLab site. Students can interact with the problem directly on the site, rather than having to navigate away to the WeBWorK site.

Improvements

We made a few changes to WP Grade Comments to clarify when a private vs. public comment is being made. Now, whenever a grade is included, the comment is automatically private. In addition, we’ve added a checkbox for private comments for post authors as well as admins to ensure no one accidentally leaves a public reply to a private comment.   

In OpenLab Gradebook, we updated the options for Midterm Grade to incorporate the recent changes in City Tech’s new grading scale.


As always, please contact us with any questions!

Annotation in Teaching and Learning

Cat laying on its back with its eyes open

I hope everyone is hanging in there as the semester wraps up!

We’re trying to understand more about how OpenLab members are using annotation, and what people’s needs might be.

If you’ve used an annotation tool in your teaching or other work, we would appreciate if you could take a moment to fill out a short survey about annotation. (Please note that if you’re not already logged into the OpenLab, you’ll be prompted to log in to fill out the survey.)

Many thanks!

This Month on the OpenLab: April 2023 Release

Cat looking sleepy with peach blossoms behind it.
Sakura cat by tanakawho is licensed under CC BY-NC.

On April 12 we released version 1.7.68 of the OpenLab. It included a new plugin, support for embedding Yuja videos, and number of bug fixes.

New features

Yuja videos can now be embedded on OpenLab sites. City Tech has its own Yuja site, so members of the City Tech community can upload videos to embed on their OpenLab sites. To embed a video, simply paste the URL as you would for YouTube or Vimeo.

TablePress Automatic URL Conversion is an add-on to the TablePress plugin that will automatically convert URLs in a table to links, avoiding what can be a tedious process of creating links in a large table.

Bug fixes

Invitations to join the OpenLab were not being sent out. This has now been fixed. We also fixed two bugs in My OpenLab. One was causing friend lists to not display all members that had been added as friends. The second caused the information for Major, Department, or Office to be removed from a member’s profile after the profile was edited.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: February 2023 Release

Kitten smelling a bouquet of red flowers.

On February 15 we released version 1.7.67 of the OpenLab. It included a few new themes and some bug fixes.

New features

We added two new themes: Neve and Miniva. Miniva is a simple minimalist theme, good for beginners or someone who doesn’t want to do a lot of theme customization. Neve is a more complex theme, which requires some setup, but it can look great even with just a small amount of customization.

We changed the sender name for site-related emails from WordPress to City Tech OpenLab, making it easier to understand where emails are coming from.

Bug fixes

There were a few bugs caused by the improvements to email notifications made in the January release:

  • Line breaks were missing for a number of different site-related emails.
  • The OpenLab footer that appears in some email notifications was not displaying correctly in certain email clients. 

We also fixed an issue causing incorrect characters (e.g. ’) to appear on certain posts and pages when the OpenLab Attribution plugin was activated.


As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: January 2023 Release

Penguin jumping out of the water with a group of penguins standing in the background.
Fly! by Christopher Michel is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

On January 18, 2023, we released version 1.7.66 of the OpenLab. It included multiple new features, as well as updates to all existing themes and plugins, including BuddyPress and WordPress, the two primary plugins that power the OpenLab. 

New Features and Functionality

Activity Sections for Courses, Projects, Clubs, and My OpenLab

We added a new Activity section to Course, Project, and Club profiles, to provide an easy way to catch up on what is happening in the group. In this section you can view all the activity, including posts and comments on the site, as well as new content or updates in the profile tools – Discussion, Docs, File Library, and Calendar. You can “star” activity, which marks it with a star, and allows you to filter the view to list only starred activity. You can also view only your own activity, or only activity that includes @Mentions. In addition, you can filter by all different activity types (e.g. Posts, Comments, Discussion posts, new Docs, new Files, etc).

There’s a similar Activity section in My OpenLab, called My Activity. It works in the same way as group activity, except that instead of including activity for a specific group, it includes activity for all your Courses, Projects, and Clubs.

Announcements for Courses, Projects, and Clubs

The Announcements feature allows admins of a Course, Project, or Club to post announcements that appear just beneath the avatar on a group’s profile. These provide an easy and prominent way to notify members about something, whether an upcoming class, event, meeting, or anything else, and will also be sent via email notification in addition to appearing on the profile. Announcements are activated by default, but you can deactivate them in Profile > Settings, if you don’t want to use them.

File Library

We changed the name of ‘Files’ to ‘File Library’, where you can now add links to external files, in addition to uploading files. The links can be to anywhere – a Google Doc or Spreadsheet, a OneDrive or Dropbox file, or anything else.

Search added to Discussion

We added search to Discussion, making it easier to find topics in Discussion forums with a lot of activity, especially those with activity over a long period of time.

Improvements to appearance of Discussion, Docs, and File Library

We also made a number of visual improvements to Discussion, Docs, and File Library, to improve the consistency of the navigation and layout of the different tools, making them easier to use.

Profile of the Open Road project with an Announcement posted.
Changes and new features on a Course, Project, or Club profile

Changes to Acknowledgements

We made some changes to streamline and simplify the way that acknowledgements appear on a Course, Project, or Club Profile. When you create a new group, the profile will include a line stating who created the group. If the group is cloned, a link will be added to show all the clones. On any cloned group, there will be a link back to the group it was cloned from. 

Course profile with new Acknowledgements format.
Course profile with Acknowledgements

Email Notifications

We made several changes to email notifications, including a new design and layout, and changes to the subject and sender of almost all notifications. The sender should now always appear as “City Tech OpenLab,” and the subject lines have been edited to make the purpose of each notification more clear. 

Missing Alt Text Notice

WordPress has made an accessibility improvement to the Block Editor, reminding you to add alt text whenever you add an image to a page or post. Add alt text for an image in the Block Settings sidebar panel. You can learn more about alt text in the OpenLab Help document, Making Your Work Accessible.

Where to add alt text in the block settings side panel.
Notice that alt text is missing

Bug Fixes

We fixed an issue with the OpenLab Attributions plugin, where attribution numbers didn’t link properly to the attributions in the list at the bottom of the post or page.


As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: November 2022 Release

On November 15 we released version 1.7.65 of the OpenLab. It included a few new themes, a plugin modification, and some bug fixes.

New features

We added two themes: GeneratePress and Twenty Twenty One.

We also modified an older plugin–Expire Sticky Posts–that had previously been retired because it didn’t work with the Block Editor. The plugin allows you to set a date at which sticky posts will automatically expire, and now works in the Block Editor. There are instructions for how to use the plugin in OpenLab Help.

Bug fixes

A bug causing the links to be removed from author and group name at the top of email notifications has been fixed.

We also fixed two bugs in the OpenLab Attributions plugin:

  • When adding an attribution to the very last sentence in a paragraph block, it wasn’t possible to move the cursor after the attribution superscript number and thus couldn’t add text after the attribution number – only before it.
  • When attempting to add an attribution to an image in the caption field, the ‘Add Attribution’ window would close.

As always, please contact us with any questions!