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!

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!

This Month on the OpenLab: February 2020 Release

Groundhog with light behind it
Groundhog Day” by Alice Popkorn is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

On February 18, we released version 1.7.40 of the OpenLab.  It included one small interface change, a few plugin updates, and some bug fixes.

We removed the phone number field from student and alumni profiles.  Since members didn’t always realize it was public information, we decided that it was best to just remove the option altogether.

There were a few plugin updates that won’t cause any noticeable differences for OpenLab members, but included either minor updates or security-related updates.

We also fixed a number of bugs in this release:

  1. After a change related to the January release, the toolbar at top of the block editor was no longer sticking to the top of the page while scrolling.
  2. When Group admins had email notifications set to ‘No Email’, admins (but not members) were still getting email notifications about file uploads.
  3. There was a bug affecting a small number of groups where  group members were not able to change their email notification settings.
  4. Another bug affecting a small number of groups was preventing admins from choosing OpenLab members to invite to the group because when typing in a person’s name, the dropdown was failing to appear.
  5. When viewing another user’s profile, and then navigating to any group directory (My Courses, My Projects, My Clubs) on their profile, the group description excerpts were missing.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

OpenLab Statistics: 2019

As of December 31, 2019:

Pageviews:
1,270,695

Average time on page:
1:20

Number of users broken down by students, alumni, faculty, staff:
Students: 29,910
Alumni: 74
Faculty: 1137
Staff: 229

Number of courses, projects, clubs, portfolios:
Courses: 2674
Projects: 2,645
Clubs: 129
Portfolios: 6791

As of September 30, 2019:

Pageviews:
1,060,645

Average time on page:
1:10

Number of users broken down by students, alumni, faculty, staff:
Students: 29,624
Alumni: 75
Faculty: 1117
Staff: 223

Number of courses, projects, clubs, portfolios:
Courses: 2654
Projects: 2596
Clubs: 122
Portfolios: 6614

As of June 30, 2019:

Pageviews:
823,828

Average session duration:
3:30

Number of users broken down by students, alumni, faculty, staff:
Students: 27,360
Alumni: 63
Faculty: 1073
Staff: 216

Number of courses, projects, clubs, portfolios:
Courses: 2436
Projects: 2569
Clubs: 121
Portfolios: 6498

As of March 31, 2019:

Pageviews:
1,136,302

Average session duration:
3:46

Number of users broken down by students, alumni, faculty, staff:
Students: 27, 184
Alumni: 63
Faculty: 1062
Staff: 211

Number of courses, projects, clubs, portfolios:
Courses: 2385
Projects: 2506
Clubs: 120
Portfolios: 6348

This Month on the OpenLab: January 2020 Release

polar bear balancing on a barrel in the snow
DSC_0489” by Valerie is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

On January  23, we released version 1.7.39 of the OpenLab. It included enhancements to existing functionality and design, a new theme, updates to all themes and plugins, and updates to WordPress and BuddyPress, the software that powers the OpenLab.

New Features and Changes

We made some adjustments to improve and standardize across all themes the grey menu that appears at the very top of group sites.

The new theme added in this release is Twenty Twenty.  This “default theme for 2020 is designed to take full advantage of the flexibility of the block editor.”

We also added a new custom template for COMD student ePortfolio sites.  These sites now have a theme and navigation menu designed for visual artists to display their work, and a custom site menu geared towards what COMD students will need to include in their portfolios.  Students don’t need to do anything different.  The template will automatically be used on new portfolio sites created by students who have chosen COMD as their major on their profile.

We also retired a few plugins that are no longer working or maintained by their developer:

  1. WP DPLA
  2. TinyMCE Comment Field

If they are currently activated on a site, they will continue to appear in the list of plugins, unless they are deactivated. They will not be available for activation on new sites.

We wish everyone a smooth beginning to the semester, and as always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: December 2019 Release

Snowman on the Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge Snowman” by Bradley Weber is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

On December 16, we released version 1.7.38 of the OpenLab.

It was a small release, which included a small accessibility fix for the new Lingonberry theme and an improvement to the Creative Commons widget, which was added in the September 2019 release.  This improvement adds two new fields to the widget, allowing site admins to specify a site author and author URL for their license.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: November 2019 Release

street in brooklyn with scattered leaves

On November 20, we released version 1.7.37 of the OpenLab. It included new features, a new theme, and a few minor updates to plugins and themes.

New Features and Changes

There were six new features or updates to current functionality included this release:

  1. We’re excited to release OpenLab Attributions, a new plugin we’ve built that allows anyone to add attributions for Creative Commons licensed content they’re using on an OpenLab site. Each attribution will add a superscript number that links to a reference list at the bottom of a page or post (see, for example, the bottom of this post).
  2. Another exciting new feature is a tool allowing faculty to more easily bulk add members to their course. Found in a course Profile > Membership > Invite New Members, this tool allows faculty to add a list of City Tech emails for students in the course.  If the students already have accounts on the OpenLab, they’ll automatically be added to the course.  Any emails not associated with accounts will be flagged as such, and once those students have created OpenLab accounts they will be able to join or be added to the course.
  3. We’ve created another Library widget, that can be added to the sidebar of any OpenLab site. The Library Subject Guides widget allows you to add links to any of the subject guides created by the City Tech Library.
  4. We made a few visual improvements to the Add to Portfolio feature added in the August release. These include some small adjustments to the appearance of the Add to Portfolio window so that it’s consistent in different themes, as well as a change in the display of the Add to Portfolio button, which now changes to a link to the author’s portfolio Dashboard after content added to their portfolio.
  5. We added a link to ‘My Portfolio’ to the My OpenLab dropdown menu, to make it easier for members to get to their portfolios.
  6. We added one new theme, Lingonberry, described as “a clean, simple, and responsive theme for bloggers.”

Bug Fixes

We fixed a few bugs in the Anthologize plugin for this release. One was causing items in the media library to be duplicated.  Another caused the content in certain posts and pages to be blank after being added to a project.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

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!

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!

This Month on the OpenLab: August 2019 Release

On August 14, we released version 1.7.34 of the OpenLab. It included new features, new themes, updates to all themes and plugins, and updates to WordPress and BuddyPress, the software that powers the OpenLab.

looking up from the bottom of a skyscraper
This untitled image is licensed under Creative Commons CC0.

New Features and Themes

There were a number of new features and themes included this release:

A new portfolio features allows any OpenLab member with a portfolio to turn on an “Add to My Portfolio” button, which appears on any post or comment they have created on an OpenLab site.  This makes it easier to add work from courses, projects, or clubs to a portfolio.  You can see step-by-step instructions for this new feature in OpenLab Help.

Another new feature created for portfolios is the ability to export the contents of a portfolio site, which can be imported into another site. This makes portfolios much more portable, and means they can be moved from one OpenLab community to another (for example, from BMCC’s OpenLab to City Tech’s OpenLab).

We added two new portfolio themes, which work especially well for the display of a visual portfolio.

    • Hamilton is described as “a clean WordPress portfolio theme for creatives. It displays posts in a beautiful image grid that can be set to either two or three columns, which makes it a perfect fit for photographers, illustrators or graphic designers looking for a theme for their portfolio.”
    • Koji is “a clean and lightweight theme for bloggers. It features a masonry grid on the archive pages, a beautiful and minimal design,” and more.

We also added a theme designed for Open Educational Resource (OER) sites on the OpenLab, although it can be used for any type of site. Built using the theme Education Pro, we’ve customized it to improve the design, to ensure accessibility, and to include styles that would be useful for an OER.

Improvements to existing features

We made an improvement to the WP Grade Comments plugin, which allows instructors to assign grades without comments. Previously, grades had to be accompanied by a comment.

A number of enhancements were made to the OpenLab Gradebook plugin, including:

    • Instructors can now add assignments and/or grades to their gradebooks using a pre-formatted CSV file that can be edited and uploaded to import new data.
    • The text on the About page has been improved to include more helpful information about the OpenLab Gradebook plugin with a link to the plugin’s help page.
    • A bug was fixed that prevented instructors from accurately pasting numeric grades.
    • The display of tables on mobile devices was improved.

We made a few improvements and additions to the Print this Page functionality that was introduced in the June release. We changed its appearance on pages and posts from a text link to a button.  The button is now turned off by default.  In addition to the ability to turn it on within each individual page and post, there is now a site-wide control, which will enable or disable it for the whole site.

We also improved the print formatting for two additional themes. Twenty Nineteen and Hemingway are now better formatted for printing.

One of the potential privacy settings available to OpenLab members is to have a hidden group with an open site. While this is not a common setting, if someone was viewing the site but was not a member of the group, they would get a “Page not Found” error if they clicked on the group profile link in the site’s navigation menu.  Now, this link won’t appear, except for members of the group who are logged into the OpenLab.

We made a few improvements to the layout and design of the Related Links List settings in a group’s profile settings, making them easier to understand and manage.

We improved the accessibility of the create/edit screen for a group’s Docs, including fixing some missing form labels and improving the color contrast for some of the links and other text.

As always, please contact us with any questions!