This Month on the OpenLab: November 2020 Release

Red squirrel amidst fall leaves on the ground.
“Red Squirrel” by hedera.baltica.

On November 19, 2020 we released version 1.7.47 of the OpenLab. It included two new features and five new plugins, as well as a few minor plugin and theme updates.

New Features

  1. We added a link on Course, Project, and Club directory pages allowing OpenLab members to create or clone these groups from the directory page, in addition to the usual location in My OpenLab. Please note that you must be logged in for the links to be visible, and the link on the Courses directory page will only be visible to faculty.

    New link on course directory page to create or clone a course.

  2. We added a link to My OpenLab on the red login box on the homepage of the OpenLab, to make it even quicker and easier to access.

    Link to my profile in the log-in/welcome box on the OpenLab homepage.


We added five new plugins:

  1. Advanced Sidebar Menu: allows you to add a widget to your sidebar that generates a menu based on the section of your site you’re viewing. It will show all the subpages related to the page being viewed, and could be helpful for sites with large amounts of content.

  2. Nested Pages – This plugin replaces the functionality of the Page Mash plugin, which is no longer supported and has been retired. It provides an easy interface for dragging and dropping pages to change the order and hierarchy of all pages on your site.

  3. Breadcrumb – This plugin allows you to add breadcrumb navigation to any theme, and using a shortcode. We have another plugin called Breadcrumb NavXT, but it only works with OpenLab Twenty Sixteen and OpenLab Twenty Thirteen themes. 

  4. Pager Widget – This simple widget allows you to add next and back links to navigate between pages on your site. 

  5. ARI Fancy Lightbox – this plugin adds a mobile-friendly lightbox effect to images on any site. It works with individual images, native WordPress galleries, and can also be used with the NextGEN Gallery plugin as the preferred lightbox for NextGEN galleries.

Documentation for the new plugins is coming soon.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: October 2020 Release

Dog with halloween costume
HAPPY HALLOWEEN from Benni and me by Bennilover is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

On October 15, 2020 we released version 1.7.46 of the OpenLab. It was a small release, which included a few small bug fixes and some minor plugin updates.

  1. Due to an oversight, the Highlighter Pro plugin installed in the August release wasn’t visible for activation to OpenLab Members. This has been fixed so it will appear in the list of plugins for any OpenLab site, where it can be activated.
  2. When a site using Gravity Forms was cloned, the forms were being copied to the new site, but they weren’t automatically embedded in the posts or pages on the new site, and had to be manually added again. The cloning of Gravity Forms is now working correctly.
  3. We cleaned up some confusing text on the Dashboard interface for the OpenLab Gradebook widget.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: September 2020 Release

Autumn Cat” by Trish Hamme is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

On September 21, 2020 we released version 1.7.45 of the OpenLab. It was a fairly large release, and included improvements to cloning functionality, a few additional improvements and updates, and a new plugin.

Changes to Cloning Functionality

1. In shared cloning, authorship of all content from the group being cloned will now be switched by default to the person cloning the group. For example, if you clone a model course created by Professor Smith, unless you change the authorship settings, you will appear as the author for all posts and pages on your cloned site rather than Professor Smith. This setting can be changed during the cloning process if you would prefer to retain the same authorship.

Settings added to the first step of cloning allowing you to change authorship or keep it the same.

2. We made a few changes to the “Credits” section on the profile of groups that have been created through shared cloning. Credits are now called “Acknowledgements” and they have been moved down and reformatted slightly.

Acknowledgements section on course profile.

3. On cloneable groups, we added to the course profile a count that shows the number of times the group has been cloned, with a link to view all clones of that group.

Section on a course profile showing the number of clones of the course.

4. An additional change was made for both shared and regular cloning. Rather than copy privacy and member role settings from the group being cloned, you will now see the usual default settings during the cloning process, where you can choose whatever you would like for these settings.

Changes to Search and Badges

We made a few improvements to the new search and filter functionality introduced in the August release, and the “badges” that differentiate types of Courses, Projects, Clubs, and Portfolios:

  1. Searches that include members’ names are better matched with faculty name or project/club contact.
  2. You can now use quotes in your search to include multiple terms so that results include all terms rather than any of the terms.
  3. To improve clarity, we changed the short version of the “Cloneable” badge from “Clone” to the full name, “Cloneable.”

Other Fixes

  1. We fixed an issue with “Button” blocks, causing buttons created with an outline style to be invisible in the Block Editor.
  2. We fixed some display issues with the Search & Filter sidebar widget (part of the Search & Filter plugin).
  3. We made a few more minor theme styling fixes for Education Pro and Hemingway.

New Plugin

We added the Post Types Order plugin, which allows you to change the order of posts and pages through a simple drag and drop interface.

Retired and Removed Plugins

We retired one plugin that is no longer being updated and removed one for security reasons.

  1. Google Docs Embedder was no longer being maintained and was not working consistently. For this reason we retired it, which means that it will still be active on sites where it’s currently activated but won’t be available for activation on new sites.
  2. Captcha was removed from the plugin repository for security reasons. Out of caution we have removed rather than retired it. This means it won’t be available on sites where it was activated, and won’t be available for activation on new sites.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

New on the OpenLab: Model Courses & Course Hubs

This semester, you may have noticed Model Courses and Course Hubs on the OpenLab. 

Model Courses

  • Model Courses are department-specific OpenLab courses that faculty can clone to use with their students, via the OpenLab’s “shared cloning” feature.
  • They are built by course coordinators and/or other faculty, reviewed by colleagues, and assigned a “Model” badge by the OpenLab team.
  • Model courses contain course information, example assignments, resources for students, and other materials, and are designed to help faculty meet recommended best practices for teaching online.
  • They are created as freely-available open educational resources (OER), meaning that faculty can choose to use them in whole or in part, adapting and remixing them to meet their needs, and they can be accessed by all, including faculty and students using Blackboard. 

Three departments/programs created Model Courses as part of the OpenLab Model Course Initiative in the summer: Communication Design, the English Department’s First Year Writing program, and Mathematics. 

You can find them in the Courses directory by checking the “Model” checkbox. 

Profile of ENG 1101 Core Books Model Course
ENG 1101 Core Books Model Course

Faculty and students are already using the Model Courses this semester: the Profile page shows how many times each course has been cloned. 

Course Hubs

  • Depending on the department, Course Hubs may contain course materials for students and faculty to use alongside the model courses and/or resources to help faculty who are teaching the course. 
  • Like Model Courses, they are built by course coordinators and/or other faculty, reviewed by colleagues, and assigned a “Department Resource” badge by the OpenLab team.
  • They are not designed to be cloned but, like Model Courses, are created as freely-available open educational resources (OER), so they can be accessed by all, including faculty and students using Blackboard. 

The English First Year Writing team created a single Course Hub designed to support faculty teaching with the Model Courses. 

The Math Department team created a Course Hub for each of the Model Courses; they’re  designed to act as a central resource for courses with syllabus, lessons, review sheets, and other resources for students and faculty. Faculty can link to the Course Hub from their own course in Blackboard or OpenLab, use it to supplement their own instruction, or as part of a “flipped classroom” model. Students can use it to catch up or refresh their knowledge, check out a course, or prepare for an exam.  

MAT 1475 Course Hub

You can find Course Hubs in the Projects directory by checking the “Department Resources” checkbox. 

Freely available for all!

Both Model Courses and Course Hubs are open educational resources (OER) made freely available on the OpenLab for others to use, edit, and remix. Because they’re available to everyone, they can be accessed by faculty and students here at City Tech and anywhere in the world. 

Want to learn more?

Interested in bringing Model Courses and/or Course Hubs to your Department? Contact the OpenLab team! We’re happy to help and advise.  

For general information and instructions on cloning a Model Course, see the Working with Model Courses section of Teaching with the OpenLab

For more about the Communication Design Model Courses and how they were created, check out the Working with a Model Course and Model Course Development sections of the COMD Pedagogy Project.

For more about the Mathematics materials, see the Model Course and Course Hub sections of the Math Department Instructor Resources site

This Month on the OpenLab: August 2020 Release

Bee on a yellow flower.
bee & planidium by André De Kesel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

On August 4, 2020 we released version 1.7.44 of the OpenLab. It was a large release, and included multiple new features, new plugins, updates to all existing themes and plugins, and updates to WordPress and BuddyPress, the software that powers the OpenLab.

New Features

  1. We redesigned and expanded the “badges” feature used to differentiate different types of Courses, Projects, Clubs, and Portfolios. Previously, we had badges for Open Educational Resources (OER) and First Year Learning Communities (FYLC), which could be used to filter courses on the directory page. We still have these two badges, but we’ve added the following:
    1. Cloneable: groups that can be cloned via shared cloning
    2. Open: groups that have open privacy settings
    3. Model: courses or projects that serve as cloneable models that have been peer reviewed to meet standards for best practices. Read more about model courses on our self-paced faculty training module, Teaching with the OpenLab.
    4. Department Resource: courses or projects that serve as resources for departments, such as model courses, course hubs, or department project sites.
    5. College Resource: sites that serve as college-wide resources, such as the City Tech Guide.
  2. Related to the new badges, we made a number of significant changes to search on the OpenLab to make it easier to find Courses, Projects, Clubs, and Portfolios:
    1. We revised the search box that appears at the top of the OpenLab site so that it searches across all types of groups—Courses, Projects, Clubs, and Portfolios. For example, if you search for “design” in the top search, you will now see all Courses, Projects, Clubs, and Portfolios with the keyword “design” in the title or description of the group.
    2. On the results page for this site-wide search, you can further refine the results to search only in particular groups, as well as the usual filters of school, department, etc. You can also use the new group badges to narrow down search. These additional ways of searching were also added in each of the group directory pages: Courses, Projects, Clubs, and Portfolios.
  3. The WordPress Block Editor (also known as Gutenberg) is now the default editor for all new sites on the OpenLab, but the Classic Editor is still available for anyone who wishes to use it. Read more on the Open Road about the transition to the Block Editor.
  4. Discussion, Docs, and Files—some of the tools available on a group’s profile—are now deactivated by default when you create a new group with a site. However, they can be turned on in the group profile settings. We found that they are not used very often when the group also has a site and can sometimes be confusing, providing too many potential places to add content. However, they are activated by default for all new groups that don’t have a site.
  5. We made a change to site menus so that the Profile and Home links automatically included in the site menu can be edited or removed. The Profile link can now be found in a section called “OpenLab” so if it’s removed, it can be re-added. The Home link can be re-added as a custom link.
  6. We made a few improvements to the appearance of the Library widgets that can be added to the sidebar of a site.
  7. There were some improvements made behinds the scenes to cloning that will improve the process for groups with a lot of content on the site.

New Plugins

We added four new plugins in this release:

  1. Highlighter Pro: logged-in members of the OpenLab can highlight and comment on specific sections of text on a post or page, allowing for more fine-grained engagement on a site than usual commenting.
  2. Gravity Forms Image Choices allows you to add images to a Gravity Forms quiz or survey.
  3. Setmore Plus allows you to add an appointment scheduler to your site.
  4. Meks Smart Social Widget is a simple plugin allowing you to add icons with links to your social media sites to your site sidebar.

Improvements to existing features

  1. We made some improvements to the Easy Table of Contents plugin—in particular, the feature that allows you to add a TOC widget to your site’s sidebar and “stick” the widget to the side of the page as you scroll down. For sites with a lot of content, this can be useful as a secondary navigation menu.
  2. We made a few small changes to the sign up page to help clarify that members don’t need to use their real name as their username, and that it can’t be changed once signup is complete. We also moved the Display Name field up to appear closer to user name. Display name is what members use to identify themselves publicly and it can be anything they choose.
  3. A number of small display and color improvements were made to the Education Pro, Hemingway, and Hamilton themes.

Retired Plugins

We retired a number of plugins that are no longer being updated and/or are not used by OpenLab members. These plugins will still be active on sites where they’re currently activated but won’t be available for activation on new sites. They include:

  1. Achievements
  2. Awesome Flickr Gallery
  3. BadgeOS
  4. BadgeOS BadgeStack Add-On
  5. Captcha
  6. Cardboard
  7. Category Order & Taxonomy Terms Order
  8. Gravity Forms Directory & Add-ons
  9. HTML Import2
  10. Mihdan: Ajax Edit Comments (Editing comments is now part of default WordPress functionality so the plugin is unnecessary.)
  11. Page Links To
  12. pageMash
  13. Page Tagger
  14. Simple Drop Cap
  15. Simple Pull Quote
  16. Table of Contents Plus (We still have Easy Table of Contents.)
  17. WP Simple Anchor Links
  18. WP-Pro-Quiz
  19. WP-SWFObject
  20. WPBadgeDisplay
  21. WPBadger

Bug Fixes

We fixed one bug and identified another plugin conflict that can’t be fixed right now.

  1. There was an issue with gallery blocks in the Block editor, where when a new gallery block was added, and you tried to add images from the Media Library there would be a message that “No items were found”. Navigating to the “Edit Gallery” link shows that all media library items had already been added.
  2. There’s a conflict between the TinyMCE Advanced plugin and Block editor where when the plugin is activated, the shortcut for choosing a new block type by typing “/block name” doesn’t work. We’re not able to fix this conflict right now, so please be aware of it.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

Teaching with the OpenLab?

Hummingbird flying.
Hummingbird” by Domenic Hoffmann

We have a brand new online self-paced training module for faculty: Teaching with the OpenLab. The site provides resources and best practices to help you use the OpenLab effectively when teaching online, or (in the future) hybrid or in person.

You’ll find step-by-step help for signing up, creating your course, and setting up your course site, whether you’re creating a course on the OpenLab using the new course template, or cloning a model course provided by your department. 

You’ll also find guidance on every aspect of teaching with the OpenLab: preparing course materials, communicating with your students, designing and receiving assignments, providing feedback and grades, and getting your students started. 

Finally, the site provides a list of common-sense best practices for digital pedagogy that you can use to evaluate your approach.

Let us know what you think! There’s a feedback form at the end of the module: as always, your comments will help us help everyone teaching with the OpenLab. 

Need help? Contact us at anytime!

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” 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:


Average time on page:

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:


Average time on page:

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:


Average session duration:

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:


Average session duration:

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