In the Spotlight: Pharmacology (DEN 2315)

Header image for Pharmacology (DEN 2315), rainbow-colored lined up in a row.

This week, I spotlight Dr. Bowers’ Pharmacology OpenLab course, which implements some innovative practices well-suited to distance education. These include:

  • Indicating virtual meeting locations (i.e. OpenLab and Zoom links) right at the top of the syllabus. This is information you want students to access easily and placing it at the top of the page increases your chances of making sure no one misses it.
  • Separate pages and menu tabs for lecture slides, lecture video, and lecture audio. Students who are members of the class can download and print the slides, and stream the videos or just the audio for the class lectures. This gives different media through which to learn course material and is a great way to meet the needs of students with different learning styles. I’ll also note that providing a “just audio” alternative to video streams of lectures is a smart way to reach learners who may get distracted by video but do well with an audio recording. It also does a favor to the many of us who have issues with slow internet at home, and for whom audio is more easily streamed uninterrupted than video, which takes more bandwidth.
Students can access course content from the main navigation menu, but have 3 options: one for downloading slides, another for streaming video, and another for streaming audio.
  • A contact form inserted directly into the main navigation menu. As screenshotted below, this contact form invites students to write a message to their instructor and is a wonderful way to promote student-instructor communication. You can read more about using the plugin Contact Form 7 to create these kinds of forms and add them to your site here.
This contact form has four fields: one for the student’s name, a second for the student’s email, a third for the subject of the message, and a forth for the body of the message.

Do you have other tips for making your lectures more accessible online? For encouraging your students to contact you? Join the conversation by replying to this post!

In the Spotlight: ComD Internship Coordination Site

Last week, I spotlighted ComD Advisement Information site, which digitally guides students through the advisement process, and is replete with  information they need to stay on track and complete their majors. This week, I spotlight the ComD Internship Coordination site, which “is designed to help” students “find fieldwork/ situations of approximately eight hours per week at an internship site approved by the Department Internship instructor such as an advertising agency, graphic design firm, corporate design office, publications art department, photography or illustration studio, TV or multimedia production company.”

On the site’s blog, students will find timely announcements about (now virtual) events to attend to find jobs and internships. But the site also includes pages that outline Requirements and Documents for the ComD Internship, tips on Where to Find an Internship, Networking, and Writing Resources. Students will also find resources for Portfolio and Resume creation.

If you are a ComD student and thinking about how to gain professional experience in your field, make sure to check out the site

In the Spotlight: ComD Advisement Information Site

Header image for ComD Advisement site is a text box against a solid backdrop. Text reads "COMD Advisement Information Site."

Student advisement, like much of college life, has moved online this semester. This week, I spotlight the ComD Advisement Information Site, which is replete with “online advisement tools” and shows how departments can use the OpenLab to provide guidance for students moving toward graduation, even during a largely virtual semester. Below, are some of the site’s innovative features:

  • The site’s menu links to a page for virtual advisement office hours, allowing students to navigate quickly and easily to the information they are most likely to need. A nice touch here is that the department has embedded a Google Calendar that visually displays each advisor’s office hours. Students can add this calendar to their own Google account if they so wish.

    While, these days, most of us are getting used to working across multiple platforms, it can nonetheless be hard to keep track of which tools are being used when. A good practice is to link to the other platforms or applications you are using from your OpenLab site. ComD shows how this can be done by prominently featuring a “Blackboard Advisement Link: Click to Enter” button at the very top of their office hours page. The link takes the student directly to their advising meeting, which is held on another platform–Blackboard Collaborate–making the process of switching back-and-forth relatively painless.

  • The site also includes a page on preparing for advisement. Here, students are presented with six steps to take before an advising meeting. Note that these tips are presented briefly, in bulleted form, with plenty of white space on the page. This is a great way of communicating key information.

  • Does your department have an active Facebook page? If so, you might activate the Jetpack Facebook Page plugin on your department’s OpenLab  site. ComD has done this to great effect: as shown in the screenshot below, students can view information and events posted to Facebook directly from the widget in the right-hand sidebar of the advisement site.

All-in-all, the ComD Advisement Information site provides a great model of a clean, easy-to-navigate site that students can bookmark and return to again and again as they move through their college careers. 

In the Spotlight: Understanding the City, Fall 2020 (LIB2205ID ARCH 2205)

Header image for Learning Places, a bridge extending over a river.

This week, I spotlight Professor Muchowski and Professor Duddy’s Understanding the City, a “special topics course” that “offers an interdisciplinary approach to investigating the built environment.” The course is taught every year and asks students to engage in “on-site exploration and in-depth research” on New York City. The city’s vast concrete landscape becomes the classroom, and when we spotlighted this class in 2015, for instance, students had just visited and written about Vinegar Hill and the Farragut Houses. 

Learning in such a course usually takes place in-place. Pedagogy entails a careful and embodied inquiry within the material world. How do students feel in different parts of the city? What memories do the smells and sounds invoke? What stands out when they observe public spaces like parks, or touristy spaces like DUMBO? What do they know about the history of the city’s different neighborhoods? Does learning this history change their perspective as they walk through these places? Full disclosure: I’ve taught similar place-based courses myself and find that exercises like walking tours and site visits are some of the most exciting tools for helping us all make sense of our world, not just through dialogue with one another but through direct observation of scenes unfolding in front of us. I spotlight this site this week to think through how such a course can be adapted to a pandemic world where it is not entirely safe to wander outside and where normal life–including for New York, a bustling tourist life–has not yet resumed.

What stands out in Professor Muchowski and Professor Duddy’s beginning of semester assignments is that they ask students to draw on memory: their first blogging assignment has students write about a public building or space in their neighborhood. Students describe watching these spaces evolve over their lifetimes and reflect on their experiences. The professors connect with students over the meaning of place by sharing their own ties to the sites students mention and describe, for example, exclaiming in (a blog) response: “I used to live at 98th and West End…there was a great playground at 95th where we would take our daughter.” Reading these blog posts and the professor-student exchanges in the comments is heart-warming, a reminder that, as different and isolated as our individual lives may sometimes be, especially in the current moment, place and memories of place give us a shared foundation.Students in the Mulberry Settlement House library in 1920, some reading, some laughing and talking, some browsing books on the shelf.

Other assignments rely on observations of photographs of city spaces, such as the one included above. I’ll note quickly, as I have so many times before, what a great platform the OpenLab can be for sharing and commenting on such visuals. This is a different type of exercise than going directly to a space, but it also makes for more focused observation. Photographs capture snippets of people’s lives and focus the gaze on details of the built environment that might be overlooked in an exercise like a walk-through or field trip. Interpretation of these details is left to the viewer, and students responding on the blog reflect imaginatively on what they see, speculating about the sounds that fill the spaces captured–did the wooden chairs in the 1920 Mulberry Settle House library creak? Why are some of the students in this old photograph of the library smirking? Did someone tell a joke? What memories does the picture invoke? Again, the exercise is both thought-provoking and validating, helping plunge students back into the city they live in, its past and, by extension, its possible futures.

Does your course usually incorporate place-based learning? How are you adapting it to these virtual times? Join the conversation by replying to this post, and, in the meantime, don’t forget to visit the Understanding the City course site for inspiration!

In the Spotlight: Celebrating Julia Jordan

Last fall, long-time Professor of Hospitality and Director of the Faculty Commons Julia Jordan retired. Last week, faculty and staff gathered (over Zoom!) to celebrate her service to the college. 

Anyone who interacted with Julia over her years at City Tech knew her to be Former Faculty Commons Director Julia Jordan posing for camera in front of bookshelves.kind and generous, warm and welcoming, entirely dedicated to progressive and student-centered pedagogy. Her OpenLab bio reveals much about her ethos: “after 40 plus years in education,” she once wrote on her profile page, “what drives me is the evidence that learners who are successful take responsibility for their own education, they practice and question, and when they are supported and guided, they solve problems with their peers.”

Her position as Director of the Faculty Commons made Julia a lynchpin at the college. She turned the second-floor Namm space into a vital community hub where everyone could feel like a valued member of the City Tech community. As a leader, she exuded patience and care as she guided her colleagues and brought boundless energy to the events she organized. 

Over the years, her support for the OpenLab proved critical. She gave the OpenLab team a space from which to conduct our daily activities–our meetings, office hours, and our Digital Pedagogy events. She mentored new members of the team as they got to know the sometimes maddening intricacies of City Tech life. She encouraged faculty and staff to use the platform and cheered them on as they got familiar with new technology. She did this day-in and day-out, without complaint, and with characteristic hospitality.  OpenLab Digital Pedagogy Fellow Jesse Rice-Evans says of Julia, “it was such a joy to feel a kinship in our similar backgrounds (front-of-house food service). I noticed right away that Julia could anticipate needs of workshop attendees, facilitate comfort and community, and keep everyone fed and watered!” 

We wish her a very happy retirement and thank her for her tireless work and generosity in giving to the City Tech community. 

In the Spotlight: Student Technology Needs Survey

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

This fall, the OpenLab launched a new course template that comes with an “optional student survey that faculty can use to understand how their students are situated regarding technology, working space, etc.”

The survey was adapted from research by Maura Smale and Mariana Regalada. Focusing on“use of technologies for academic work,” this study showed the barriers that commuter students like those at City Tech have to accessing technology. At home, most students will use their phones to access digital materials; many have to work around challenges like an unreliable internet connection. Obviously, these barriers have to be taken into account this semester, when most of City Tech is fully online. 

The survey in the course template is intended to help students privately pinpoint their technology needs so that faculty, in turn, can adapt their pedagogy and advocate for student access. Below is an overview of the survey and how you, the instructor, might build from it going forward.

Survey Content

In the course template, the student survey asks basic yes/ no questions: do you, the student, have a smartphone with a data plan? Do you have a laptop or desktop computer? Do you have broadband internet access at home and an appropriate space to do your coursework? It then invites open-ended remarks on “anything else” the student would like their instructor “to know about their situation regarding coursework.” 

How you present the survey to your students is up to you, but we like that English professor Carrie Hall uses an introductory welcome post to invite students in one of her courses to “vent” about how “being an online student” is “intimidating, confusing, and difficult.” Acknowledging that distance education this fall will present a new set of challenges is important. So is letting students know that you are on their side–the purpose of the survey isn’t just to gather information but to inform pedagogical practices so that instructors can be flexible and effective in meeting students where they are.

How was the Survey Built?

The survey was built using a plugin called Gravity Forms Quiz Add On. We highly recommend reading the help documentation for this plugin if you are using the survey. The documentation walks you through building a new survey, editing existing questions, and viewing survey results. These results are found in your site’s dashboard, where you can go to Forms> Entries, and view the survey takers names and answers, as pictured below.

Dashboard showing survey results

You can export the results to a spreadsheet. Note that this set-up means that you will need to create surveys for each of your courses, and will receive separate survey results for each course. You cannot create the survey in one course site and link to it in your other courses.

Preliminary Results and Future Surveys

Three OpenLab co-directors shared some of the insights they gained from the survey. As expected, the survey showed each of these instructors that they had students who lacked an adequate workspace and reliable internet. M. Genevieve Hitchings  was actually able to use the survey to help a student get an Apple computer from City Tech.

But they also learned from the process of administering the survey itself. For example, Jody R. Rosen noted that she’d originally envisioned a follow-up survey asking for student preferences in mode of communication, but hadn’t realized how hard it would be to get full participation in multiple surveys throughout the semester. It might be a good idea to include all your most pressing instructor questions in your first survey, when you’re likely to get the most responses! Jonas Reitz found it fruitful to modify the survey in this way from the get-go, and added some questions about student preferences for synchronous vs. asynchronous class sessions.

Did you use the survey this semester? Did you learn anything unexpected? Do you see yourself using it in the future? Join the conversation by replying to this post!

In the Spotlight: The OpenLab for Students

The OpenLab for Students is a short tutorial to “help students learn, work and share their ideas using the OpenLab!” It covers topics from creating a student account to finding and joining courses to participating in those courses. It also includes tips for success in online learning and a quiz to help you assess your knowledge of the platform. If you are a student, we recommend the tutorial for any stage of your City Tech career: it’s a great project to join and refer back as you start your semester, which most likely involves quite a bit of remote learning! You can read through the entire project in about an hour, and front and back buttons at the bottom of each page make it easy to navigate and skip ahead to information that is most useful to you. We also recommend that faculty refer students to the tutorial to orient them to the OpenLab. Below are some highlights you’ll definitely want to check out:

  • A short video tutorial (45 seconds!) on posting on the OpenLab. If some of your instructors are teaching on the OpenLab this semester, you will almost certainly be asked to post on your course site. The process isn’t too complicated, but it does involve a few steps: watch this video and pause it as needed as you create your first few posts.

  • Tips and and links to help documentation for using the Block Editor. As the module notes: “There are two ways to create a post: you can use the Block Editor or the Classic Editor…WordPress will be retiring the Classic Editor in 2021, so it’s best to use the Block Editor.” To that end, the tutorial links to step-by-step by help on using the Block editor, including an entry on writing a post and another on working with blocks.

  • The tips for success in online learning are a great beginning of semester read! No one–and I mean no one–has found the transition to remote learning easy. You are not alone if you are struggling in this regard. As the tutorial notes, “it can be hard to focus during online classes,” especially if you don’t have an adequate space to work or functioning technology to get your work done. The tutorial gives advice as to how to navigate these challenges, including how to communicate with your professor about the difficulties you may be experiencing in this period. It also provides links and contact information for many more college-widge resources that are available online and can help support you.

Make sure to join this tutorial and refer back to it often!

In the Spotlight: Connect Days Career and Technology Teacher Education

Header image for CTTE Connect Days Site, three students looking at a computer in a City Tech Classroom.

The transition to distance learning has challenged the City Tech community to create new digital resources for incoming students and faculty. Professor Sue Brandt and others developed an innovative Connect Days template, which different departments can customize to provide an online orientation to the degrees and certificates offered at the college. This week we spotlight the Career and Technology Teacher Education’s Connect Days site:

An Easy-to-Digest Home Page

The Career and Technology Teacher Education’s  (CTTE) Connect Days Home page is informative and easy to read. It begins with a warm welcome message from the chair, who includes a headshot of himself to help students associate “a face with the name”–something that can be nice in this era of remote learning! The page also makes good use of infographics, presenting flow charts that explain the different pathways students can take to Bachelor of Science in Education degrees. Finally, CTTE makes sure that practical and timely information is highly visible on the site’s landing page by including their remote advisement schedule.

Pages for Faculty, Staff and Student Leaders

Following the Connects Days template, CTTE has included pages not only for faculty and staff profiles, but for profiles of student leaders. This gives new students a sense not only of who will be teaching them, but of what veteran students are doing with their major, in other words what they can look forward to accomplishing! Notice that these pages include headshots of and contact information for each person profiled, another important practice to follow in this era of remote learning.

Multimedia Virtual Tours

Few of us may be setting foot into the campus this semester, but we think it’s safe to say that almost everyone is looking forward to a future when we can make full use of our facilities again. It’s important to let students know what these facilities look like and what resources are available there. To that end, CTTE has included multiple virtual tours of City Tech buildings and CTTE labs/ classrooms. We like that these include written directions to the campus, complemented by a well-labeled street map and pictures of the school buildings. We love that these tours include a promotional video created by existing CTTE students for prospective learners! Note that this video was uploaded to YouTube and embedded into the site: this is a great way to make use of the OpenLab’s multimedia functions, and an advantage of YouTube is that it provides automatic closed captioning, a best practice in terms of accessibility.

Please make sure to visit the CTTE Connect Days site to learn more about the program!

In the Spotlight: Welcome Back & Fall 2020 Programming

Welcome back to all City Tech faculty, students, and staff! We hope your semester is beginning smoothly and that you are settling into a new routine of remote work. Last spring marked an abrupt and challenging transition to distance education. This fall, many of us are going in more psychologically prepared, though we recognize that these continue to be difficult times for many. We hope the resources and tools on the OpenLab can make your semester just a bit easier. There a number of different ways we’re here to support your work:

Fall 2020 Drop-in Office Hours

Meet (virtually) with a member of the OpenLab Community Team for support. These office hours are first-come, first served and are open to students, faculty, and staff.

September

9/3 (Thursday), 4:00-5:00

9/11 (Friday), 10:00-11:00

9/15 (Tuesday), 1:30-2:30

9/20 (Sunday), 4:00-5:00

9/29 (Tuesday), 1:30-2:30

October

10/9 (Friday), 10:00-11:00

10/16 (Friday), 10:00-11:00

10/20 (Tuesday), 1:30-2:30

10/30 (Friday), 10:00-11:00

November

11/5 (Thursday), 4:00-5:00

11/10 (Tuesday), 1:30-2:30

11/15 (Sunday), 4:00-5:00

11/25 (Real Life Wednesday, CUNY Friday), 10:00-11:00

December

12/3 (Thursday), 4:00-5:00

12/6 (Sunday),  4:00-5:00

Office hours are held via Google Hangouts. Click here for further instructions on how to sign-up and join us in our Google Hangout.

Fall 2020 One-on-One Consultations

Meet (virtually) one-on-one with a member of the OpenLab Community Team for support. These office hours require an RSVP, and are open to students, faculty, and staff.

September

9/3 (Thursday), 3:00-4:00

9/11 (Friday), 11:00-12:00

9/15 (Tuesday), 2:30-3:30

9/20 (Sunday), 3:00-4:00

9/29 (Tuesday), 2:30-3:30

October

10/9 (Friday), 11:00-12:00

10/16 (Friday), 11:00-12:00

10/20 (Tuesday), 2:30-3:30

10/30 (Friday), 11:00-12:00

November

11/5 (Thursday), 3:00-4:00

11/10 (Tuesday), 2:30-3:30

11/15 (Sunday), 3:00-4:00

11/25 (Real Life Wednesday, CUNY Friday), 11:00-12:00

December

12/3 (Thursday), 3:00-4:00

12/6 (Sunday),  3:00-4:00

One-on-one consultations are held via Google Hangouts. Click here for further instructions on how to sign-up and join us in our Google Hangout.

Support Documentation

We have help(ful) documentation on the OpenLab that offers step-by-step guides for everything from getting started, to thinking about specific plugins that build out the functionality of your sites and portfolios.

Teaching with the OpenLab

We have a new online self-paced training module for faculty: Teaching with the OpenLab. Read more about it or ask questions at our virtual office hours. The module walks you through creating a course and teaching a course with our new course template. It also provides step-by-step guidance for faculty cloning model courses.

Learning with the OpenLab

Check out The OpenLab for Students, a brand new online tutorial designed to help students use the OpenLab. Learn how to get started, participate in your OpenLab courses, and more!

Email

We are available to support you via email: openlab@citytech.cuny.edu.

Join Our In-House Sites

We encourage you to become members of our in-house sites (you can do so by visiting the profiles of each site). These sites will keep you up-to-date with all things ‘OpenLab’ and offer opportunities for deeper investment with City Tech’s community.

  • Learn more about the OpenLab, including workshops, events, community, and support opportunities on The Open Road. (Profile)
  • Share and discuss resources about open digital pedagogy with other City Tech and CUNY-wide staff and faculty on Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab. (Profile)

In the Spotlight: Virtual Office Hours, Summer 2020

A deer peeking out over a field of yellow flowers.
Deer in a Canola Field by Jim Choate on Flickr.

Greetings City Tech Community!

We wanted to extend our congratulations to all of you on completing an especially trying spring semester. A special shout-out to the class of 2020!

We know many of you will be spending a chunk of your summer developing online academic resources. Some of you will be preparing your fall courses, which may well need to be fully online; some of you will be developing online student orientation materials; others will be continuing the transition to virtual student club life. The OpenLab is a great community-run platform from which to expand your web presence. But we realize that you may need support in setting up your OpenLab site. The OpenLab team is here to help!

We have scheduled virtual office hours for the rest of the summer (see full schedule below).  These offer the opportunity to meet with a member of the OpenLab Community Team. All office hours are held via Google Hangouts and are open to faculty, staff, and students. 

Support in office hours is first-come, first-served. If possible, please reach out to the OpenLab team in advance to let us know what questions you have so we can be prepared.

Click here to sign up for virtual office hours.

Click here to join us in our Google Hangout during the office hours listed below.

Click here for instructions for joining via Google Hangouts.

6/26 Friday 2:00 PM-3:00 PM

7/1  Wednesday 2:00 PM-3:00 PM

7/9 Thursday 12:00 PM-1:00PM

7/17 Friday 2:00 PM-3:00 PM

7/22 Wednesday 2:00 PM-3:00 PM

7/30  Thursday 12:00 PM-1:00 PM

8/7  Friday 2:00 PM-3:00PM 

8/12 Wednesday 2:00 PM-3:00 PM

8/20 Thursday  12:00 PM-1:00 PM