In the Spotlight: The Sixth Annual City Tech Science Fiction Symposium

This week, we spotlight the OpenLab site for Science Fiction at City Tech! The Sixth Annual City Tech Science Fiction Symposium will take place on Thursday, December 9, 2021, 9:00AM-5:00PM. This year’s event is on “Access and SF.” In addition to paper presentation sessions and a research discussion panel, Analog Science Fiction and Fact Magazine is hosting a writer’s panel featuring Alec Nevala-Lee, Marie Vibbert, and Chelsea Obodoechina, and announcing the winner of the first Analog Award for Emerging Black Voices. The event will take place via a Zoom Webinar, and it is free and open to the public.

The program and registration information is available on the Science Fiction at City Tech OpenLab Site. This year’s symposium is co-organized by Jill Belli, Wanett Clyde, Jason W. Ellis, Lucas Kwong, and A. Lavelle Porter.

In the Spotlight: Finding Inspiration on the OpenLab

Welcome back from the holiday break! We’ve reached that time of year where things are busy, but the days are short. Speaking at least for myself, I know I tend to have to fight a bit of inertia. In this edition of the Spotlight, we’re spotlighting one way to get inspiration and learn cool things you can do on the OpenLab without feeling overwhelmed. What is it? The Spotlight itself!

What is the Spotlight?

Every Monday, we feature a different site, project, or activity that someone is doing on the OpenLab that we’ve specially selected for you to check out. For example, last semester, we Spotlighted:

The OpenLab Tutorial for Students page (recommended for students and anyone interested in building online tutorials)
The Student Technology Survey (recommended for all faculty teaching online)
The Fifth Annual Science Fiction Symposium (recommended for anyone who might want to host an event using the OpenLab)
The Experiential Art and Design Club (recommended for students running student organizations)

However, we also suggest checking out Spotlighted sites that don’t directly relate to what you want to do on the OpenLab. For example, in my spotlight of the Connect Days template, I explain some design choices the creators made that help make the site work so well as an admissions tool, such as an easy-to-digest home page, profiles to help prospective students get a sense for who is in each academic department, and multimedia tours.

How Else Can You Use the Spotlight?

Whether you’re faculty, staff, or a student, you can also check out our Spotlight archive to look for other sites on the OpenLab specifically tailored to your interests.

Our Student Archive contains featured course sites so that you can preview classes you might want to take in the future, tips for professional development and presenting yourself online, learning resources, and sites created by other students.

Faculty and Staff:
Our Faculty and Staff Archive is arranged to make it easy to find inspiration for online pedagogy and class sites across disciplines, tips for how to guide students in making e-portfolios for your classes, community opportunities at City Tech, and tips for publicizing and coordinating your scholarship!

What Else is on the Open Road?

Aside from the Spotlight, this OpenLab site also contains OpenLab News, so you can learn about new features and our upcoming events, information on how to attend our OpenLab Open Hours, and screencasts for audiovisual guidance on the nuts and bolts of editing your OpenLab site.

You can always see our Spotlighted content for the week on the home page of the OpenLab, or you can join our project profile to get updates sent directly to your email. We hope you’ll come back each week to see all of the cool stuff your colleagues and classmates are doing on the OpenLab!

In the Spotlight: Block Editor Workflow, Pt. 2 of 3

back alley
Photo by Timothy Vollmer on Flickr.

This week, we spotlight how to create reusable blocks in your block editor. What is a reusable block, you ask? Great question! A reusable block is a way to easily access content that repeats on your site. For example, do your assignments frequently end with the same set of instructions (e.g. Please post by Sunday at midnight. Make sure to include relevant citations and end your post with a discussion question to the class)? Does your club frequently post reminders about when and where to meet? This is content that you can save as a reusable block. This will save you from having to create the content anew or copying and pasting it.

To create a reusable block:

  1. Select a block.
  2. Click on the three dots that appear in the toolbar.
  3. Click Add to Reusable blocks.
  4. Give the block a name.
  5. Click Save.

When you want to add your reusable block to a page or post, you can retrieve it by:

  1. Typing a forward slash in your editor, followed by the block’s name (e.g. /assignment block).
  2. Finding it in your block toolbar.

You can learn more about reusable blocks here

Ready to try your hand at this? Feel free to reply to this post if you have any trouble!

In the Spotlight: Open Pedagogy

In conjunction with our first Open Pedagogy Event of the semester, this week we’re spotlighting our in-house site, Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab. This site operates as a forum where OpenLab community members can ask questions and stimulate discussion related to teaching and learning on the OpenLab and in open digital environments more generally. This site is a good place to find ideas for digital pedagogy assignments, access information on best practices and tips for open digital pedagogy, and engage other faculty about how teaching on the OpenLab changes their curriculum and classroom environments and relations.

In conjunction with this site, our OpenLab team hosts Open Pedagogy Events, organized around particular themes and concerns related to teaching in open digital environments and more specifically with teaching on the OpenLab. This Thursday (11/11) we’re hosting our first Open Pedagogy event of the semester, on Ungrading. Ungrading and its accompanying strategies offer one way to mitigate the harm and exhaustion of the pandemc. Ungrading is essentially student-centered and student-led, demanding that we engage critically with the power dynamics of the classroom. By incorporating grading policies that center students’ goals, hold space for critical self-reflection, and value the process of learning over a product, we can practice equity in our evaluation criteria.

The event will be held via Zoom from 4:00-6:00pm. Visit the event posting for more information and to RSVP! We hope to see you there!

In conclusion, we encourage to join the site, and follow along and participate in the conversation!

In the Spotlight: Plan Week 2021

PLAN Week Site Header Image

PLAN week is upon us! From November 1-5, students can meet with advisors to plan their next steps at City Tech. The PLAN week OpenLab site has all the information you need, “from choosing classes and learning how to register to finding out where to get support and make connections within the college.” 

You can make also learn more by going to academic advising website. The PLAN week committee recommends you spend 20-30 minutes a day this week planning your academic trajectory. You can start today by watching this short video introduction to advising.

Make sure to check the site out, and happy planning!

In the Spotlight: Anne Marie Sowder’s Portfolio

This week, we spotlight Anne Marie Sowder’s OpenLab Portfolio, which highlights her teaching, service and research in innovative ways. It can serve as a great model for faculty who want to use the OpenLab to communicate their accomplishments to colleagues, students and employers. Some things to note about the portfolio:

  • The Welcome page begins by highlighting Professor Sowder’s teaching! Though the main menu links out to her full Teaching Portfolio, Professor Sowder gives readers a sense of who she is as an educator on the landing page. Beginning with her teaching experience signals to the reader that this work is just as important as her research. Smartly, her teaching goals are listed in concise bullet point form, and readers are pointed to the Teaching Portfolio if they would like to know more.

  • The Teaching Portfolio is complete with syllabi, student evaluations, and a teaching philosophy. But I particularly love that Professor Sowder’s Student Researchers are highlighted as well! On the one hand, one of the best ways to communicate to the outside world who you are as an educator is to convey who your students are. On the other hand, students deserve acknowledgement for all of the contributions they make to faculty projects: this is a lovely way to give them the credit that they are due.
  • A research statement can be a lot to take in. But on her Research & Production page, Professor Sowder smartly bolds the information that is most important for readers to know: “I specialize in the analysis of past building practices (recent and distant past) in service of creating a stronger and more resilient built environment”. As evidence, Professor Sowder then links out to publications and  just as importantly, provides well-captioned images of the projects she has worked on.

All in all, this is a strong model of a faculty portfolio that mixes visual elements with a clear and concise narrative. It paints a vivid picture of Professor Sowder’s work and contributions! Visit Anne Marie Sowder’s site if you would like to know more.

In the Spotlight: Block Editor Workflow, Pt. 1 of 3

Over the next two months, we will be sharing tips and tricks to using the new(ish) block editor. These posts will be short and focus on just one best practice at a time, giving you space to experiment. 

If you’ve tried your hand at the block editor already, you know there are multiple ways to add new blocks to a page or post. We find, however, that one of the best ways to add a new type of block is to type a forward slash followed by the block name. For example, as pictured below, “/image” or “/heading”.

Then, choose the type of block you want to use. That’s it! This is an easy way to avoid the “pointing and clicking” options, which can interrupt your writing process. Please note though that this only works if you have no other text in the block! 

We hope this was helpful. Please reach back out to us here if you run into trouble! 

In the Spotlight: CMCE Career Site

Header Image for CMCE Career Site: features college graduates and construction and engineering workers against the backdrop of an urban landscape.
Header Image for CMCE Career Site

This week, we spotlight the excellent CMCE Career OpenLab site, which offers “career information and opportunities for construction management and civil engineering students and graduates.” Overall, the site offers a fantastic model of a job resource for City Tech students, both showcasing the work of City Tech alumni and directing current students to job postings and additional resources. I highlight some of what makes the site so effective below:

An engaging, media-rich home page: Instagram, Facebook and Twitter have gotten all of us used to a long, vertical scroll. That said, the best way to keep a reader’s attention with this format is to break up chunks of texts with images or other forms of multimedia. The CMCE Career home page does this very well. For example:

  • Below the header image, the site includes an important note to students that is bolded and in a bigger font to catch their attention. The note reads: “Whether you are just getting started, are currently working, want to switch from field to office work or office to field work, or are switching industries entirely, there are people like you in our department and among our alumni.” It foreshadows what students will find on this site, which is alumni stories, job and internships postings, and information about CMCE.
  • A second menu below this introductory text allows the reader to jump to the section of the site/ home page they would like to visit: Jobs & Internships; Where CMCES Work; Alumni Stories; Alumni News.
  • Spotlight boxes with CMCE “talking heads” give students a compelling visual and brief descriptions of possible job options and alumni success stories. 
  • A search functionality at the top of the page allows readers to easily find what they are looking for once they’ve skimmed the home page.
  • Pie-charts and graphs provide visual breakdowns of CMCE career paths, helping break-up long chunks of texts.

The Jobs & Internships page takes advantage of the block format to direct students toward public agencies and private companies that have job opportunities. Each company has its own block on the page: its title is bolded, the full description of the company is prominently included, and a button links you out to the company’s site. Note that this lay-out makes it easy to digest information. It is also more effective than simply featuring a bulleted list of hyperlinks to various companies. We encourage OpenLab users to to follow this kind of model when linking out to other resources: it is always more engaging for readers to have the full description of what they are being linked out to than to just see a link on a page.

The footer gives more information about the site’s creator, A.M. Sowder, including a brief bio and professional headshot. But it also features recent news from the department, linking out to blog posts updating visitors on the activities of faculty, students and alumni. This is a great use of widget space: remember that footers appear on all site pages, which means they are unlikely to get overlooked.

These are just some of the many innovative features of the CMCE Career site. It is a great model of a jobs and internship site that is reader-friendly and replete with information. 

In the Spotlight: Embedding Images with the Block Editor

Many of you are probably getting used to the new(ish) Block Editor this semester. The Classic editor will be supported by WordPress through at least 2022, but we encourage you to gain some familiarity with the Block editor now before the alternative becomes obsolete. One of the advantages of the Block editor is that it makes it easier to integrate text with visual page elements, without any coding needed. It can be especially useful if you have an image-rich site, as it allows you to embed media hosted on external sites (e.g. Dropbox, Google Drive, your own personal site) and therefore can help you save some of that precious OpenLab storage space! In the remainder of this post, I spotlight how to 1) upload and embed an image to your post; 2) embed externally-hosted image. 

Upload and Embed Images

To upload and embed an image to your page/ post follow these steps:

1. To upload images or other media (e.g. pdfs, Word docs, txt files) to a post or a page, go to your Dashboard > Posts > Add New or Pages > Add New.  Click the Add block button. A block library will appear: click Image to add an image to your page or post.

2. You can select files saved to your computer or flash drive by clicking Upload. Then, either drag-and-drop files from saved to your computer or select a file.  You also have the option to select an image or other files from your media library by clicking the Media Library tab, or inserting an image from a URL by clicking the Insert from URL tab.

3. Once you have uploaded or inserted your image, you can make adjustments to the file using the options in the block toolbar.  You can add a caption to appear underneath the image, change the “Alignment” of the image, and choose between the default rectangular style and a rounded image style. You can change the “Size” of the image by dragging its edges.

Embed Externally-Hosted Images

Please note that each site has a size limit and unnecessarily large images can take up more of your space than you’d like. If you are sharing many large images, we suggest hosting them with an external storage solution, such as Google Drive, Dropbox, or Flickr, among others. Instructions for embedding externally hosted images are as follows:

  1. On the “Add New Post” or “Add New Page” screen, click the Add block button. A block library will appear: click Image to add an image to your page or post.

2. Click Insert from URL.  Paste or type the URL for the image.

3. Click enter or the black arrow to Insert into Post.

4. Once you have inserted your image, you can make adjustments to the file using the options in the block toolbar.  You can add a caption to appear underneath the image and change the “Alignment” of the image. 

Want to try your hand at the Block editor? Please visit our Help documentation to learn more!


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

In The Spotlight: The Hospitality Garden is Back

Lettuce and herbs grown by the Garden Club at City Tech’s Hospitality Garden.

This week, we spotlight The Hospitality Garden, “a project that teaches students and faculty about the excitement and nuance of growing flowers and vegetables for the Culinary and Pastry Labs at NYC College of Technology.” The Garden Club tends to the garden, which was on hiatus the past 1.5 years, but it is back in action this semester. Students who are interested in volunteering are invited to help set up the new Hydroponic system. Currently the club is working with the new technology to plant lettuce and herb seeds. 

Some other noteworthy aspect of the site:

  • The home page is the project’s blogroll, meaning that posts appear there in reverse chronological order. Prof. Mark Hellerman, who runs the project, uses regular blog posts to keep members abreast of garden news and, most importantly, club meeting times. The club currently meets during club hours, from 12:45 -2:30pm on Thursdays, in Namm 201. Note that these blog posts are a smart way to remind members about club or project meetings. Another strategy is to feature club meeting information in the sidebar in the widget, such that it will be displayed on every page of your site.
  • The tag line–or the text featured next to or below the site title–is customized. It reads “Growing flowers and vegetables for the dining room, and for fun.” This tells the readers precisely what the project is about and is exactly how a tag line should be used. Because it’s more of a detail than a prominent feature on OpenLab sites, members sometimes forget to customize their tag lines and end up with the default text that reads “A City Tech OpenLab site.” This isn’t nearly as descriptive as what the Hospitality Garden has drafted. As a reminder, if you would like to customize your tag line, you can do so by going to Dashboard > Appearance > Customize > Site Identity. You will see an option to type in free text for your tag line.
  • The site’s menu links to a photo gallery. The photos featured show students and faculty planting herbs, vegetables and fruit on the rooftop garden, with the Brooklyn waterfront in the background. It is, indeed, a very picturesque setting. It also features photographs of the finished products– pastries and appetizers the Hospitality Department has made from the Garden Club’s produce. Note that the reader gets a vivid sense of what the club does by scrolling through these pictures and is given the (visual) context needed to imagine themselves volunteering for the club. This is a fantastic way to draw people into your work and projects.

Are you interested in joining the Garden Club and Hospitality Garden Project? Visit the site to learn more!