In the Spotlight: Accessibility on the OpenLab

Image Source: Bruno Cordioli

This week we’re spotlighting a post that lays out what you can do to improve accessibility on your OpenLab sites composed by the OpenLab’s Senior Instructional Technologist, Bree Zuckerman. Specifically, Bree’s post explains how to make sure documents, images, video, animation and links are accessible to all visitors, and how to present your content in a way that is legible to those with a range of disabilities. Bonus: These changes also generally improve the usability of your site for all users!

It is possible that you won’t have to change too much — for example, many users already use headings, or insert links into descriptive phrases (like the hyperlinked text, “a post”, above) rather than vague ones like “‘click here’.”

In addition, the OpenLab has activated a network-wide plugin, WP Accessibility Plugin, that builds features into the design of the OpenLab which support accessible-practices when creating on the OpenLab.

Just as it is important to be mindful of accessibility when planning and constructing physical infrastructure such as buildings and sidewalks, it is critical that we are mindful of accessible design when creating on the OpenLab and in other digital spaces. Making our sites on the OpenLab accessible means that people with disabilities can, ideally, better perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the various features of our sites. This may include navigating through a page or a menu, reading a PDF, or “viewing” an image or video. There are some specific ways OpenLab members can address issues of accessibility and ensure that all visitors to their sites are able to access the sites’ material equally.

In implementing these practices on your current and future OpenLab sites, you’re also ensuring that the OpenLab stays true to its foundational goal of creating and sustaining an open digital space where all City Tech students, faculty, staff, and alumni can work together, experiment, and innovate, ultimately enriching the intellectual and social life of our college community.

Related Upcoming Events & Workshops

In supporting OpenLab members in the thinking-and-doing of accessibility, the Community Team will host an Open Pedagogy Event focused on this topic, and a related hands-on workshop.

Open Pedagogy Event (THIS WEEK): Accessibility on the OpenLab
Thursday 2/22 5:30pm – 7:00pm in the Faculty Commons (N227) RSVP
This event continues the conversation about how designing the college experience with accessibility in mind benefits our communities. We’ll engage each other about how standards and accommodations vary across the disciplines. Our discussion will focus on universal design and how it can be incorporated into our pedagogy, mentorship, and administrative work on campus and beyond.

Workshop: Accessibility-a-thon!
Thursday 3/8 1:30pm – 3:30pm, Room TBA
RSVP (Coming Soon)
This workshop offers OpenLab users an opportunity to get in-person support with improving the accessibility and usability of their sites. The OpenLab Community Team invites members of City Tech to drop-in anytime and stay as long as you’d like (up to 2 hours).

In addition to these events, OpenLab members are always welcome to bring questions of accessible/universal design to our office hours or to contact us at openlab@citytech.cuny.edu.

A word map highlighting the different aspects of universal design.

Image Source: Giulia Forsythe

In the Spotlight: Request a Workshop!

Tools on a blue wall in a workshop.

Image Source: pixabay.com

This week we’re spotlighting a renewed form of support – customized workshops for faculty, staff, or students in your departments, offices, and other stakeholder groups at City Tech. In contrast to the general offerings we’ve done in the past, these targeted workshops will be designed specifically for your group. In designing your workshop, the OpenLab Community Team will work directly with you to ensure your group’s needs are met. Please note that workshops are accepted on a rolling basis, so get your requests in early if you want to have the workshop this semester.

Request a workshop today by completing the form on this page. 

This Month on the OpenLab: 1.7.17

Aster d'automne...!!!

On January 22, we released version 1.7.17 of the OpenLab. It included updates for WordPress and BuddyPress, the software that powers the OpenLab, and all themes and plugins. The release also included a few bug fixes, and the introduction of three significant new features.

New Features

We’re very excited to introduce project cloning in this release, which was previously only available for courses.  Any project admin can now clone a project, which will an exact copy, keeping all content created or uploaded by the admin, while no content created by non-admins will be copied over. The project avatar, settings, and site settings will all remain the same, although admins can adjust anything as necessary.

Another major change to functionality is the loosening of the relationship between member roles on a Course, Project, or Club Profile and the Site. Previously, changing a member’s role on the Site Dashboard would always be overridden by the member role in the Profile settings. This is no longer the case. You can now change member roles by going to your Site Dashboard > Users, and change anyone’s role. This allows for usage of the wider range of roles available on the Site, such as Editor or Subscriber. Roles will only resync to match the Profile if that member is either promoted or demoted on the Profile, or if they leave the Course, Project, or Club.

As many of our members have probably noticed, we introduced HTML email. You can now read email notifications in a more attractive format. Please be aware, however, that as with previous plain text emails, you still can’t reply by email. So, as before, please log into the OpenLab to respond to messages, update Discussion Forum threads, and reply to Site comments.

We made a small change to the functionality of the “Email all members” feature, where admins can send a message to all members of a Course, Project, or Club. We improved this functionality so that instead of the sender appearing as “City Tech OpenLab,” it appears instead as the sender’s name.

New Themes and Plugins

We added two new themes – Twenty Seventeen and Gillian. These are both responsive (meaning they display well on mobile) and accessible. We also retired a number of themes that are not responsive or accessible, including Coraline, Filtered, Hero, Pilcrow, Sliding Door, Twenty Ten, Twenty Eleven, and Twenty Fourteen.  If you have any of these themes activated on an existing site, the theme will remain active.  However, they’ll no longer be listed in the themes available for activation on new sites.  Or, if you deactivate one of these themes on an existing site, you won’t be able to reactivate the theme.

We also added one new plugin, WP Accessibility. This plugin makes a number of improvements to the accessibility of all OpenLab sites. You can read more about it on our WP Accessibility page in Help, or on the WordPress.org WP Accessibility plugin page. On the OpenLab, the main function will be ensuring that everyone remembers to add alt text to images. It will also remove the target attribute from links, which makes them open in a new tab, and is not a good practice for both accessibility and usability. In addition, it will remove title attributes for images and tag clouds, which will improve accessibility for people using screen readers.

For more information about accessibility on the OpenLab, please read our Help posts on Making your Work Accessible and Summary of Accessibility on the OpenLab.

Bug Fixes

We fixed an issue with the WP Grade Comments plugin causing the show/hide link to disappear for private comments. This didn’t affect privacy — private comments have always only been visible to the site admin(s) and the student receiving the grade — but the show/hide (“spoiler”) link was missing. It now appears as it should.

There was a small bug which caused help documents to print out with some blank pages for Firefox users. This has now been fixed.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

Image Source: Denis Colette

In the Spotlight: Welcome back & OpenLab Support Opportunities

Happy New Year and welcome back! As you all are sinking back into your semesterly routines, we want to take a moment to highlight the different ways we’re here to support and engage you this semester.

Spring 2018 Office Hours

Meet with a member of the OpenLab Community Team for face-to- face support.

Tuesdays, 1:00 – 3:00 pm: 2/13, 3/13, 4/17, 5/1
Wednesdays, 10:00 – 12:00 pm: 2/7, 3/7, 3/28, 4/25
Fridays, 12:00 – 2:00 pm: 2/2, 3/2, 3/23, 4/20

Office hours are held in the conference room of the Faculty Commons, N227.

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.

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)
  • Follow our student bloggers, who chronicle various aspects of their lives at City Tech and beyond, on The Buzz. (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)

Spring 2018 Open Pedagogy Events – Faculty and Staff

As in semesters past, we will have two Open Pedagogy events in Spring 2018. The dates are set for Thursday February 22 and Thursday March 22 – from 5:30pm to 7:00pm in the Faculty Commons (N227). Learn more here.

We hope to see you around soon! Wishing you all a happy semester!

In the Spotlight: The Spotlight!

This winter we’re spotlighting the Spotlight! The Spotlight is our weekly blog series on the Open Road which features a different site every week. In addition to demonstrating the diverse ways people use the OpenLab, the Spotlight archive also sheds light on the rich and interesting work of the City Tech community.

This semester, we’ve spotlighted the following sites:

For more, check out the Spotlight Archive, accessible from our main menu.

Wishing everyone a very happy and restful holiday season!

Frosted holly

Image Source: Liz West

This Month on the OpenLab: 1.7.15

Overlooking Georgian Bay

We released version 1.7.15 of the OpenLab on November 14. This was a very small release that included a few minor plugin updates and two small bug fixes. One corrected an issue preventing members from sending invitations to people who are not already members of the OpenLab. The second fixed an issue causing the subtopics in the Help section to display in the wrong order.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

[Image Source: Jeff S.]

In the Spotlight: MTEC 2210 – Game Design & Interactive Media

Header image of course siteThis week we’re spotlighting Professor Boisvert’s Game Design & Interactive Media course (MTEC 2210) in the Emerging Media Technology department. The course offers students a “cross-disciplinary foundation for the design of games and interactive multi-media technology” and may be of interest to artists, engineers, scientists, technologists and more! In terms of digging in, assignments and experiences lead students through the process of deconstructing and reconstructing various websites – thinking through the aims of an organization and the intended audience and design of the website. Students share their reflections on the blog, seemingly as a way of sharing their analysis with the class at large, as well as practicing public writing and reflection.

Professor Boisvert also uses the blog to post weekly reading questions. As the stated question below suggests, these questions ask students to think creatively and collectively about the readings. Judging by the responses, students not only engage one another in discussion about the readings, but given that many students seem to filter their responses through their own experiences, also build rapport and familiarity with other students. In this way, the reading response questions also function to grow community in the classroom and among students, enriching their participation in the class and their education at City Tech more broadly.

example of reading response question

These assignments and class activities ultimately prepares students to begin thinking through the design of a game. This also takes place on the blog, which is now – in theory – a familiar and friendly place to share and get feedback from peers and Professor Boisvert. As the end of the semester nears, check back to see how student-generated games like Space Pirates or League of Rappers evolve!

The Month on the OpenLab: 1.7.14

Carved pumpkins on a bench.

Image Source: Macwagen

We released version 1.7.14 of the OpenLab on September 17, which included a few new features and a few bug fixes.

We expanded the ability for members to upload CSV files, so that they can be uploaded in the Files section of a Course, Project, or Club Profile, in addition to the Site.

We also made two small changes to Course creation and cloning. (1) We changed the way that faculty members identify additional faculty who they want to list on their Course Profile. The functionality remains similar, but the Additional Faculty settings section now looks slightly different. (2) We added a few additional instructions to the first step of the Course cloning process.

We added one plugin, Accordion Shortcodes, which allows users to add sections of text or other elements to their site that can be expanded or collapsed.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

In the Spotlight: English Composition 1 (Eng 1101 LC22/CD322)

The header image on the course site.This week we’re spotlighting Professor Sarah Schmerler’s English 1101: English Composition 1 class. This course is one half of a learning community, wherein she shares the same students with math professor Grazyna Niezgoda. The objective of the learning community, and common theme between the two courses, is to help students learn how to solve complicated problems by breaking a problem down into smaller, simpler steps. Likewise, Professor Schmerler’s syllabus suggests the class objectives are also further broken down into smaller goals such as using writing as a process of discovery and practice of critical thinking, building skills around drafting, revising and research, and fostering a personal writing style and process. This style of breaking a whole down into manageable parts is also a theme in the way Professor Schmerler has designed her course site. Wondering what materials you’ll need for this course? See the ‘Materials/Supplies’ item in her main menu. Similar questions can be asked about assignments, course policies, paper formatting and more. This results in quick and easy navigation of the course site both for her students and other visitors.

In addition to using the course site to organize course-related materials, Professor Schmerler also holds class discussions on informal topics generated by her students. So far, there is a discussion of the sometimes difficult task of figuring out what to wear each day, and a critical discussion of the pros and cons of Pineapple Pizza. These activities help students practice writing in an informal and low-stakes way, and likely supports them in translating their thoughts, opinions and perspectives into writing that is legible to others; in other words, facilitating the process of fostering a personal writing style.

The last aspect of Professor Schmerler’s course site that I’ll highlight is the use of the course blogroll to share resources with students (i.e. on semicolons, on active vs passive voice, on possessives). These resources are no doubt of use to the students in her course, but also may be of use to other students on the OpenLab and at City Tech more broadly. Thus, housing her course on the OpenLab rather than on a closed or private platform increases the potential impact of her course and its materials.

View the resources, join the discussion and learn more about Professor Schmerler’s course by visiting her course site today!

In the Spotlight: OER Fellowship

City Tech OER Fellowship Logo

This week we’re spotlighting the OER Fellowship project site on the OpenLab. Beginning in 2015, City Tech’s OER Fellowship supports full-time faculty in creating open educational resources (OERs) – or educational websites comprised of open-source and publically available materials that will consolidate and/or replace their course texts. While an important draw of OERs is the cut in textbook costs to students, during our Open Pedagogy event on this topic last year, Professors and 2016 OER Fellows Sue Brandt and Ari Maller also discussed the greater degree of flexibility in and customizability of content that OERs provide. Relatedly, Professor Brandt discussed the ability to keep course content up-to-date even if only by adding current examples, while Professor Maller enjoyed the ease of assigning texts of various mediums (i.e. videos, images).  

Information about the Fellowship, including participant requirements & guidelines and links to the OERs generated by past fellows, can be found on City Tech’s Ursula C. Sherwin Library website. This information and more – including the Seminar Syllabus, additional resources, and a forum that simultaneously documents the work of past cohorts and identifies some important conversations and considerations related to OERs – is available on the OpenLab site.

Further questions about the fellowship? Contact OER Librarian, Professor Cailean Cooney at ccooney@citytech.cuny.edu.

Further questions about OERs and their possibilities? Read the recap from our Open Pedagogy Event on OERs from last Fall (2016), the recap from our recent Open Pedagogy Event on Copyright and Attribution in Open Digital Pedagogy, and/or join us for our next Open Pedagogy event on Annotating Text on the OpenLab Thursday October 26th at 5:30pm in the Faculty Commons (N227). This is a follow-up to a well-received Spring event, “Annotating Texts in Open Digital Pedagogy”, and related to Librarian Monica Berger’s post, ‘Hypothes.is for OERs’ on the OER Fellowship OL site.