This Month on the OpenLab: 1.7.21

Flowers/dandelions in a meadow.

Image Source: Andrew Gustar

On May 17, we released version 1.7.21 of the OpenLab. This was a small release, but it included a few new plugins. One is the premium version of the PDF Embedder plugin, which adds functionality that should be useful to many OpenLab members, including a download button for embedded PDFs, the ability to show active links in PDFs, and a better views on mobile. If you’re already using PDF Embedder, you can continue to use it, but in order to take advantage of the new features, you’ll need to deactivate it, and activate the premium version. It appears in the list of plugins on your site dashboard just below PDF Embedder, and is called PDF Embedder Premium. We also added a plugin called Easy Custom Sidebars, which allows you to show a different sidebars, on different pages of your site. This plugin replaces Dynamic Widgets, which had a similar functionality, but was more difficult to set up.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

In the Spotlight: OER for Africana Folklore (Part 3 of 3)

Header image for Africana Folklore class.As the final post of our 3-part series on OERs, this week we’re spotlighting Professor Javiela Evangelista’s OER for Africana Folklore: Afr1130. As mentioned the last two weeks, the general description of OERs seems straightforward – open and freely accessible educational resources. However in practice OERs are more ambiguous. This series aims to highlight some key features of OERs by spotlighting a few OERs being built by City Tech Faculty.

While the last two weeks have focused on clarity and organization (Part 1), and flexibility (Part 2), what Professor Evangelista’s site highlights is that multimedia materials are often an important part of OERs.

In general, teaching and learning with multimedia has been shown to increase comprehension and retention (i.e. Aloraini, 2012). In Africana Folklore, Professor Evangelista pairs a video, or a few, with a set of readings each week. These are not only intended to supplement, but are an important part of the course material. They fill in gaps in understanding and bring new information to the fore, while also reinforcing other material assigned that week.

The consistent use of videos in her course is more pronounced in the context of the class field trip to Democracy Now!, and its related assignment. Democracy Now! is an independent media outlet that highlights social justice stories and news that are too often overlooked or misreported by mainstream media outlets. In the related assignment, Professor Evangelista asks students to compare independent and mainstream media outlets and to think about how and why they represent similar issues differently, and to what end.

This field trip and assignment draw a contemporary parallel to the ways in which Africana Folklore “highlights the survival of African descendant people (and their stories) by way of oral, material and customary traditions”. To what extent are independent media outlets deploying similar strategies toward similar goals?

Moreover, the field trip and assignment conveys lessons of media literacy without saying as much. This seems like an important opportunity for critical reflection on the use of videos as course material, as well as how students may use videos to supplement their independent learning at home. This drives home an important lesson inherent in multimedia pedagogy – for use in your OERs or otherwise – and of this time period in history: that it’s not just about the incorporation of multimedia text into our teaching and learning, but also the critical and responsible approach with which we do so.

For more on multimedia pedagogy from the OpenLab, check out our Spring 2017 Event on the topic (includes external readings), and read the recap, which includes additional examples of multimedia pedagogy on the OpenLab and around CUNY.

This concludes our 3-part series of OERs.

  • Did you miss our first two weeks? Learn more about how organization and clarity (Part 1), and flexibility (Part 2) factor in when building an OER. Part 1 also includes and overview of OERs in general and at City Tech.
  • To browse more OERs on the OpenLab, or learn more to create your own, check out City Tech’s OER Fellowship project site. This site includes external readings, information about the fellowship, and a link to each OER made through this fellowship.

In the Spotlight: In Conversation: An Eng 1101 OER Reader (Part 2 of 3)

Logo for In Conversation OER ReaderIn continuation of our focus on OERs, this week we’re spotlighting In Conversation: An OER Reader, a joint project of Professors Sarah Parulo and Johannah Rodgers. As mentioned last week, the general description of OERs seems straightforward – open and freely accessible educational resources. However in practice OERs are more ambiguous. This series aims to highlight some key features of OERs by spotlighting a few OERs being built by City Tech Faculty.

Similar to Professor Voza’s Biology II (1201) OER – spotlighted last week – In Conversation is well organized with content divided into three sections, and begins with clear “instructions” for how the site may be used and by whom. As Professor Parulo writes in her introduction:

“This reader is designed to lead you through the major elements that comprise any ENG 1101 course, but it is not meant to be taught starting from page one and straight through to the end. Rather, it is designed to allow you to pick and choose the readings and assignments that you think will work best in your classroom. “

These instructions reveal another important and useful aspect of OERs: flexibility.

When creating an OER, the hope is that it will be used by others; that other faculty at your university or beyond may use some or all of it in their classes, or use parts of it in their course development, and that students may refer to the resources you’ve assembled, at least to supplement their course work and understanding. So in contrast to the famous phrase by Aristotle, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, the parts of an OER are as important if not more important than the whole. This has consequences for how you design and organize the content of your OER.

With this in mind, you want to curate the information and resources housed on your OER in a way that allows users maximum flexibility with respect to choosing what pieces they use. Professors Parulo and Rodgers have achieved this by dividing content into three core topics, and then breaking that content down further into subsections that focus on a particular aspect of the larger section. For example, “Introduction to College Writing” is further broken down into three parts: understanding rhetoric, introduction to writing as a process, and elements of a college essay. Each subsection is broken down further into more specific topics that have a downloadable, student-facing PDF.

In Conversation also includes readings, reading questions and assignments for each major section. These aspects of the OER are also accessible from the main menu bar under the same headings (Readings & Questions, Sample Essay Assignments). This seems to reinforce the idea of flexibility; faculty visitors of the site for example can decide that they just want to look at the readings and questions or sample essay assignments, without venturing into the parts of the OER they are not interested in.

In this way, the flexibility built into the platform is with the visitor in mind – that the visitor can ‘flex’ the OERs content to best meet their needs.

The value of flexibility gets at a larger ambition of OERs. OERs are curated repositories of information meant to open up previously closed spaces of the academy (i.e. curriculum and assignment development, the classroom, the learning process) and to foster community, collaboration and sharing across these formerly siloed spaces. By making your OER flexible, you are broadening the scope of people who may find your OER useful, and thus expanding the bounds of the resulting community of learners and teachers.

In the Spotlight: An OER for Biology II 1201, (Part 1 of 3)

header image and main menu of Biology II OER

This week we’re spotlighting an open educational resource (OER) created by Professor Tatiana Voza for Biology II (1201) using a project site on the OpenLab. You can learn more about OERs and OERs at City Tech below, but in general, OERs are online educational resources that are open, easily accessible, and freely available to the public. This description is both meaningful – given its contrast with dominant practices in the academy – and ambiguous. This spotlight on Professor Voza’s site is the beginning of a 3-part series spotlighting Open Educational Resources on the OpenLab. This series aims to introduce you to the variety of OERs available on the OpenLab – some of which may be of use to City Tech students – and to show you to how some faculty at City Tech are implementing OERs on the OpenLab. Each part will focus on a particular quality of the OER, why it matters, and how the spotlighted site achieves it.

Part 1 focuses on clarity and organization.

When you first visit to Professor Voza’s Biology II OER, you are greeted with a welcoming, easily navigable introduction tailored to the role of the visitor (are you a student or a faculty?). Each section helps the visitor get oriented to the site by breaking down how each user-type may use the site: Are you a professor preparing your class? Are you a student trying to use this site to study for an exam?

The clear, instructional and organized nature of the page is mimicked throughout the site. This is a very useful strategy when building an OER. In your class, when things are unclear, students can clarify instructions and tasks with professors in class and/or via follow-up communication. However, with OERs, the aim is for other faculty and students beyond your class to adopt and adapt your materials for their own purposes. In this scenario, the lack of familiarity and proximity between user and creator combined with a lack of understanding about how to use and navigate the site could discourage visitors from using the OER altogether.

Relatedly, being clear that your site is an OER and that to a greater or lesser degree the material can be used and remixed by others, is equally important. On this OER site, a reminder in the form a description of the Creative Commons license is visible in the sidebar on every page.

Another feature of Professor Voza’s OER that assists in presenting the content in a clear and easily digestible way is the use of the Table of Contents Plus plugin. Upon activating this plugin, introductory Table of Contents (TOC) boxes automatically appear on all pages across the site that include 3 or more ‘Headings’ (see image). Including a TOC, especially on pages with a lot of content assists users in quickly understanding what a page contains and navigating to content of interest. The Table of Contents Plug plugin is easy to use, great for organization on any site, and can easily be activated on your own sites by going to Dashboard > Plugins.

A screenshot of the Page editor indicating where users can create headings.

Not sure how to make a heading? When in the editor of a page or post, click the arrow next to ‘Paragraph’ for a dropdown menu that allows you to change text from ‘Paragraph’ to a sub-level heading.


What are Open Educational Resources?

Open Educational Resources, or OERs, are just what they sound like – educational resources that are open, easily accessible, and freely available to the public. In the context of higher education at CUNY, OERs are discussed in relation to alleviating textbook costs for students.  This is significant given that these costs too often play a role in the direction of studies a student may pursue, and/or may prevent a student from completing their studies all together. In addition to making higher education more affordable, OERs create transparency around course curriculum, allowing faculty to easily share the details, content, and organization of their courses. In this way, OERs promote culture of sharing, remixing and collaboration.

OERs at City Tech

Since 2015, City Tech’s OER Fellowship program has supported 25 faculty create and curate Open Educational Resources for a course of theirs on the OpenLab. Fellows are full-time faculty members representing a diversity of departments including Construction Management and Civil Engineering Technology, Biological Sciences, Social Sciences, African American Studies, Computer Science Technology and Dental Hygiene – to name a few. A full list of fellows and their OERs can be found on the OER Fellowship site hosted on the OpenLab. OERs on the OpenLab, however, are not limited to this list; other faculty have taken it upon themselves to develop OERs for City Tech’s community.

Further reading to learn more about OERs:

In the Spotlight: Typography Design III COMD 2427, Brooklyn Historical Society

name of project site on background of mosaic of student-created posters,This week we’re spotlighting the Typography Design III COMD 2427: Brooklyn Historical Society site. This project site showcases posters created and designed by City Tech students as part of an assignment in Professor John De Santis’ typography design class. The assignment aims to simulate a professional scenario where the student is the designer and the Brooklyn Historical Society is the client. Similar to what this may look like in the real world, students are asked to complete a creative brief, conduct research about their client and their client’s needs, to brainstorm multiple ideas for their design concept before choosing one to refine, to give and receive design critique with peers, and finally to finalize their poster based on feedback before giving a final presentation to the class outlining their final concept as related to their research and design choices. In addition to helping students develop their typography skills, this assignment aims to equip students with professional skills like client research conceptualization.

In addition to showcasing high quality student work, the Brooklyn Historical Society project site demonstrates a unique use of the OpenLab. The project site houses posters created by students across 6 sections of the same course, and is used in conjunction with private, individual course sites. This structure offers students a private space and closed community with which to develop their posters, while also creating a public-facing site to share completed work. In the same vein as the structure of the assignment, this use of the OpenLab also seems to simulate the professional environment design students may be walking into upon graduation.

To learn more about how Professor De Santis uses the OpenLab and his philosophy and intentions behind doing so, check out Pedagogy Profiles, a new blog series created by the OpenLab Community Team that aims to highlight and provoke discussion around the pedagogy of educators here at City Tech. Our first post features Professor De Santis!

This Month on the OpenLab: 1.7.20

Rainy day in the city, people crossing the street with umbrellas.

“April Showers”. Image Source: Robert S

We released version 1.7.20 of the OpenLab on April 18, which included a few new features and a small bug fix. We added a new theme and new plugin. The theme is called OpenLab Twenty Sixteen. It’s a child theme of Twenty Sixteen, and is quite similar, with a just few tweaks. We got rid of the black border around the site, and decreased some of the margins around the content so there’s less white space. We also increased the size of the site title, and changed some of the heading styles. We changed bulleted and numbered lists so they’re indented. Activating the theme also automatically activates the new plugin, Breadcrumb NavXT, which adds breadcrumb links to pages, making it easier to navigate sites that might have many different pages, such as Open Educational Resource (OER) sites. The plugin may be deactivated if you don’t want to use breadcrumbs, or activated on sites that aren’t using the new theme.

In addition, the mobile version of the site was improved, so that when viewing Course, Project, Club, or Portfolio Profiles, the link to the associated Site is at the top rather than bottom of the page.

We fixed a bug that affected only sites with both the Ultimate Category Excluder and Category Sticky Post plugins activated at the same time. If the Category Excluder plugin was activated and being used to exclude any categories from the home page, then sticky posts would not be “stuck” at the top of the homepage.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

In the Spotlight: Pedagogy Profiles

This week we’re spotlighting a new blog series on the OpenLab, Pedagogy Profiles. Pedagogy Profiles is an OpenLab blog series that highlights our educators here at City Tech. Each month we’ll feature different faculty members who will share the diverse and creative ways they are using the OpenLab to support their pedagogy.

Through a series of questions, educators are asked to reflect on their experiences using the OpenLab to support a range of pedagogy-related activities, from supporting a specific course to coordinating curriculum within a learning community. In their responses, educators discuss specific affordances of the OpenLab and the kind of course structure and culture they’ve been able to realize by integrating the OpenLab into their practice.

Through this series, we hope to give educators a chance to reflect on their pedagogy in a public arena, and to engage other educators in critical and transformative dialogue about teaching and learning. Our hope for Pedagogy Profiles is that it will further enrich the ongoing conversations around pedagogy already taking place at City Tech and across CUNY.

This series is hosted on one of our in-house sites, Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab. This site serves as forum where the City Tech community can ask questions, stimulate discussion, and share teaching materials, resources, and ideas related to teaching and learning on the OpenLab.

To view our latest featured profile, look in the blog or sidebar on our homepage. You can also review past posts by visiting our Archive.

Want to nominate a colleague or professor to be featured? Contact us today!

In the Spotlight: Ink Club

Logo for Ink ClubThis week we’re spotlighting the Ink Club, an expanding group of student-illustrators and -artists who are growing community around their love of the craft of storytelling. Accepting students of all levels and experience, the Ink Club offers support and opportunities to collaborate for students who want to develop and hone their craft. Specifically they hold weekly meetings, offer portfolio-building and professional development opportunities (including a visit with the full-service animation company Titmouse, evidenced by image below), and house a curated a set of resources on their site.

Recently, the group has been working on an anthology zine, a book of illustrations and short comics arranged around the theme of ‘Zodiac’. Copies of the zine will be printed for contributing members and sold at future events to raise funds for and share the work of the group. Relatedly, the group tabled this past weekend at the MoCCA Fest (Manhattan’s largest independent comics, cartoon and animation festival), where they showcased their anthology and the members sold pieces of their artwork.

Interested? Drop by or get in touch. The group “typically meet[s] every Thursday, at 12:45-2:15pm, in room Namm 1122.” Or, if you have questions, contact them (citytechinkclub [at] gmail [dot] com).

Just a fan? View their gallery, subscribe to their site (click ‘Join Now’ under the avatar or profile image on their OpenLab profile and/or follow them on social media (Instagram, Facebook).

In the Spotlight: The Buzz

Logo for the BuzzThis week we’re spotlighting The Buzz, our student community team. These City Tech students blog weekly about their experiences at City Tech and beyond. Through their stories, they share challenges and lessons-learned as they navigate the world, and the micro-worlds of peer fashion, life-family balance, the diverse world of tea, the converging past and present of the theater district, gentrifying neighborhoods and change, life after City Tech, approaching the future with intentionality, and finding support in difficult times. Learn more about the topics they tackle in the tag cloud on the homepage.

Group shot of our Student Community Team.

“Meet the Queens of The Buzz”. Left to Right: Robine, Cherishe, Genny, Sam, Pebbles, Sabrina, Brianna. Image & Quote by: Student Blogger Nefertiti ‘Neffi’ Francis

As you’ll read in their bios, each blogger brings their own experiences and unique flavor to their writing and the selection of stories they tell: Sabrina brings life and analysis to the City’s architecture, while Neffi offers advice and strategies for success, for example. The group has also tackled topics together by identifying a common writing theme for the week or month. In the past, the team took on the challenge of unpacking topics like what the practice of writing means to them. This week, the all-girl cast is celebrating Women’s History Month with posts honoring the important women and positions on feminism that they admire and aspire to embody.

Through their posts (so far!), these women have acknowledged the important work of a range of women spanning history – from Beyonce and Michelle Obama to Sojourner Truth and Coretta Scott King (coming soon!). What I have found to be particularly powerful are the connections and comparisons the writers make between culturally well-known women, like the Women of Wakanda and those listed above, and the less-well-known-but-ever-important women who have held their lives, families and communities together over generations, including their mothers, grandmothers, aunties, sisters and friends.  As in the preceding weeks, this week’s posts promise to pack a stimulating and intellectual punch – be sure to tune in!

Want to get alerts when they post? Receive email updates by joining their site as a member (click ‘Join Now’ under the avatar on their profile page) and/or follow them on Twitter (@CityTechOpenLab).

Want to become (or recommend a student to become) a blogger? The Buzz is hiring for next year! Be on the lookout for the hiring call – coming in a few weeks!