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!

In the Spotlight: Advanced Accordions

This week we spotlight Accordions, which can now be easily added to your site with the PublishPress Blocks plugin. Those of you who have worked on the OpenLab a while know that we advocate keeping content on a single page brief. It is always easier for the reader to digest information in smaller chunks, and pages or posts that are text heavy can be visually overwhelming. Accordions are a great way to keep a page/ post short, while still making available additional information that might be useful to your reader. 

But, first, you might be wondering: what are accordions? And how can I create them?

Accordions are collapsible lists: the header for each item on the list is always displayed, but the text and multimedia below the header can be opened and closed. For example, in the image below, the Experiential Art & Design club features an FAQ accordion at the bottom of their home page. Each accordion item takes the form of one FAQ, such as “Do I need to bring a laptop?” When you click the question, the accordion expands, and the answer becomes visible. This is a great way for the club to save space; it also invites the reader to interact with their site!

To create an accordion of this kind, first activate the  PublishPress Blocks plugin in your Dashboard. Then, in your page/ post editor, select the Advanced Accordion block. You now have a fully customizable accordion! The block settings that appear on your right allow you to do things like change the icon of the accordion, the color of the header, the size of the font, etc. Note that beneath each header you can include images as well as text.

We encourage you to play around with Advanced Accordions. While you probably won’t want to hide crucial information in an accordion (e.g. an assignment prompt), they can be a great space-saving design tool for information that might be thought of as “additional” or “further reading.” 

Do you already use accordions on your site? What are some of your use-cases?

In The Spotlight: The HSI Committee

A group picture of faculty and staff serving on the Hispanic Serving Institution Committee.

This week, we celebrate Hispanic heritage month by spotlighting the Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) Committee’s new site! The site is clean and well-organized and can serve as a model for other academic committees. From left to right, its menu features: a static home page which describes the committee’s goals; a page that answers the question What is an HSI?; a page About the Committee; and a page with additional Resources. Note how intuitive this set-up is: it briefly gives the information needed to understand the committee’s purpose before offering in-depth descriptions of the context in which the committee is working, the faculty and staff serving on the team, and additional readings and support opportunities for those who are interested. Note also that the header image features a group picture of the faculty and staff serving on the committee: this is a lovely personal touch!

We’d also like to draw your attention to the events page, as there many coming up for HSI Week 2021. Today, September 13, there will be two HSI forums: one for faculty, staff and administrators and the other for students and families. You can sign up for these forums here.

Finally, we want to highlight the committee’s recommendations for City Tech, which include doubling the number of students who complete their associate degrees or transfer to baccalaureate programs in three years and achieving a six-year graduation rate of 50% for baccalaureate program students. To do this, the committee recommends City Tech recognize the importance of having a representative size of Hispanic faculty and offer mentorship that is tailored to the needs of Hispanic Students.

All-in-all, this is a richly informative and easy to navigate site. Check it out for inspiration and mark your calendars with any HSI Week events you’d like to attend.

In the Spotlight: Bulk Adding Students to your Course

Are you teaching this semester on the OpenLab? If so, a new feature allows you to add students in bulk to your course:

  1. Create a list of your students’ emails: you can download these in a spreadsheet from Blackboard or CUNY First.
  2. Go to your Course Profile > Membership.
  3. Click Invite New Members
  4. At the bottom of the page is an option for Import Members to Your Course.
  5. Here you can paste a list of City Tech email addresses for your students. These can be either separated by commas, or one email address per line. 
  6. Click the checkbox next to “I acknowledge that the following individuals are officially enrolled in my course or have approved this action.”
  7. Click Import.
  8. You will see a list of students who were successfully added to your course. They will receive an email notification that they were added.

If any students do not have OpenLab accounts, a list of their email addresses will appear below the students who were added to your course. They will need to create an account before they can be added to your course. You can also copy the email addresses and send invites to those students by clicking on “Invite the following to join the OpenLab and your Course.”


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

In the Spotlight: Welcome Back!

End of Summer by It Is Elisa on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Welcome to a new academic year! The OpenLab Team has some helpful information to share:

  • The  Fall 2021 schedule for OpenLab support is now available:
    • Students, faculty, and staff can sign up for open hours and one-on-one appointments to ask specific questions or ask to learn more about topics such as getting started, using the OpenLab for courses, or how to use a tool  or pedagogical approach. 
    • We have workshops slated for the next two weeks, including on Getting Started on the OpenLab, and using the Block Editor on the OpenLab. 
    • Any group can request a workshop!
  •  Faculty members, have any questions about getting your course site ready for the semester? See helpful tips posted here: Teaching with the OpenLab.

  • Are you a student getting ready to use the OpenLab this semester? See the helpful OpenLab for Students module. If you are faculty you can refer your students to this module as well.

  • Get inspired by what City Tech has done on the OpenLab by looking through our past In the Spotlight posts.

  • The OpenLab released several new features this summer, including an option to save Courses, Projects, Clubs and Portfolios to a list of “favorites,” and a new quiz-making plug-in. You can also now add students in bulk to your course by using a list of student emails: our help documentation will walk you through how to do this step-by-step.

The OpenLab, City Tech’s open digital platform for teaching, learning, and collaboration, offers virtual open hours, online support, and technical guidance throughout the year.

The OpenLab team also offers a selection of Help materials for Distance Education, plus Courses, Projects, Clubs, and Portfolios

Contact us with questions:!

The OpenLab Team

Summer Series 2021

Part 2 of 5 of: Explore the OpenLab and Learn How to Get Help with Using the OpenLab


This week, we continue our 5-part self-guided series and ask: How do others use the OpenLab? How can I get help using the OpenLab? The tasks below will help everyone explore how members of the City Tech community use the OpenLab to learn, teach, build community, and pursue other scholarly and pedagogical interests. These tasks will also show how to get support using the OpenLab.

  • Task 1: Check out In the Spotlight, our blog series that features a different exemplary site each week. Begin with the  Spotlight Archive:
    • If you are a student, you may want to scroll through some student ePortfolios and clubs.
    • If you are faculty, you may want to scroll through some spotlighted courses. 
    • If you are staff, you may want to look at some spotlighted projects.
  • Task 2: Check out our example courses.

  • Task 3:  Check out our in-house site Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab: A site for sharing and discussing resources about open digital pedagogy. This site will help you understand what we mean when we talk about learning/ teaching online and in the “open”:
  • Task 4: Continue to explore the community using various search and filter options:
    • You can search through people, courses, projects, clubs and portfolios using the menu at the top and the magnifying glass in the top-right.
    • You can also search courses, projects, clubs and portfolios using the links titled by type of site (courses, projects, clubs, portfolios) under the slider. From the search page, use the filters (top-right) to tailor your search.

  • Task 5: As you explore, you may find yourself inspired to start creating your course or ePortfolio. To get help with these tasks and using the OpenLab you can:
    • Check out our Help Documentation – it has everything you need to get started joining and building sites on the OpenLab. Get help with everything from Creating a Course, inviting students,sharing materials, and using the new WordPress block editor
    • Throughout this summer, we have virtual office hours: these are  one-on-one consultations with a member of the OpenLab team. You’re welcome to meet with us at any stage of your work, whether you are just starting to think through how you will set up your site or whether you’re more advanced.  
    • We are available to support you seven days a week via email at

We’ll be in touch next week to help you create on the OpenLab.