In the Spotlight: Ten Years of OpenLab

The OpenLab at City Tech was officially launched ten years ago this semester! As we celebrate ten wonderful years working with all of you, here are ten things we love about the OpenLab:

  1. It’s open! You can share your work with others at City Tech and beyond and can see and learn from work shared by other members.  (And when you need to, you can work in private, too.)
  2. All are welcome: Everyone at City Tech can join the OpenLab–students, faculty, staff, and alumni. On the OpenLab, everyone can create, experiment, innovate, and share the results with the larger community.
  3. It’s built by and for City Tech: Because it’s created here at City Tech, everyone has a voice in how the OpenLab is built. Members come up with great ideas (like early on adding LaTeX to use mathematical language on the OpenLab!)–and those great ideas become new features for everyone to use!
  4. It’s designed for collaboration and community: Members can use the OpenLab to work together even if they’re in different classes or departments, within and across courses, in group projects, departmental projects, and cross-college committees,  and in student clubs. It’s a space where members can connect and share interests and ideas. The OpenLab team also offers asynchronous support, workshops, and community events to foster connection and support.
  5. Open Educational Resources live here: The OpenLab houses City Tech’s Open Educational Resources initiative. Open Educational Resources are zero-cost, available beyond the semester, and free for instructors to remix and adapt, fostering a collaborative style of teaching and learning.
  6. It nurtures open pedagogies: The OpenLab invites students and instructors to discuss what works in and out of the classroom. Through workshops, events, blog posts, and more, we also consider what deserves rethinking and, most importantly, what allows students and instructors to challenge each other in mutually rewarding and respectful ways. 
  7. You can learn new skills: The OpenLab is built on the WordPress publishing platform, which powers more than 43% of sites on the internet. Members can also build out and customize sites using plugins and even more advanced tools like CSS. So, when you’re using the OpenLab, you’re learning technical skills that can help you beyond City Tech.
  8. It’s open source: WordPress and the OpenLab are built using open source software that is free for anyone to use. This makes us part of a larger community of educators and technologists working on innovative, open source projects that pose an alternative to proprietary technologies and learning management systems. We’ve freely shared the OpenLab’s software, so other institutions can create their own OpenLabs just like the OpenLab at City Tech.
  9. Your work: Members are always finding exciting new ways to use the OpenLab. We get to highlight these in our weekly In the Spotlight series, and we keep them archived, for future reference. 
  10. You! The best and most important thing about the OpenLab is its members. Nearly 40,000 students, faculty, and staff members have joined the OpenLab in the past 10 years and have made it the awesome place it is today!

We would love to hear from you! Share what you love about the OpenLab in the comments below. You can also contact us via email. We’ll be showcasing your favorite OpenLab features in our weekly Spotlight series throughout the 2022-2023 Academic Year.

Today: BWRC Conference

Friday May 13, 9am-4pm
Sea Level Rise and Brooklyn's Jamaica Bay Communities
Virtual Conference

The Brooklyn Waterfront Research Center (BWRC) invites you to their annual conference: “Sea Level Rise and Brooklyn’s Jamaica Bay Communities”    

Today, Friday, May 13, 2022, 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM ET  

Free – RSVP for Zoom link

Join BWRC this Friday for a full day of online panels and presentations!
This year marks the ten-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, a time when many of the city’s coastal vulnerabilities became glaringly apparent. Since then New York has taken major strides in making the coastline more resilient, yet immediate and long-term risks associated with global climate change and sea-level rise remain. Recent research on sea-level rise outlines the possibility, some would say probability, of the inundation, by the end of the century, of vulnerable communities along the Brooklyn waterfront, especially those along Jamaica Bay.  

This full-day conference will explore these possibilities and the questions they raise for Jamaica Bay: What is the science behind sea level rise predictions? How will sea level rise affect the communities surrounding Jamaica Bay? What actions are underway and what further actions are being planned to mitigate these impacts? The main question the conference will address is: What can be done if none of the planned measures prevents the inundation of Jamaica Bay’s vulnerable neighborhoods?  

Leading these explorations will be local officials, community activists, business leaders, scientists, and academics. Learn more on our website and see the schedule:

BWRC 2022 Conference Schedule
available as pdf at
Download the schedule

PLEASE NOTE: Due to the ongoing health and logistical concerns of the pandemic, the conference will be taking place entirely online. RSVP to receive the Zoom link

In the Spotlight: Arch 1101– Intro to Architecture

Header image for Arch 1101

This week, we spotlight Robert Christo’s Arch 1101, Intro to Architecture, which “provides a foundation for students entering the BArch / BTech program to develop a ‘visual literacy’ of the built environment.” We really like how the site adapts the OpenLab course template:

  • Note that in the right-hand widget space, Professor Christo links out to Micro board, an online whiteboard where students will submit their work. This is a smart way to use the OpenLab in conjunction with another platform. Remember that many faculty chose to use the OpenLab alongside Dropbox, Google Drive, or even Blackboard. Each of these other platforms may complement your OpenLab course, typically offering additional storage space for multimedia files and readings, or, as is the case with Microboard, another space to create multimedia assignments. This is not to say that the OpenLab isn’t well suited to multi-modal work: it very much is, but, if you are more comfortable with students submitting assignments to another platform, or want more storage, linking out to other spaces in this way is a smart and easy strategy.

  • The site uses the default set-up in the OpenLab course template, where the Home page is dynamic and works as a blog, with class agendas posted in reverse chronological order. This is a great way to communicate with your students: as soon as they get to your course, they will see what they need to do before class, the topics to be covered that week, as well as any homework to complete after class.

  • Note that under the main menu item for Course Info, there is a sub-page with Professor Christo’s contact information. It is a good idea to separate this content from the rest of the syllabus. Arguably, it is the most valuable piece of information that students need. Placing contact info on its own page and rendering it accessible from the main menu makes it easier to find.

This site provides a great example of how you can work with the OpenLab course template to teach your course! Check it out for inspiration!

In the Spotlight: Eng1141-Creative Writing

Eng1141 Header Image

This week, we spotlight Professor Jessica Penner’s OpenLab course on Creative Writing, which focuses “on understanding how form and meaning work together and on understanding the types and complexities of each genre…so that each student can…develop their unique, individual voice.”  Writing-intensive courses such as this one require some careful planning around site design. We especially like that:

  • Professor Penner inserts category archives into their main menu to distinguish student assignments from one another.  Under the menu item Student Work, you will find sub-categories for Discussions, Assignment Posts, Journals, Memoirs and more. This keeps the content in each category relatively short. It thus makes it easier for students to identify where they need to post their work, as well as to read through the work of their classmates.
  • The course makes optimal use of the right-hand side widget space. Professor Penner adds some very nice touches here, including featuring a picture of themselves below their contact information, putting key information (such as how to find their Zoom link for office hours) in bold, and linking out to OpenLab Help pages that students frequently use such as our Getting Started page and the OpenLab for Students module. These are all best practices to make your course welcoming and easy to use.
  • The course assignments are clearly broken down in the syllabus. Two things are noteworthy here. First, each assignment is more or less weighted equally. This is a great way to avoid the pitfalls of high-stakes grading: we are living through extraordinary times and both faculty and students are likely to have hectic days/ weeks where it is simply difficult to keep up with school obligations. When all assignments in a course are weighted equally, students have a much better chance of completing most of the work and doing well than, for example, if they have one high-stakes final exam or project. Second, Professor Penner clearly enunciates assignments at the start of the semester and features them prominently in the syllabus. This is very important: it helps students plan and figure out what the workload will entail as they juggle school with myriad other responsibilities and unknowns. 

All in all, this is a wonderful site. Check out Professor Jessica Penner’s Creative Writing course for inspiration!

In the Spotlight: Mat1275 Co – College Algebra and Trigonometry

Header Image for Mat1275 Co

This week, we spotlight Professor Kan’s Mat1275CO, an OpenLab course on College Algebra and Trigonometry. The course shows how you can loosely adapt the OpenLab course template for your teaching:

  • Notice how clean the site design is. The main menu is sparse and fits on one line, with only four main items. The home page is dynamic, such that Professor Kan’s newest announcements are posted on there in reverse chronological order. This is a great way to communicate quickly and regularly with your students. It is also the default set-up of the OpenLab course template.
  • Professor Kan makes great use of the sidebar widget space. As a reminder, widgets appear on all pages on your site and they are a great space to communicate information you really don’t want your readers/ students to miss. For example, Professor Kan includes information about office hours, class meetings, how to access student email, and a link to the Dropbox where students will be submitting their work. Note that Professor Kan has made a video to show students how to use Dropbox from a smartphone. These kinds of help materials are always appreciated and featuring them in the widget space is a great idea!
  • Finally, we really like that Professor Kan has left an option for students to get points back on their exam. At our last Open Pedagogy event, we discussed how to lower the stakes of grading and make the process transparent, fair, and compassionate. Some students excel at exams. Others find them extremely anxiety-producing. Others might have an off-day (week, month) on the day the exam is given. There is much conversation circulating at CUNY on how to ground our pedagogy in care for students and ourselves, in compassion for the extraordinary circumstances through which we are living. Offering students an opportunity to redo incorrect problems on an exam is one point of entry into this type of pedagogy. This practice lowers the stakes of what would otherwise be a one-time test: it gives students multiple ways to do well in course.

In both its substantive content and its site design, MAT1275CO leaves much to be admired! Check it out for inspiration!

In the Spotlight: Soc 1102-Urban Sociology

Header image for Urban Sociology. Features the silhouettes of two people walking alongside the East River waterfront at dusk.

This week, we spotlight Professor Kim’s OpenLab course on Urban Sociology. The course offers wonderful examples of how to use the OpenLab to support multimodal learning.

First, notice how Professor Kim breaks up the information on the course site into manageable chunks. The home page features a picture that Professor Kim has taken (all the pictures on the site are taken by Professor Kim!) and a brief course description. The syllabus is broken up into five smaller pages for course objectives, course requirements, course policies, a weekly schedule and FAQs. The FAQs are a very nice touch: they explain how students will be using both the OpenLab and Blackboard for their coursework, with screenshots of how to use the latter. Note that Professor Kim also includes main menu items for Readings, Study Guides, and Assignments.  This lay-out is straightforward and keeps the content of each page brief.

Second, Professor Kim puts place-based-learning into action on this course site. This course in Urban Sociology grounds itself in assignments focused on Downtown Brooklyn, where City Tech is located. This is an excellent way to illustrate course themes in real time, with a real and relatable place.  Course topics such as gentrification, the new economy, and the development of urban universities (sometimes called “studentification”) are all observable from the windows of City Tech buildings. But Professor Kim also invites students to examine images of downtown development posted to the OpenLab, read accounts from local papers, reflect on how they have seen the neighborhood change over the course of the past few years, and simply walk down the street for “field trips.” These are all wonderful ways of leveraging the OpenLab to foster multimodal teaching and learning.

Third, I draw attention to Professor Kim’s Writing: Dos & Don’ts page. If you are grading students on writing, it is important to give clear and comprehensive guidance for what you expect of a good paper. Different faculty have different expectations, and students have no reason to know what kind of citation style you require, whether you prefer paraphrasing or direct quotations of primary sources, or what kind of tone you expect in scholarly writing. Professor Kim has laid out expectations and linked to writing guides and videos. These are all good practices. With so much variation among classes, it is helpful to offer students technical and not just substantive support in writing their papers.

All in all, Professor Kim’s OpenLab course on Urban Sociology illustrates several best practices in place-based and online learning. Check it out for inspiration!

In the Spotlight: Finding Public Domain & Creative Commons Images

This week, we spotlight three different sites where you can find public domain/ creative commons images to use on the OpenLab. As a reminder, when you add images to your OpenLab site or posts, it is important to make sure you respect copyright guidelines (see the library’s OpenLab module on copyright and fair use). This can be tricky! Just because an image can be grabbed online doesn’t mean it’s free to use or repost. The safest (and, in my opinion, best) way to source images is to look for media that is either in the public domain or licensed as part of the Creative Commons. Below are three repositories where you can search for such images:

A screenshot of Flickr that shows how to use the main search tool to filter images according to their licensing time. Mousing over "Explore" in the main Flickr menu will give you an option to search exclusively for creative commons images.
  1. Flickr: When you go to, you’ll see an option to search for images on the Commons. You can search by keyword to find what you need. You can also search in the top right toolbar and filter your results to limit these to images that have Creative Commons licenses, as pictured above.

  2. Unsplash: Unsplash is a repository of strictly freely-usable images. Any image on here is free for you to use. Unsplash is a wonderful resource. Bookmark it!

  3. Pixabay: Like Unsplash, Pixabay is a repository of thousands of free images. Use their search tool to find what you need!

Don’t forget that some Creative Commons licenses still require attribution, and, as a general rule, it is always nice to give an author credit for their work, even if it is openly-licensed. This attribution tool makes it really easy. If you’re using the OpenLab, you can also use this attribution plugin.

We hope this helps! Happy-image searching!

In the Spotlight: Open Pedagogy

In conjunction with our first Open Pedagogy Event of the semester, this week and the next 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 (3/31) 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. We began our discuss on its potential and its application to digital pedagogy last semester and will be continuing this spring. We will be joined by some wonderful guest speakers.

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: City Tech Lit Festival

This week we’re spotlighting the upcoming City Tech Literary Arts Festival

An annual event for 41 years, the Lit Fest features a contemporary writer performing their work and holding a Q&A portion. City Tech students also perform their work after submitting and going through a selection process.

Join City Tech student writers and the poet Layli Long Soldier to share ideas and creative work.

Thursday, March 24, 4:30 pm EST on ZOOM.


After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.


Photo credit: Layli Long Soldier


Layli Long Soldier is an Oglala Lakota poet, writer, feminist and activist. She is the author of the chapbook Chromosomory (2010) and the full-length collection Whereas (2017), winner of the National Books Critics Circle award and a finalist for the National Book Award. She has also won the National Artist Fellowship from the Arts and Cultures Foundation, the Whiting Writer’s Award, and a Lannan Literary Fellowship.  In 2012, her participatory installation, Whereas We Respond, was featured on the Pine Ridge Reservation. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


National Poetry Foundation: 

About Layli Long Soldier


Obligations 2


Academy of American Poets:


Whereas When Offered

This event is sponsored by: Coordinated Undergraduate Education (CUE), City Tech Student Government Association, and the New York City College of Technology. 

In the Spotlight: Olivia Wood’s Teaching Portfolio

A purple header image with white text that reads "Olivia Wood's Teaching Porftolio."
Header Image for Olivia Wood’s Teaching Portfolio

This week, we spotlight the OpenLab Community Team’s very own Olivia Wood. Specifically, we take a look at Olivia Wood’s OpenLab Teaching Portfolio, which offers an example of a compelling and clean site design that allows her to communicate her identity as  an instructor clearly and succinctly.

To begin, we note that the OpenLab offers all faculty and staff the possibility of creating a digital portfolio. Portfolios can be used to showcase any type of work, whether it be research, teaching or service accomplishments. 

Olivia has used the portfolio space to highlight her teaching, painting a robust picture of herself as an instructor without overwhelming her reader with too much detail. For example, her Home page features her statement of teaching philosophy, introducing readers to her general values as an educator. 

Her perspectives on teaching are then demonstrated concretely through separate pages that feature (in order on her main menu): courses taught, annotated assignments, examples of student work and observations and evaluations. There are two things to note here. The first is that while Olivia could have featured multiple pages of work on each of these subjects, she smartly chooses to give excerpts to make the content more digestible. So, she links out to a full syllabus of course, giving just a paragraph overview in the actual courses taught page. And she gives summary statistics of her teaching evaluations rather than featuring the full multi-page evaluation documents.

Second, she protects the privacy of her students by making her student work page password-protected. This is a good reminder that 1) student consent is needed to post student work; 2) privacy settings can be set at the page or post level and just for the site as a whole. Instructions for altering privacy settings are here.

All in all, Olivia’ teaching portfolio offers a straightforward and compelling narrative of who she is and what she has done as an instructor. Check it out for inspiration!