In the Spotlight: The Spring 2021 Semester, In Review

Photo by Federico Respini on Unsplash

Summer greetings from the OpenLab and congratulations to all on the closing of another semester! A special congratulations to the class of 2021!

While our weekly “Spotlight” blog series will go on hiatus for the summer, we wanted to remind you of the sites we featured this past semester, and encourage you to check them out if you haven’t already done so.

Spring 2021 Spotlight Posts

This past year, we released a series of OpenLab screencasts, providing audiovisual guidance to using different features of the OpenLab.

In addition to reviewing these posts from this past spring, you can find a full curated list of all sites that have been spotlighted in our  Spotlight Archive. This archive offers visitors 3 curated lists to help them sort through the posts:

  1. For everyone (By type of site – course, project, club, portfolio)
  2. For faculty/staff
  3. For students

As always, we also encourage you to check out our in-house sites:

The OpenLab Community Team will continue to offer email support over the summer– please contact us with questions or concerns.

We will also soon announce our summer programming, including one-on-one office hours. We will be in touch as we get more events and workshops on our calendar!

Wishing you all a very happy summer!

The OpenLab Community Team

In the Spotlight: PHIL2203ID Healthcare Ethics, OL 50, SP 2021

Header image for Heathcare ethics, two healthcare workers in the operating room.

This week, we spotlight Professor Rob MacDougall’s philosophy course, Healthcare Ethics. The timely course examines “major ethical theories of what is morally right and wrong, and the meaning of moral concepts (e.g., the concepts of right and duty). Focus is on ethical problems associated with the practice of medicine and biomedical research.” The course builds from the OpenLab OER template, using a clean, intuitive design that facilitates ongoing communication with students. It also shows how the OpenLab can be used in conjunction with other platforms (e.g. YouTube, Blackboard). Here are some highlights from the course:

  • A simple, sparse main menu that includes tabs for the Syllabus, Lecture Materials, and Assignments. We especially like that the syllabus is broken up into smaller parts: course policies on the one hand, and course readings and schedule on the other. This shortens the text contained on a single page and makes vital information more digestible and find-able!
  • A sidebar widget that directs students to the City Tech writing center. This is a great use of the sidebar widget space. Often, faculty opt to have a full page of additional resources that students can consult, including the Student Help Desk, the library, etc. But if you have a writing-intensive course and know your students will benefit from writing help, it can’t hurt to highlight the writing center in a widget, thus making it more visible.
Sidebar text widget that reads “visit the City Tech Writing Center for help with writing.”
  • A home page with regular announcements. Professor MacDougall makes sure to remind students when assignments are due, when they have been graded, when synchronous course is cancelled, etc. Remember that you can set your site’s email notifications to have your students receive a message when a new announcement is made.
  • Linking directly to turnitin.com in blog posts announcing that papers have been graded. For faculty who use turnitin or Blackboard to collect assignments, this is a good option. Working across platforms is necessary these days, but regularly linking out to these other platforms from your OpenLab site makes navigating back-and-forth easier for your students!
  • Using short YouTube videos for lectures and guest lectures (for example, here). As always, we recommend giving your students ample opportunities for this type of asynchronous learning. 

Healthcare Ethics is a thoughtfully designed course, kept current and engaging throughout the semester. Keep the link around as a model of an easy-to-navigate, effective site!

In the Spotlight: OpenLab Support

Up The Irons
“Up the Irons” by Florin C via Flickr

The OpenLab Team is here for you, but where exactly is here?

Synchronous support

Open Hours

Throughout the semester, the OpenLab Team hosts weekly open hours for students, faculty, and staff to get acquainted with the OpenLab, ask questions, explore new tools, and learn more about what’s possible when working in an open digital environment. These are open for multiple people to participate in at the same time.

One-on-one Appointments

If anyone wants any or all of the above but without other participants present, there are also one-on-one appointments available. Both these and the Open Hours are now conducted via Zoom.

Workshops by Request

The team is also available for workshops by request for a group (department, course coordination group, club, research group, etc) to learn together about any aspect of the OpenLab specifically or about open digital teaching and learning practices more broadly. All of the links provided here take you to the Support section on The Open Road, which is a site that the OpenLab Team uses to broadcast news, updates, and spotlights.

Asynchronous Support

Help

If there’s a question you have, we’ve probably thought about it, written about it, and made screenshots about it. Visit the Help as a starting point for OpenLab support to find answers to your questions (and to questions you didn’t even know you had).

Email

Use the contact form on the Help page, or email the OpenLab Team directly (OpenLab@CityTech.cuny.edu) to ask questions, report a problem, request a new feature, etc. If you’re having a problem with your account (signing up, logging in, etc), it’s best to email from your City Tech email account.

Screencasts

The OpenLab Team has been busy making screencasts to provide asychronous support in new ways. You can find a link to the screencasts in the Support section of The Open Road. That link will take you to a YouTube channel with all of the OpenLab screencasts.

Modules

There’s a lot of help in Help. For a more focused experience getting ready for teaching and learning on the OpenLab, visit these modules:

  • Faculty members can learn more about getting course sites ready throughout the semester, using the Teaching with the OpenLab module as a guide.
  • Students can get ready to use the OpenLab throughout the semester using the helpful OpenLab for Students module.

Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab

Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab is another site the OpenLab Team runs. It provides resources, support, and community space for anyone exploring teaching with open digital pedagogy. Until we can meet again in person, the OpenLab team will continue to use this site to pose questions and solicit community conversation in lieu of the popular Open Pedagogy events. Anyone can comment, even if they’re not part of the City Tech community–but if you’re an OpenLab member also consider joining the project so you get updates whenever there are new posts about teaching and learning in the open.

Comforting Content for COVID Coping

Finally, if what you need is something comforting, cute, or just generally different from what you’ve been looking at all day on your screen, visit Comforting Content for COVID Coping. Feel free to add or suggest if you have and idea for comfort or cuteness to offer!


Looking for additional support? Have an idea for additional ways the OpenLab Team can provide support? Feel free to reach out via email to OpenLab@CityTech.cuny.edu.

New Screencast: Editing Menus on Your Site

In our latest screencast, Digital Pedagogy Fellow Olivia will show you how to edit your site’s menu to add (or delete, or re-order) pages, posts, and categories.

For a written version of these same instructions with screenshots, you can also visit our Help documentation here.

 

In the Spotlight: Finding Inspiration on the OpenLab

Welcome to spring semester! Getting started on the OpenLab, even if you’ve used it before, can sometimes be overwhelming- there are so many different options for what you can do! On 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 her spotlight of the Connect Days template, Claire explains 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.

Students:
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: Teaching Math in a Remote Semester

Even in more “normal” times, few subjects cause college undergrads more anxiety than Math! Add to this the stress of distance education during a global pandemic and, well, you have a definite challenge on your hands. 

However, the Math department has done incredible work this semester, leveraging the OpenLab to facilitate effective remote teaching. This week, I spotlight three of their recent initiatives.

Model Courses

Over the summer, three departments/ programs created Model Courses: Communication Design, the English Department’s First Year Writing program, and Mathematics. These model courses are subject-specific and open to all faculty to clone to use with their students, via the OpenLab’s shared cloning feature. They contain course information, sample assignments, and resources for students–all of which are designed to help faculty meet recommended best practices for teaching online. Math faculty can choose to use these courses in whole or in part, adapting them to meet their needs. Because the courses are public, faculty can still access course materials if they are using another platform (e.g. Blackboard) to teach. You can find these model courses in the Courses directory by checking the “Model” checkbox.

Course Hubs

The Math Department also created Course Hubs, each boasting a collection of vetted open source materials that address core topics. These were created through the OpenLab Model Course Initiative and made publicly available on the OpenLab. In the space of a few weeks, Hubs were created for seven different math courses, including the traditional sequence from Algebra through Calculus and a number of others. In preparation for a fully-online semester and in support of a large and heterogenous department, the team collected student- and faculty-facing resources to support a wide variety of distance-learning activities and approaches, including online lessons, course coordination information, and more. We especially like that these resources include videos that are useful to students, and training opportunities for faculty adapting to distance education!

Assignments to Foreground the Human Side of Math

While the model courses and course hubs provide faculty with valuable teaching resources, they are, at the end of the day, tools that have to be made effective by the instructors implementing them. No tool will ever replace the boost in confidence students receive when surrounded by supportive faculty members and peers. This is why assignments like Prof. Kate Poirier’s are so important. Prof. Poirier invited students from one of her more advanced math classes to post advice to students in her introductory class. Conversely, students in the introductory course were invited to post questions to more advanced students. You can view some of the wonderful advice the more advanced students gave here, and the questions newer students had here. There are too many witty, compassionate, and insightful comments to list here, but as a highlight, I’ll just mention student Sierra Morales’ post encouraging newer students to slow down and write their work step-by-step (no rushing to get quizzes in first!), and to “practice writing out your method and reason for solving each problem the way you did.” The post ends by reminding students to be patient, invest in themselves, and seek out peer advisement when needed. I also want to point readers to Kate Poirier’s other creative assignment inviting students to watch and respond to a viral TikTok video on “whether Math is real” (i.e. useful in real life). In the absence of face-to-face interaction, this online dialogue is heart-warming and necessary–an undervalued but brilliant component of successful learning and teaching.

Congratulations to the Math Department and Math instructors on their innovative work this semester! Make sure to check out these resources and assignments for inspiration!

In the Spotlight: OER at City Tech

This week, I spotlight the library’s fantastic new(ish) resource: the O.E.R at City Tech OpenLab site. As a reminder, the acronym “O.E.R” stands for Open Educational Resources and “refers to any educational content that is free and openly-licensed.” From the academic year 2017-2018 to the present, NY State has awarded CUNY $4 million annually to “scale-up O.E.Rs” across the university system. This site is your go-to hub for all things O.E.R at City Tech and–dare we say–at CUNY. Its main function is to showcase exemplary O.E.Rs at the college, but it also includes other invaluable resources, such as O.E.Rs developed CUNY-wide (not just City Tech-specific), different search engines and repositories from which to search for O.E.Rs developed worldwide, and a curated list of O.E.Rs by Subject, relevant to the disciplines offered at City Tech.

The entire site is worth checking-out, but I’d like to draw your attention to a page titled Find O.E.R to teach with. This page builds out from more generalized O.E.R search tools to repositories that showcase a specific digital medium. Thus, you’ll find a list of search engines to help you with Getting Started on your quest to find O.E.Rs, but also narrower repositories of open textbooks and curricula and open courses. Lest we forget, O.E.R refers not only to texts or websites, but  also to audio files, images, and videos, that is to say to things like free digital recordings of concerts and music, public domain photography, and TED talks. The site helpfully points the visitor to search directories to find each of these, including highly specialized repositories that curate collections of media such as “pictures of trans and non-binary models” and “music remixes under Creative Commons licenses.” I highly recommend navigating to this page as you teach this semester and look for new, creative, online tools to enhance your pedagogy. Using multimedia is important to meet the needs of different learning styles, and the library has done us all a great favor by highlighting these resources and search tools.

I also recommend following the O.E.R at City Tech News blog which, highlights “one O.E.R relevant to each school at City Tech in every (weekly) post.” The O.E.R featured here are exemplary and can inspire your teaching in a remote semester.

Curious about O.E.R.? Visit the site to learn more. Note also that if you’d like to get more involved in developing O.E.R at City Tech, the site lays out different workshops and faculty development programs to help you do so. Happy exploration! 

In the Spotlight: Pharmacology (DEN 2315)

Header image for Pharmacology (DEN 2315), rainbow-colored lined up in a row.

This week, I spotlight Dr. Bowers’ Pharmacology OpenLab course, which implements some innovative practices well-suited to distance education. These include:

  • Indicating virtual meeting locations (i.e. OpenLab and Zoom links) right at the top of the syllabus. This is information you want students to access easily and placing it at the top of the page increases your chances of making sure no one misses it.
  • Separate pages and menu tabs for lecture slides, lecture video, and lecture audio. Students who are members of the class can download and print the slides, and stream the videos or just the audio for the class lectures. This gives different media through which to learn course material and is a great way to meet the needs of students with different learning styles. I’ll also note that providing a “just audio” alternative to video streams of lectures is a smart way to reach learners who may get distracted by video but do well with an audio recording. It also does a favor to the many of us who have issues with slow internet at home, and for whom audio is more easily streamed uninterrupted than video, which takes more bandwidth.
Students can access course content from the main navigation menu, but have 3 options: one for downloading slides, another for streaming video, and another for streaming audio.
  • A contact form inserted directly into the main navigation menu. As screenshotted below, this contact form invites students to write a message to their instructor and is a wonderful way to promote student-instructor communication. You can read more about using the plugin Contact Form 7 to create these kinds of forms and add them to your site here.
This contact form has four fields: one for the student’s name, a second for the student’s email, a third for the subject of the message, and a forth for the body of the message.

Do you have other tips for making your lectures more accessible online? For encouraging your students to contact you? Join the conversation by replying to this post!

In the Spotlight: ComD Internship Coordination Site

Last week, I spotlighted ComD Advisement Information site, which digitally guides students through the advisement process, and is replete with  information they need to stay on track and complete their majors. This week, I spotlight the ComD Internship Coordination site, which “is designed to help” students “find fieldwork/ situations of approximately eight hours per week at an internship site approved by the Department Internship instructor such as an advertising agency, graphic design firm, corporate design office, publications art department, photography or illustration studio, TV or multimedia production company.”

On the site’s blog, students will find timely announcements about (now virtual) events to attend to find jobs and internships. But the site also includes pages that outline Requirements and Documents for the ComD Internship, tips on Where to Find an Internship, Networking, and Writing Resources. Students will also find resources for Portfolio and Resume creation.

If you are a ComD student and thinking about how to gain professional experience in your field, make sure to check out the site

In the Spotlight: Understanding the City, Fall 2020 (LIB2205ID ARCH 2205)

Header image for Learning Places, a bridge extending over a river.

This week, I spotlight Professor Muchowski and Professor Duddy’s Understanding the City, a “special topics course” that “offers an interdisciplinary approach to investigating the built environment.” The course is taught every year and asks students to engage in “on-site exploration and in-depth research” on New York City. The city’s vast concrete landscape becomes the classroom, and when we spotlighted this class in 2015, for instance, students had just visited and written about Vinegar Hill and the Farragut Houses. 

Learning in such a course usually takes place in-place. Pedagogy entails a careful and embodied inquiry within the material world. How do students feel in different parts of the city? What memories do the smells and sounds invoke? What stands out when they observe public spaces like parks, or touristy spaces like DUMBO? What do they know about the history of the city’s different neighborhoods? Does learning this history change their perspective as they walk through these places? Full disclosure: I’ve taught similar place-based courses myself and find that exercises like walking tours and site visits are some of the most exciting tools for helping us all make sense of our world, not just through dialogue with one another but through direct observation of scenes unfolding in front of us. I spotlight this site this week to think through how such a course can be adapted to a pandemic world where it is not entirely safe to wander outside and where normal life–including for New York, a bustling tourist life–has not yet resumed.

What stands out in Professor Muchowski and Professor Duddy’s beginning of semester assignments is that they ask students to draw on memory: their first blogging assignment has students write about a public building or space in their neighborhood. Students describe watching these spaces evolve over their lifetimes and reflect on their experiences. The professors connect with students over the meaning of place by sharing their own ties to the sites students mention and describe, for example, exclaiming in (a blog) response: “I used to live at 98th and West End…there was a great playground at 95th where we would take our daughter.” Reading these blog posts and the professor-student exchanges in the comments is heart-warming, a reminder that, as different and isolated as our individual lives may sometimes be, especially in the current moment, place and memories of place give us a shared foundation.Students in the Mulberry Settlement House library in 1920, some reading, some laughing and talking, some browsing books on the shelf.

Other assignments rely on observations of photographs of city spaces, such as the one included above. I’ll note quickly, as I have so many times before, what a great platform the OpenLab can be for sharing and commenting on such visuals. This is a different type of exercise than going directly to a space, but it also makes for more focused observation. Photographs capture snippets of people’s lives and focus the gaze on details of the built environment that might be overlooked in an exercise like a walk-through or field trip. Interpretation of these details is left to the viewer, and students responding on the blog reflect imaginatively on what they see, speculating about the sounds that fill the spaces captured–did the wooden chairs in the 1920 Mulberry Settle House library creak? Why are some of the students in this old photograph of the library smirking? Did someone tell a joke? What memories does the picture invoke? Again, the exercise is both thought-provoking and validating, helping plunge students back into the city they live in, its past and, by extension, its possible futures.

Does your course usually incorporate place-based learning? How are you adapting it to these virtual times? Join the conversation by replying to this post, and, in the meantime, don’t forget to visit the Understanding the City course site for inspiration!