In the Spotlight: Gothic Literature and Visual Culture (ENGL 3407-D613)

A few weeks ago, we spotlighted Prof. Blain’s Writing in the Workplace course site. This site offered great ideas for how to organize student writing assignments. This week, we spotlight another well-organized, creative and visually compelling writing-intensive course: Prof. Westengard’s Gothic Literature and Visual Culture (ENGL 3407-D613). Here are some highlights from the site:

Prof. Westengard makes great, common-sense use of the widget space on the right sidebar of her course site. She posts there the information students will most need throughout the semester. This includes a text widget that gives her contact information, office hours and mailbox location. She also uses the “Categories” widget to provide links to the different blogging assignments students have throughout the semester. This makes crucial information less easy to miss!

Second, Prof Westengard’s landing page (the site’s home page) exclusively features timely announcements. This is a great strategy for communicating with your students!

Note that these announcements aren’t set up as a category archive, which would look similar to the set up the site has now, except that announcements would also populate the site’s blogroll by default.  Prof. Westengard has chosen instead to use a static page for her announcements and to edit it regularly with new content. The advantage of this strategy is that her announcements don’t end up mixed in with the courses’ blogroll, which is reserved instead for student blogging. In this way, neither student blogging exercises nor instructor announcements get buried or lost.

Finally, the site does make use of category archives to organize the different blogging assignments. These are given intuitive names “Blog 1,” “Blog 2,” etc. They are also organized neatly in a dropdown menu. Remember that, by activating the “Require Category” plugin, you can ensure that all members of your site choose a category before publishing their post. The plugin prompts the user to select a category and won’t allow them to publish without doing so. Using “Require Category” is a good way of keeping your site and its blogging exercises organized!

In sum, this is a rich and well-organized course site to return to as you begin thinking of setting up your own site for the fall. Want to learn more? Check out the site here.

In the Spotlight: The Open Road and Summer Programming

On the Open Road you can find:

Summer Programming
Note that we have a full slate of workshops and open, drop-in hours lined up for late August to help you get set up on the OpenLab for the fall. Learn more about these workshops below and mark your calendars now!

Download (PDF, 95KB)

We hope these resources will help you continue using the OpenLab to support your teaching, learning and community building here at City Tech!

Wishing you all a happy end of semester!

A Commons for Open Learning: Voices from City Tech’s OpenLab

*This post is part of the OpenLab’s “Retrospective Series,” through which the OpenLab team and community is curating and reflecting on the ways in which the OpenLab has grown and transformed since its launch in Fall 2011. (You can check out the first two posts in the series here and here).

For this year’s CUNY CUE (Conference on Undergraduate Research), hosted at our home City Tech, the OpenLab team is hosting a roundtable featuring a number of stakeholders and initiatives around the college. The OpenLab team is excited to share with you how various initiatives have integrated the OpenLab–City Tech’s homegrown open-source digital platform for teaching, learning, and collaborating–into their work, and how the OpenLab has transformed the work they do with students, colleagues, and the world beyond, and in keeping with this year’s conference theme, is central to “transforming teaching into learning.”

We’re excited to tackle the six big questions of the conference, through showcasing successful examples of City Tech stakeholders adopting the OpenLab and integrating it into the work they do:

  • What Transforms Teaching into Learning? Learning as Reflective Practice
  • Who is at the Table? Learning for all
  • Where is the Public Discourse? Learning in the Open
  • Why This Place? Learning Beyond the Classroom Walls
  • How Do Leaders Emerge? Learning to Achieve
  • When Do Transitions Matter? Learning as Power

OpenLab CUE Presentation

Some background: When City Tech’s OpenLab launched in 2011, its team anticipated students, faculty, and staff creatively imagining it as a platform to learn, work, and share within and beyond the college community. The open digital platform, built with blogging and social networking software (WordPress, BuddyPress), thrives with innovative member-generated content. The 28,000+ OpenLab members have pushed it in new and exciting directions. Stakeholder groups have had a significant impact both in modeling effective critical pedagogy and creative usage, and in shaping OpenLab innovations in design and functionality; these include First-Year Programs, First-Year Learning Communities, STEM Success, and their peer mentors; Living Lab General Education Seminar, WeBWorK math homework integration, Digital Pathways (BMCC-City Tech transfer in digital programs); and the Faculty Commons and Provost’s Office. In 2018, the OpenLab team, in partnership with the Graduate Center’s Commons in a Box (CBOX) project, released CBOX OpenLab, which offers institutions the ability to create an OpenLab in their local context.

This session includes lightning-talk presentations from OpenLab stakeholders whose work transforms teaching into learning and underscores that teaching and learning aren’t one-directional but instead networked, and at their best, happening when teachers and students are critical co-collaborators. Presenters will reflect on the conference’s thematic questions, considering what it means to learn and work in the open, and how that is a democratizing and empowering opportunity. Attendees can also join the conversation, ask questions of the presenters, and consider how CBOX OpenLab can share with other schools these opportunities for open learning.

We hope that the presentation (slides below) and the accompanying material helps to provide a sense of the how deeply and meaningfully the OpenLab has been embedded into many aspects of life at City Tech. In addition to the presenters listed below, today’s roundtable presenters also include a number of members of the OpenLab team: OpenLab Co-Directors, Jill Belli (Associate Professor of English), M. Genevieve Hitchings (Associate Professor of Communication Design), Jody R. Rosen (Associate Professor of English), and Jenna Spevack (Professor of Communication Design), as well as the OpenLab Digital Pedagogy Fellows Claire Cahen and Jesse Rice Evans.

*If you’re at the conference (or on campus), please do come join us in person, 12:00 PM – 12:50 PM in the Theater in the New Academic Complex.

Download (PDF, 3.84MB)

Living Lab Seminar

Karen Goodlad, Assistant Professor of Hospitality Management and (former) Seminar Leader for the Living Lab, shares these thoughts about the Living Lab:

“The Living Lab is a seminar which equips faculty to develop their teaching methodology through innovative techniques and reflection, incorporating general education in an interdisciplinary manner that may not otherwise exist. Encompassing high impact educational practices, place-based learning, open pedagogy on the OpenLab and enhanced assessment of student learning outcomes, the Living Lab supports faculty as they develop pedagogy designed to engage students in the general education curricula. Tailored to and integrated into degree-specific coursework, this approach breaks down institutional barriers to faculty interaction and collaboration, encouraging professional growth as both educators and scholars.”

L4: Living Lab Learning Library

Anna Matthews, Associate Professor of Dental Hygiene (stay tuned … coming soon!)

First Year Learning Communities (FYLC)

Jennifer Sears, Assistant Professor of English and Faculty Leader for FYLC, discusses the significant ways that FYLC has made use of the OpenLab:

First Year Learning Communities at City Tech: Extending Community on the OpenLab

I am one of three faculty leaders for First Year Learning Communities (FYLC) at City Tech with fellow leaders Karen Goodlad and Aswhin Satyanarayana. The other leaders are Karen Goodlad and Ashwin Satyanarayana. This program partners 2-3 instructors in different disciplines to work with a shared student cohort. We currently have 13 teaching cohorts. Though each course is taught separately, the paired teachers share a theme and one course activity.   Since a revamping of the FYLC program in Fall 2015 by Office of First Year Program Director Lauri Aguirre and Faculty Commons Director Julia Jordan, the OpenLab has become an integral part of how we organize our First Year Learning Communities program at City Tech.

For Our FYLC Faculty: Using the OpenLab for Faculty Trainings and Assessment

“On the OpenLab, we have an FYLC faculty site where instructors receive spring training materials, meeting reminders, and share meeting reflections. Instructors upload materials they create.” – Jennifer Sears, FYLC
On the OpenLab, we have an FYLC faculty site where instructors receive spring training materials, meeting reminders, and share meeting reflections. Instructors upload materials they create, such as their Learning Community description and plans for their shared activity.At the end of the teaching semester, instructors also upload their assessment and student learning outcomes of their collaboration and propose changes they might make to deepen or improve implementation of their theme.

For Our FYLC Students: The Our Stories Project on the OpenLab

For students, the First Year Learning Communities also conducts an Our Stories project on the OpenLab. In the Our Stories project, students from FYLC classes are given a prompt to share their experiences as first semester students. They are also encouraged to read and comment on the experiences of their peers in other Learning Communities. FYLC Peer Mentors contribute to this project (which Sarah Paruolo will present).  As more experienced students, they comment on the first semester students’ stories, which prompts others in the class to comment as well.

“The OpenLab has provided us with a means to organize faculty activity …. and has offered our students a place to openly reflect on their experience as first semester college students. It’s difficult to imagine our FYLC program without this shared public platform.” – Jennifer Sears, FYLC
The Our Stories Project is a learning experience for students, who can see what others are posting and a learning experience for instructors and administrators. Student concerns are visible and we have looked into patterns that appear in their responses. We have already have written one article and are currently writing a book chapter, based on stories and posts our students have contributed on this site. Other City Tech programs, such as the Student-Ready College committee, have also implemented these narratives into their discussion materials.


To sum up, the OpenLab has provided us with a means to organize faculty activity, has provided a way for faculty to share their experiences and activities, and has offered our students a place to openly reflect on their experience as first semester college students. It’s difficult to imagine our FYLC program without this shared public platform.”

First Year Programs Peer Mentors

Sarah Paruolo, adjunct faculty in the English Department and Peer Mentor Coordinator for First Year Programs, shares more about this important program:

“First Year Programs: Peer Mentors                                                

The mission of First Year Programs is to provide new City Tech Students with guided academic pathways, easing their college transition while supporting academic success. In support of these goals, we offer several programs including: First Year Summer Programs, Immersion Programs, First Year Learning Communities, Peer Mentoring, and Preparatory and Testing Workshops in Math and Reading.

Today, we will focus on the Peer Mentoring Program. Peer Mentors are upper level students who serve as role models to incoming First Years. The mentors are eager to share their knowledge and expertise to help new students adjust to college life. Because they are successful students themselves—both academically and socially—Peer Mentors are able to provide personalized, judgment-free guidance to students who otherwise may be hesitant to seek help from faculty and staff. They are trained to guide new City Tech students in recognizing their academic strengths, as well as in identifying and addressing personal challenges. Peer

Mentors also strive to promote strong connections to the college community, encouraging student achievement and success.

As you may know, Peer Mentor programs can be incredibly effective in retaining students with high dropout probability in general, and first-generation college students in particular. The issue is, as most of us are well aware, how do we get these students to engage with and utilize the Peer Mentors?

One of the ways that we have found particularly effective is utilizing the OpenLab.  Students enrolled in First Year Learning Communities (FYLCs) are asked to participate in the “Our Stories” Project, which invites new students to share experiences of their first semester of college twice during the semester. They write short posts and share them on an OpenLab site that is used by all FYLCs at the college. The shared site demonstrates to first year students that many of their peers are going through the same things, thus normalizing difficulties instead of marking them as failures.  

Although the posts are visible to professors, the site is not intended to engage with or cater to faculty. Instead, the Peer Mentors read each of the posts and then respond to the students individually, as comments on the original post with short personalized suggestions and encouragement. Although it may not seem like a significant interaction to many of us, in the age of social media “likes” and “retweets,” this response is essential. Not only does it reinforce the idea that someone is actually looking at the content the students create (hopefully giving positive reinforcement for future assignments), but it demonstrates that someone cares about what they are going through. The mentee has been heard and acknowledged by their mentor, in a low-stakes environment, and through a medium preferred by most of the students (as compared to face-to-face interaction), thus setting a foundation for a fruitful mentor relationship. It is also worth noting that Peer Mentors are trained in how to respond to these posts, as well as how to identify at-risk students and behaviors.

As you can see with the interactions highlighted on the screen [note: see presentation, slide 11], these do not need to be long, in-depth responses to have a positive impact. What is important to note in each of these is: one, that the responses are specific, and two, that the responses highlight the similarities between the mentors and the mentees. The mentors utilize this not only because it is easy for them to draw on their own experiences when giving advice, but also because it lessens the perceived gap between mentor and mentee. By relating that they too once struggled, the mentors are able to show new students that just because they are having trouble now, doesn’t mean that they aren’t capable of success in the future. This really helps to target at-risk students who have trouble envisioning themselves as legitimate members of the college community. And as we know, representation matters.

Although we hope that the interactions that occur between first year students and Peer Mentors on the OpenLab are only the beginning of a more robust relationship, the importance of this medium to facilitate this is immeasurable.”

Opening Gateways

Jonas Reitz, Professor of Mathematics at City Tech and Project Director of “Opening Gateways” offers insight into this exciting grant:

“Opening Gateways to Completion: Open Digital Pedagogies for Student Success in STEM” is a 5 year collaborative grant between the New York City College of Technology and the Borough of Manhattan Community College funded through the Department of Education’s Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions (Title V) program.  The project supports student success in mathematics courses that serve as gateways to STEM disciplines, courses that often act as barriers to progress and completion in these disciplines. Our primary activities are faculty professional development and production of high-quality, custom Open Educational Resources carefully aligned with the curriculum.

Opening Gateways project site:

We have relied on the OpenLab in a variety of ways throughout the life of the project, integrating it into our work with faculty and students alike. Our annual faculty development seminar uses the OpenLab as a platform for collaboration and communication among participating faculty fellows. Our management team uses the OpenLab to coordinate activities and share information within and across two campuses. And finally, we are engaging students directly through the WeBWorK on the OpenLab site.

WeBWorK on the OpenLab
WeBWorK is an open-source platform for online homework supported by the Mathematics Association of America and the National Science Foundation. In a typical WeBWorK environment, students with questions are directed to email their instructors. At City Tech, however, we have bridged WeBWorK and the OpenLab: students seeking help on WeBWorK are directed to an OpenLab community space where they can ask questions, and view related questions by other students. For instructors, assistance provided to an individual student is preserved in a public setting that allows other students to benefit. For students, the wealth of existing questions and answers provides a resource that is available on-demand, at any hour of the day and night.

WeBWorK on the OpenLab:”

Office of the Provost

Kim Cardascia, Administrative Executive Officer for the Office of the Provost, spoke about the project the Office of the Provost recently designed for faculty and staff at the college (please note: by design, only City Tech staff and faculty logged into the OpenLab will be able to view the site).

“Office of the Provost Open Lab Site

A way to share information from across Academic Affairs with City Tech faculty and staff. OpenLab offered us improvements in three key areas.

• Flexiblility
• Timeliness
• Usefulness


• Just-right degree of openness
· All faculty and staff auto-invited
· Only faculty and staff able to see, giving us comfort in discussing internal issues
• Defined and limited topics, cross-referenced by semester
• Structure is created over time by the content, saving us from the need to plan a rigid top-down structure that would doubtless need ad-hoc changes almost immediately


• Previously, to post or make any changes online, a ticket system and another office’s workflow
• Now, instant posting and editing
• Allows content responsive to and reflective of the cycles of academic life
• All subscribers are auto-enrolled for weekly summary emails
o Loops them in on current conversations
o Reminds them regularly of the existence of the site as a resource


• Gradually amasses an open and shared archive for reference, and will be able to see change over time
• Takes information out of siloed email distribution channels and allows it to flow across departments and divisions

Thanks to office collaborators and OpenLab team!”

Open Educational Resources (OER)

Cailean Cooney, Assistant Professor / OER Librarian, and coordinator of City Tech’s Open Educational Resources (OER) Initiative reflects on the synergy among the OpenLab and OERs, and her work on the two:

“My work intersects with the OpenLab in two important ways. As a faculty member involved with OERs and open pedagogy, the OpenLab is primarily where I conduct this work. Why? Because

“I think the OpenLab can reflect individual and collective contributions to teaching and learning at the college in a way that inspires” – Cailean Cooney, OER Librarian
I think the OpenLab can reflect individual and collective contributions to teaching and learning at the college in a way that inspires. Just browsing the OL homepage, I constantly spot groups, course, and project sites that make me want to learn more.

As coordinator of the NYS OER Grant, the OpenLab platform challenged us to put our principles into action by choosing an open, community driven platform to house OERs. The OpenLab is unique among learning platforms because it enables course materials to be shared openly in an unrestricted manner because the course materials don’t expire after a student finishes a course. This can have practical implications for the college community; for instance, by supporting knowledge transfer as students move through course sequences and their major course studies. I think the OpenLab brings us closer to embodying a commitment to lifelong learning at the college by disrupting formal learning sites of education and providing more visibility, and hopefully inviting more critical and generative conversations throughout the community about what it is to work and study at City Tech.”

*Note: learn more by reading the OpenLab team’s Spotlight post on City Tech OERs on the OpenLab.

Commons in a Box OpenLab

Charlie Edwards, OpenLab Co-Directors and Associate Director of the Commons in a Box OpenLab project, highlights the exciting next phase in the life of the OpenLab:

“Now anyone can launch an OpenLab!

Ever since the OpenLab launched at City Tech back in Fall 2011, the OpenLab team has been asked: “How can I get the OpenLab at my campus?” In response, we partnered with the Commons In A Box team at The Graduate Center, CUNY, with generous funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Office of Digital Humanities, to build a new teaching-focused version of their Commons In A Box community-building software. The result, Commons In A Box OpenLab, which was released in Fall 2018, is free open-source software that enables anyone to create a commons for open learning modeled on the OpenLab. We believe it represents a powerful and flexible alternative to expensive, closed, proprietary educational systems.

Because the software is freely available, faculty members, departments, and entire institutions anywhere in the world can now install and customize an OpenLab of their own. The OpenLab team is already working to help our colleagues at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), who are in the early stages of implementing an OpenLab site there. Interested in using Commons In A Box OpenLab at your institution? Check out the Commons In A Box site for documentation, demo sites, support forums, and more.”

*Note: learn more by reading the OpenLab team’s post on the Commons in a Box OpenLab launch and its Spotlight post on the project.


This post will be updated to include more presenters/initiatives, so stay tuned! A heartfelt thanks to all of our collaborators today, our audience members, and of course, our many many OpenLab members, who make this community so wonderful!

Please stay in touch, by contacting the OpenLab team at, and keep up with all the OpenLab things on the team’s two in-house sites, The Open Road and Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab.

In the Spotlight: Entertainment Technology’s Culmination Project

As mentioned in previous posts, our theme for Open Pedagogy this semester has been Portfolio curation–  the process of selecting, organizing and updating the work featured on one’s Portfolio/ ePortfolio. This week, as we return from Spring Break and inch toward the close of the semester (what? how?), we spotlight the Entertainment Technology’s Culmination Project OpenLab site. This department-wide site is a repository of curated student ePortfolio work, used to help all Emerging Media and Entertainment Technology majors complete, coordinate and archive their final projects.

The site might be of interest to other departments with culmination projects, as well as faculty teaching courses in which students build their e-Portfolios. Here are few resources to check out on the site:

First, Professor Grayson Earle kindly filmed and uploaded a video tutorial that walks students through ePortfolio creation. This is a great example of supporting multi-modal student learning.

It is also always a good idea to provide students with multiple examples of previous student work to use as a model. But featuring too many links and uploading too many documents makes the reader more likely to miss an example that is useful to them. The project site avoids this pitfall by collating samples of several student posters into one single, downloadable Powerpoint. Note that is format allows students to download and print all of the examples of student posters featured on the OpenLab site.

Similarly, links to PDF versions of project instructions and agreements are all featured on the site, under a top-level menu page that collates all project “Documents.”

Finally, the project site uses the Portfolio Widget to showcase student and faculty work . The Portfolio Widget displays links to the portfolios of all faculty and students that are members of the site (provided they have set up their Portfolio/ ePortfolio, of course). This allows site visitors to easily click a number of links to look at student ePortfolios from previous semesters and draw inspiration for their own work.

Interested in having your students incorporate their final course projects into their ePortfolios? Check out the site for inspiration.

In the Spotlight: Kevelyn Vargas’s ePortfolio


A few weeks ago, we spotlighted an ePortfolio that blended humor, self-reflection and professionalism. This week, we spotlight another student site that does much of the same, but with its own flair for design and digital art. Kevelyn Vargas’ ePortfolio is a great example of how to use an OpenLab site to convey both personality and academic  work.

Kevelyn’s site is clean and well-organized, each detail clearly thought through. Her landing page- the Home page– is set to her blog, which she regularly updates with musings on her career plans and coursework. Then, from the top navigation menu, Kevelyn also features an About Me page, an essential component of any ePortfolio.  This page is beautifully and sparsely designed, offering a brief biography, plenty of blank space to the let the reader digest, and a black-and-white photograph (a self-portrait!) to match the overall site design and tone.  

The next two menu tabs allow the reader to navigate to some of Kevelyn’s sample coursework. She takes advantage of the OpenLab’s affordances to showcase multimedia work, from videos she has uploaded to logos she has designed to photographs she has taken. She is building a digital presence on the OpenLab and using more than just the usual blogging tools. She is communicating who she is in multiple ways.

Finally, Kevelyn’s ePortfolio is full of personal touches that suggest her talents as a designer. She tells her readers in the About Me page that she has long made “rose-filled illustrations.” The “rose” imagery sparks reader intrigue. It is carried out throughout the site. Her header images (the image featured at the top of the page in your OpenLab sites) are rotating and are all original illustrations. Most include roses. This gives the ePortfolio coherence, but also a distinctive aesthetic. Clearly, Kevelyn is interested in how to and present and re-present archetypal symbols of beauty- sometimes the roses are rendered mysterious, sometimes they are made  gorgeous, sometimes they are playful (as stand-ins for pepperoni on a pizza slice, for example), and sometimes they are made Gothic and dark.

In OpenLab workshops and events this semester, we have been focusing on curation- the process of selecting, organizing, and taking care of the work featured on your Portfolios/ ePortfolios. Curation really is an art- one that Kevelyn is quite proficient in! Check out the site for yourself and think through you might curate your work in your own ePortfolio!

In the Spotlight: City Tech Super HERO

This week we’re spotlighting the City Tech Super HERO’s OpenLab site. Who is our super hero? Well, she was “born in 1980 as Healthkit Educational Robot (HERO).” As the site goes on to note:

“For the next 15 years she helped countless number of students in colleges and universities across the country learn about Computer and Robotics Technology. Then she went into hibernation. Fast forward to 2017… City Tech Women Engineers Club members have taken the initiative to revive HERO, give her a new life and new features, with the help of modern computer hardware and software technology. Her capabilities will be enhanced with the implementation of Assistive Technology to enable her to help people with disabilities.”

Recently, three City Tech students from the CET department won an IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Region 1 Student Research Conference award for this very cool project. Congratulations all! 

The site is worth checking out, both to learn more about City Tech’s Super HERO and to see how OpenLab project sites can help you feature your work and research.  There are a few things about site design to note here:

First, the site makes use of custom header images to showcase the robot. This kind of image catches the reader’s attention: it invites exploration, piques curiosity, and, in its design, parallels well the tech-oriented site content.

Second, the top-level menu is also kept sparse and clear. Separate top-level pages are used for each of the project components: including hardware, software, sensors, devices and applications. This layout is intuitive and makes content easy to find.

Finally, it is worth noting that, as an engineering endeavor, the City Tech Super HERO nicely embodies the “open” and “accessible” spirit of the OpenLab. Not only is the work on the robot being driven by a desire to enhance the HERO’s capacities with Assistive Technology, the engineers reviving the robot have used their site to share their Python code for software testing. They are also building from existing documentation (see e.g. regarding devices), which they link out to every step of the way. The project is public-facing and collaborative and delightful to explore!

Curious about the City Tech Super HERO? Ready to be awed by its powers? Click here to visit the site!

In the Spotlight: Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab

Brooklyn, NY– DUMBO by Alh1

This week, as we prepare for our second Open Pedagogy Event of the semester, we’d like to draw your attention once again to 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. The site is replete with curated resources you can draw on in your teaching, from examples of digital pedagogy assignments to provocative readings on the value of multimedia pedagogy and public writing to information on best practices and tips for open digital pedagogy.  The site’s blogroll is a great place for online discussion on building a curriculum that integrates the OpenLab; each month, our Pedagogy Profiles blog series highlights a different City Tech faculty member who is using the OpenLab in creative ways.

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 (4/4) we’re hosting our first Open Pedagogy event of the semester, Curating a Faculty or Staff Portfolio. The event will be held in the Faculty Commons (N227) from 4:30-6:00pm. Refreshments will be served (thanks to the Provost’s Office for its generous support of this event!). Visit the event posting for more information and to RSVP! We hope to see you there! We also have a follow-up workshop that will look more closely at how to curate  your teaching portfolio (RSVP here!). Part-time faculty are eligible to receive a stipend for participation in the event and/or workshop.

As always, we encourage to join the site, follow along and participate in the conversation!

In the Spotlight: Anthony Sewell’s ePortfolio

This week, we spotlight a student site that brings humor, self-reflection and a flair for design to the online world of ePortfolios! Anthony Sewell’s ePortfolio  is full of great examples of how you can use the OpenLab to present yourself professionally online, but also let your personality shine through. Here are some highlights:

Anthony’s Portfolio Description on his portfolio profile page takes the time to address the reader directly, thanking them for visiting the site. But it does much, much more, and without being too wordy, still offers a compelling introduction of Anthony’s professional and academic background, as well as an overview of the content of his ePortfolio, which “share[s] with you my work on multiple media platforms.”

Anthony’s sense of humor permeates the site. You see it from the beginning, when reading the tagline for Anthony’s ePortfolio, which notes that he is “1 of 7,374,743,165 [humans] and counting.” But it’s also evident in his blog posts reflecting on his internship, and in the memes and pictures he posts.

This humor conveys Anthony’s personality, without ever overshadowing the professional tone and nature of his ePortfolio, which, from the main navigation menu, cleanly organizes pages with curated Academic Samples of coursework, a bio that includes a video presentation of himself at work, and sample sketches done in his free time. 

A sample sketch Anthony made on the subway.

These are all possible components of a robust ePortfolio. Ultimately, you decide what to showcase and what you believe best reflects your talent and career/ academic achievements. This ePortfolio does a nice job of presenting a wide variety of multimedia content and showcasing skills in graphic design, video editing, and writing.

Ready to start building your own ePortfolio? Check out Anthony’s site for inspiration!

In the Spotlight: Writing in the Workplace (ENG 2570)

This week, we’re spotlighting Professor Blain’s ENG 2570 Writing in the Workplace course, “an advanced composition course emphasizing writing used in business and industry.” The course introduces students to the principles of workplace ethnography, and scaffolds assignments so that students gain a range of technical and analytical writing skills directly applicable to many industries. Visiting this course site might of interest to students thinking about taking the course, as well as faculty/ staff whose courses/ projects are writing-intensive

Public Writing

Professor Blain’s course is public. For students, this means that key assignments involve public writing. Students are asked to post a range of written work, from reflective posts, to workplace memos, to collaborative reports on workplace outcomes. This kind of public writing is a great way to raise the stakes of coursework by widening the potential audience. Students are not just writing for a grade or for their instructor, but for the other students in the course who will read their posts, as well as for anyone in the broader City Tech community who might pop into the site. While this can be intimidating at first, Professor Blain uses many of tools and tricks of Open Digital Pedagogy to ease students into the task. First, using the PDF Embedder Premium plugin, she embeds PDFs spelling out clear guidelines for assignments into her site (see for example here). Students can download, print, or view the assignments guidelines directly from the course site. Second, she scaffolds assignments: the first post students write is a short paragraph in which they reflect on writing and can air their doubts, as well as practice including an image in their posts. Later work, like this virtual workplace ethnography, is more involved. About that virtual workplace ethnography—we particularly like that, to practice writing workplace memos, students first write about a workplace featured in a popular TV show or movie. This playfully grounds the assignment in a (more or less) shared popular culture, allowing students to relate to each other’s work when they read each other’s posts.

Organizing Menus

Organizing a site for a course that is this writing-intensive can be a challenge. The default OpenLab course template features only one “Blog” page where ALL posts are collated and rendered in reverse chronological order. When students post every week, this can get messy. It usually makes more sense, as Professor Blain has done, to separate out student written work by category and course unit. This can be done through “category archives”. Category archives collate all POSTS (not pages) which have been given a specific category (announcements, assignment #1, assignment #2, and final assignment for example) and displays them in reverse chronological order on the screen. This means that the most recent posts (ex. announcements made today) are at the top, while older posts (ex. announcements made last week) are pushed further down the feed. As Professor Blain has done, category archives can be inserted into the main menu so they are easily accessible to visitors of the course site. The “require category” plugin, which requires authors to select a category before publishing their post, is a great way to ensure that students use the categories the instructor has created and post their work to the correct place.

Organizing Site Content

This course site is a good example of a clean, straightforward site design that allows visitors to the site, including students, to easily find the information they’re looking for. Professor Blain achieves this first by keeping her main navigation menu brief: each menu item represents one of three course units. However, because of the many writing assignments required for a class like hers, she uses second-level drop down menus as well to list each of the category archives contained within a course unit. Drop down menus have some drawbacks, including that they are difficult to use on mobile phones—which are the devices most students use for OpenLab coursework. To provide an easy-to-navigate alternative, Professor Blain uses the “Navigation Menu” widget. This widget displays and links out to all category archives and pages as a vertical list in the course’s sidebar. This gives the user an overview of the content of the site and makes it easy to navigate to different parts of the site thereafter.

Check out the site and think through how you might a organize a writing-intensive course!

In the Spotlight: Mammoth.docx Converter

This week, we spotlight a new plugin that we believe will make your life easier: the Mammoth .docx converter!  This plugin allows you to more easily transfer content from Microsoft Word without losing formatting.

As a general rule, it is good practice to save copies of your pages, posts, (and homework assignments!) off the OpenLab, perhaps in Google docs, Microsoft Word, or some other text editor. It also best practice to paste content directly into pages and posts, rather than uploading bulky PDFs and Word Documents onto a site. However, the actual process of copying and pasting content into the WordPress post editor sometimes results in a frustrating loss of formatting. Headers, tables, bold, italics and lists have been known to vanish.

The new Mammoth.docx converter presents a solution! Content created in Microsoft Word can now be uploaded to the OpenLab through the plugin, and will automatically be converted into HTML and pasted into your post editor for you to publish online.

Using the plugin is easy. After you’ve activated it, you will see an option to use the Mammoth.docx converter at the bottom of the page in your post  editor. Click “choose file” to upload a Word document.

Once the upload is complete, you will see the content of the document appear in your post editor.

That’s it!  Keep in mind that the more formatting you include in your original Word document (e.g. headings, paragraph styles, links, lists, and text boxes), the better the formatting will translate in your posts and pages. This means minimal- if any- editing once you’ve uploaded your content. We hope this plugin will be useful to you and encourage you to try it with Word documents that have quite a bit of formatting, for example syllabi.