New Screencast: Customizing Your Site’s Appearance

In this screencast, the latest in our Site Building Blocks series, digital pedagogy fellow Olivia will show you how to edit your site’s appearance using the “Appearance –> Customize” feature on the site’s Dashboard.

You can view our other screencasts by visiting us on YouTube.

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!

New OpenLab Screencast: Pages and Posts

We are pleased to offer a new set of support materials for OpenLab users: screencasts! With video, audio, and captions, these screencasts provide step-by-step instructions for how to use different OpenLab features in a multimodal format.

Today, we’re introducing a new video in our series on the basic building blocks of OpenLab sites. In this one, we’ll focus on how to create pages and posts. This series could be particularly useful for students creating eportfolios in the second half of the semester, for staff beginning new projects, or for faculty designing course sites for the winter term.

To see our other screencasts, click here or visit our YouTube channel.

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: 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

Introducing OpenLab Help Screencasts

We are pleased to offer a new set of support materials for OpenLab users: screencasts! With video, audio, and captions, these screencasts provide step-by-step instructions for how to use different OpenLab features in a multimodal format.

Our screencasts are an ongoing project, so more will be released in the coming weeks! Right now, we have two screencasts available. The first is the Introduction to the Block Editor (used to edit both pages and posts on the OpenLab), and the second is the first part of a Site Building Blocks series. This series could be particularly useful for students creating eportfolios in the second half of the semester, for staff beginning new projects, or for faculty designing course sites for the winter term.

Check out the screencasts below, and keep an eye on The Open Road and/or our YouTube channel for more as they are ready!

Site Building Blocks: The Front End of Your Site

 


Intro to the Block Editor

In the Spotlight: ComD Advisement Information Site

Header image for ComD Advisement site is a text box against a solid backdrop. Text reads "COMD Advisement Information Site."

Student advisement, like much of college life, has moved online this semester. This week, I spotlight the ComD Advisement Information Site, which is replete with “online advisement tools” and shows how departments can use the OpenLab to provide guidance for students moving toward graduation, even during a largely virtual semester. Below, are some of the site’s innovative features:

  • The site’s menu links to a page for virtual advisement office hours, allowing students to navigate quickly and easily to the information they are most likely to need. A nice touch here is that the department has embedded a Google Calendar that visually displays each advisor’s office hours. Students can add this calendar to their own Google account if they so wish.

    While, these days, most of us are getting used to working across multiple platforms, it can nonetheless be hard to keep track of which tools are being used when. A good practice is to link to the other platforms or applications you are using from your OpenLab site. ComD shows how this can be done by prominently featuring a “Blackboard Advisement Link: Click to Enter” button at the very top of their office hours page. The link takes the student directly to their advising meeting, which is held on another platform–Blackboard Collaborate–making the process of switching back-and-forth relatively painless.

  • The site also includes a page on preparing for advisement. Here, students are presented with six steps to take before an advising meeting. Note that these tips are presented briefly, in bulleted form, with plenty of white space on the page. This is a great way of communicating key information.

  • Does your department have an active Facebook page? If so, you might activate the Jetpack Facebook Page plugin on your department’s OpenLab  site. ComD has done this to great effect: as shown in the screenshot below, students can view information and events posted to Facebook directly from the widget in the right-hand sidebar of the advisement site.

All-in-all, the ComD Advisement Information site provides a great model of a clean, easy-to-navigate site that students can bookmark and return to again and again as they move through their college careers. 

In the Spotlight: Student Technology Needs Survey

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

This fall, the OpenLab launched a new course template that comes with an “optional student survey that faculty can use to understand how their students are situated regarding technology, working space, etc.”

The survey was adapted from research by Maura Smale and Mariana Regalada. Focusing on“use of technologies for academic work,” this study showed the barriers that commuter students like those at City Tech have to accessing technology. At home, most students will use their phones to access digital materials; many have to work around challenges like an unreliable internet connection. Obviously, these barriers have to be taken into account this semester, when most of City Tech is fully online. 

The survey in the course template is intended to help students privately pinpoint their technology needs so that faculty, in turn, can adapt their pedagogy and advocate for student access. Below is an overview of the survey and how you, the instructor, might build from it going forward.

Survey Content

In the course template, the student survey asks basic yes/ no questions: do you, the student, have a smartphone with a data plan? Do you have a laptop or desktop computer? Do you have broadband internet access at home and an appropriate space to do your coursework? It then invites open-ended remarks on “anything else” the student would like their instructor “to know about their situation regarding coursework.” 

How you present the survey to your students is up to you, but we like that English professor Carrie Hall uses an introductory welcome post to invite students in one of her courses to “vent” about how “being an online student” is “intimidating, confusing, and difficult.” Acknowledging that distance education this fall will present a new set of challenges is important. So is letting students know that you are on their side–the purpose of the survey isn’t just to gather information but to inform pedagogical practices so that instructors can be flexible and effective in meeting students where they are.

How was the Survey Built?

The survey was built using a plugin called Gravity Forms Quiz Add On. We highly recommend reading the help documentation for this plugin if you are using the survey. The documentation walks you through building a new survey, editing existing questions, and viewing survey results. These results are found in your site’s dashboard, where you can go to Forms> Entries, and view the survey takers names and answers, as pictured below.

Dashboard showing survey results

You can export the results to a spreadsheet. Note that this set-up means that you will need to create surveys for each of your courses, and will receive separate survey results for each course. You cannot create the survey in one course site and link to it in your other courses.

Preliminary Results and Future Surveys

Three OpenLab co-directors shared some of the insights they gained from the survey. As expected, the survey showed each of these instructors that they had students who lacked an adequate workspace and reliable internet. M. Genevieve Hitchings  was actually able to use the survey to help a student get an Apple computer from City Tech.

But they also learned from the process of administering the survey itself. For example, Jody R. Rosen noted that she’d originally envisioned a follow-up survey asking for student preferences in mode of communication, but hadn’t realized how hard it would be to get full participation in multiple surveys throughout the semester. It might be a good idea to include all your most pressing instructor questions in your first survey, when you’re likely to get the most responses! Jonas Reitz found it fruitful to modify the survey in this way from the get-go, and added some questions about student preferences for synchronous vs. asynchronous class sessions.

Did you use the survey this semester? Did you learn anything unexpected? Do you see yourself using it in the future? Join the conversation by replying to this post!

In the Spotlight: The OpenLab for Students

The OpenLab for Students is a short tutorial to “help students learn, work and share their ideas using the OpenLab!” It covers topics from creating a student account to finding and joining courses to participating in those courses. It also includes tips for success in online learning and a quiz to help you assess your knowledge of the platform. If you are a student, we recommend the tutorial for any stage of your City Tech career: it’s a great project to join and refer back as you start your semester, which most likely involves quite a bit of remote learning! You can read through the entire project in about an hour, and front and back buttons at the bottom of each page make it easy to navigate and skip ahead to information that is most useful to you. We also recommend that faculty refer students to the tutorial to orient them to the OpenLab. Below are some highlights you’ll definitely want to check out:

  • A short video tutorial (45 seconds!) on posting on the OpenLab. If some of your instructors are teaching on the OpenLab this semester, you will almost certainly be asked to post on your course site. The process isn’t too complicated, but it does involve a few steps: watch this video and pause it as needed as you create your first few posts.

  • Tips and and links to help documentation for using the Block Editor. As the module notes: “There are two ways to create a post: you can use the Block Editor or the Classic Editor…WordPress will be retiring the Classic Editor in 2021, so it’s best to use the Block Editor.” To that end, the tutorial links to step-by-step by help on using the Block editor, including an entry on writing a post and another on working with blocks.

  • The tips for success in online learning are a great beginning of semester read! No one–and I mean no one–has found the transition to remote learning easy. You are not alone if you are struggling in this regard. As the tutorial notes, “it can be hard to focus during online classes,” especially if you don’t have an adequate space to work or functioning technology to get your work done. The tutorial gives advice as to how to navigate these challenges, including how to communicate with your professor about the difficulties you may be experiencing in this period. It also provides links and contact information for many more college-widge resources that are available online and can help support you.

Make sure to join this tutorial and refer back to it often!

In the Spotlight: Welcome Back & Fall 2020 Programming

Welcome back to all City Tech faculty, students, and staff! We hope your semester is beginning smoothly and that you are settling into a new routine of remote work. Last spring marked an abrupt and challenging transition to distance education. This fall, many of us are going in more psychologically prepared, though we recognize that these continue to be difficult times for many. We hope the resources and tools on the OpenLab can make your semester just a bit easier. There a number of different ways we’re here to support your work:

Fall 2020 Drop-in Office Hours

Meet (virtually) with a member of the OpenLab Community Team for support. These office hours are first-come, first served and are open to students, faculty, and staff.

September

9/3 (Thursday), 4:00-5:00

9/11 (Friday), 10:00-11:00

9/15 (Tuesday), 1:30-2:30

9/20 (Sunday), 4:00-5:00

9/29 (Tuesday), 1:30-2:30

October

10/9 (Friday), 10:00-11:00

10/16 (Friday), 10:00-11:00

10/20 (Tuesday), 1:30-2:30

10/30 (Friday), 10:00-11:00

November

11/5 (Thursday), 4:00-5:00

11/10 (Tuesday), 1:30-2:30

11/15 (Sunday), 4:00-5:00

11/25 (Real Life Wednesday, CUNY Friday), 10:00-11:00

December

12/3 (Thursday), 4:00-5:00

12/6 (Sunday),  4:00-5:00

Office hours are held via Google Hangouts. Click here for further instructions on how to sign-up and join us in our Google Hangout.

Fall 2020 One-on-One Consultations

Meet (virtually) one-on-one with a member of the OpenLab Community Team for support. These office hours require an RSVP, and are open to students, faculty, and staff.

September

9/3 (Thursday), 3:00-4:00

9/11 (Friday), 11:00-12:00

9/15 (Tuesday), 2:30-3:30

9/20 (Sunday), 3:00-4:00

9/29 (Tuesday), 2:30-3:30

October

10/9 (Friday), 11:00-12:00

10/16 (Friday), 11:00-12:00

10/20 (Tuesday), 2:30-3:30

10/30 (Friday), 11:00-12:00

November

11/5 (Thursday), 3:00-4:00

11/10 (Tuesday), 2:30-3:30

11/15 (Sunday), 3:00-4:00

11/25 (Real Life Wednesday, CUNY Friday), 11:00-12:00

December

12/3 (Thursday), 3:00-4:00

12/6 (Sunday),  3:00-4:00

One-on-one consultations are held via Google Hangouts. Click here for further instructions on how to sign-up and join us in our Google Hangout.

Support Documentation

We have help(ful) documentation on the OpenLab that offers step-by-step guides for everything from getting started, to thinking about specific plugins that build out the functionality of your sites and portfolios.

Teaching with the OpenLab

We have a new online self-paced training module for faculty: Teaching with the OpenLab. Read more about it or ask questions at our virtual office hours. The module walks you through creating a course and teaching a course with our new course template. It also provides step-by-step guidance for faculty cloning model courses.

Learning with the OpenLab

Check out The OpenLab for Students, a brand new online tutorial designed to help students use the OpenLab. Learn how to get started, participate in your OpenLab courses, and more!

Email

We are available to support you via email: openlab@citytech.cuny.edu.

Join Our In-House Sites

We encourage you to become members of our in-house sites (you can do so by visiting the profiles of each site). These sites will keep you up-to-date with all things ‘OpenLab’ and offer opportunities for deeper investment with City Tech’s community.

  • Learn more about the OpenLab, including workshops, events, community, and support opportunities on The Open Road. (Profile)
  • Share and discuss resources about open digital pedagogy with other City Tech and CUNY-wide staff and faculty on Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab. (Profile)