In the Spotlight: Introduction to Accessibility

Header image from the Intro to Accessibility Module. The image is a welcome sign, spelled out with large letters in contrasting colors.

This semester, we are focusing on the theme of access. How can open, digital pedagogies improve student access to learning? How can we ensure course materials and pedagogical resources are accessible to all students? The library’s module, Introduction to Accessibility, provides useful guidelines.

The module is neatly organized. From the main menu,  it contains pages covering: What is Accessibility; Building Blocks; Organization & Layout; Media; Resources and Tools. In this post, we focus crucial content from each page.

What is Accessibility?

This page features a clear definition of accessibility, stating “accessibility means that no one is prevented from engaging with the materials you create because of a disability of any kind. No one will need to request a special accommodation to use your materials because they will already be accessible to anyone.”

Building Blocks

This page walks the reader through different OpenLab site building blocks: Themes, Plugins, and Widgets. It explains how each of these can be made accessible. Note here that the OpenLab only offers accessible themes: “users can press ‘tab’ to skip to the main content on any page. Buttons are labeled to make sense when read aloud by a screen reader.” And, “default colors adhere to accessible contrast ratios.” 

With plugins, however, you will have to be more careful. There are many plugins available on the OpenLab and these have varying levels of accessibility. The module recommends checking a plugin’s accessibility before deciding to use it.

Organization & Layout

This page walks the reader through how to organize information on a site so that it remains accessible. The questions answered include: how to chunk out text and media? How to improve readability and legibility? What is plain language and why use it? 

There is much useful information on this page, and we really recommend you read through all of it. Using the OpenLab to teach is a wonderful way to make course content and resources available to students outside of the classroom. But organizing a content-rich OpenLab site is not always easy. Many of us end up with pages with slightly too much text. Or we end up uploading PDFs and Word Docs containing crucial course content. These kinds of practices can violate accessibility standards, and the information in this module can help ensure you are meeting all of your students’ accessibility rights.

Media

This page provides useful guidelines on making media accessible. It covers things like alt-text, captioning, and autoplay. It also includes recommendations of media platforms to use for embedding videos and audio content into your site.

Resources & Tools

Finally, the module ends with a page that features additional resources and tools. These include CUNY-specific resources, OpenLab resources, and tools to test web accessibility on your site.

All-in-all, this Accessibility module contains invaluable information. We recommend you bookmark it and come back to it whenever you create a new OpenLab site. Best practices to augment student access to learning are always evolving: this module is great resource to make sure you stay up to date!

In the Spotlight: the City Tech Library’s Copyright Module


This week we’re spotlighting the City Tech Library’s Open Educational Resources (OER) Copyright Module. The module “covers copyright basics, gives an overview of creative commons licenses, and offers some best practices for using copyrighted and library licensed materials.” This site is an invaluable resource for faculty teaching OERs specifically and working in open digital spaces more broadly. Bookmark this site or make sure you to keep the link around! You’ll probably want (ummm, need) to consult the material on here more than once. The legal world of copyright is, well, complicated and instructors who teach online, in the open, have to learn to embrace its idiosyncrasies. Thankfully, this Copyright Module makes information easy to take in.

The clean structure of the site is helpful in knowing what you can expect of the module and where different information is located. A static homepage outlines and links out to the different module sections- which, conveniently, are each separate pages that be can navigated to from the main menu. This kind of repetition makes site content less easy to miss.

In order, the module sections are: copyright & fair use; creative commons licenses; library materials; and best practices. The first section on copyright & fair use keeps what could be very dense information concise and bulleted. It also demonstrates multimodal pedagogy by giving readers an alternative of watching a YouTube video on fair use rather than reading the written content. The creative commons licenses section links out to and describes resources for generating creative commons licenses, as well as searching these licenses to find one appropriate to the work at hand.

More generally, the module repeatedly illustrates how to effectively link out to external resources- that is, by annotating them! Consider how the following information is presented on the site: “Here are some FAQs about Creative Commons and the licenses that they offer.” Anyone reading this sentence will understand where they’ll be taken to when they click the link! These kinds of annotations equip the reader with what they need to know to pick and choose which of the links they should click, and what external resources they should take the time to look at. The module is rich with resources- and with links out to additional, external resources-but everything is presented in such a way that makes it easy to digest.

Finally, the module ends with… an interactive quiz! The Library makes good use of the WP-Pro-Quiz plugin, which allows you to create and embed quizzes directly into OpenLab sites.

The quiz is posted on the last page of the menu and is set up so that each of the eight quiz questions appear successively, one-at-a-time, only after the preceding question has been answered. Curious about the WP-Pro-Quiz plugin? Want to take the quiz yourself and put your knowledge of fair use and copyright to the test? Visit the site and thank the City Tech librarians!

In the Spotlight: MTEC 3175, Experimental Game Design & Development

Site header image for MTEC 3175, Experimental Game Design & DevelopmentThis week we’re spotlighting Professor Boisvert’s fall entertainment technology course, MTEC 3175, Experimental Game Design & Development. This course is a “hands-on studio” where students explore various complexities of gameplay development and design through creating prototypes. In short, the course touches on technical game construction, to aesthetics and design (character development, level design), to user experience and more. This course provides a useful case study for thinking about how to use the OpenLab to support your course and student learning, as well as demonstrating the interesting coursework available at our College of Technology.

Integrating Environments

In the context of this course, the OpenLab is one among a suite of “environments” where students in the course will be creating, sharing and engaging course material, broadly speaking; in addition they’ll use GitHub, Slack, Steam and a personal Game Journal. Each of these environments offers a different set of possibilities – for example, GitHub is good for storing, sharing and co-editing files while Slack is good for centralizing communication; Steam is a platform that offers easy access to the latest video games and a community, while a personal journal allows space for personal reflection and the development of ideas. Integrating these separate environments is specific to each course, but could be a useful way of organizing course work and may also be useful in introducing students to platforms they may come to depend on later in their careers.

Blogging

In this context, the OpenLab is a centralizing and public environment where visitors can learn more about the course by accessing course materials provided by Professor Boisvert and by reading through students’ critical reflections via the blog on the homepage. As in other courses, Professor Boisvert uses the blog for low-stakes, reflective and critical thinking writing by students. This third blog post assignment, asks students to re-analyze a game they enjoyed as a child. Explained in another way, this assignment asks students to revisit and think (more) critically about something they know a lot about already. This is specific and useful pedagogical decision that aims get students writing and couch the anxiety that can accompany that practice by asking them to write about something that they explicitly already know a lot about. This is a useful trick many faculty use that not only gets students more comfortable with writing, but also, through sharing experiences, helps students get to know one another and build up a classroom and college community.

Menu Structure / 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. Building a site that is more-or-less intuitive and easy for visitors to navigate is one of the challenges of building a site on the OpenLab. Professor Boisvert’s site achieves this through one top-level, navigation menu. By ‘top-level’, I mean that Professor Boisvert doesn’t use any drop down menus. Instead, each menu item opens up to a page where students can find all of the readings or assignments for the course, can read through the syllabus, or find all resources provided by Professor Boisvert. Alternatively, drop-down menus may make a new page for each weekly batch of readings or each separate assignment. Drop-down menus seem appealing at first, but from a user standpoint, they can make the site more difficult to navigate. For one, this means students are going to a different place to find course materials each week, which could get confusing, and it can be easier to end up on the wrong page (reading next week’s readings, for example). Second, drop-down menus bury, hide, and/or conceal information in second- and third-level menu items – a visitor must notice there is a drop-down menu and navigate through it to find the information they are looking for, rather than clicking through to one page for everything. Third, though our sites are responsive (meaning they work on mobile devices) long drop-down menus, or ones with 3 or even 4 levels can run off the screen, rendering them invisible to the visitor trying to access course information and materials.

Follow along with the course this semester to see how student’s ideas develop, and what games they end up developing through this studio!

In the Spotlight: OER for Africana Folklore (Part 3 of 3)

Header image for Africana Folklore class.As the final post of our 3-part series on OERs, this week we’re spotlighting Professor Javiela Evangelista’s OER for Africana Folklore: Afr1130. As mentioned the last two weeks, the general description of OERs seems straightforward – open and freely accessible educational resources. However in practice OERs are more ambiguous. This series aims to highlight some key features of OERs by spotlighting a few OERs being built by City Tech Faculty.

While the last two weeks have focused on clarity and organization (Part 1), and flexibility (Part 2), what Professor Evangelista’s site highlights is that multimedia materials are often an important part of OERs.

In general, teaching and learning with multimedia has been shown to increase comprehension and retention (i.e. Aloraini, 2012). In Africana Folklore, Professor Evangelista pairs a video, or a few, with a set of readings each week. These are not only intended to supplement, but are an important part of the course material. They fill in gaps in understanding and bring new information to the fore, while also reinforcing other material assigned that week.

The consistent use of videos in her course is more pronounced in the context of the class field trip to Democracy Now!, and its related assignment. Democracy Now! is an independent media outlet that highlights social justice stories and news that are too often overlooked or misreported by mainstream media outlets. In the related assignment, Professor Evangelista asks students to compare independent and mainstream media outlets and to think about how and why they represent similar issues differently, and to what end.

This field trip and assignment draw a contemporary parallel to the ways in which Africana Folklore “highlights the survival of African descendant people (and their stories) by way of oral, material and customary traditions”. To what extent are independent media outlets deploying similar strategies toward similar goals?

Moreover, the field trip and assignment conveys lessons of media literacy without saying as much. This seems like an important opportunity for critical reflection on the use of videos as course material, as well as how students may use videos to supplement their independent learning at home. This drives home an important lesson inherent in multimedia pedagogy – for use in your OERs or otherwise – and of this time period in history: that it’s not just about the incorporation of multimedia text into our teaching and learning, but also the critical and responsible approach with which we do so.

For more on multimedia pedagogy from the OpenLab, check out our Spring 2017 Event on the topic (includes external readings), and read the recap, which includes additional examples of multimedia pedagogy on the OpenLab and around CUNY.

This concludes our 3-part series of OERs.

  • Did you miss our first two weeks? Learn more about how organization and clarity (Part 1), and flexibility (Part 2) factor in when building an OER. Part 1 also includes and overview of OERs in general and at City Tech.
  • To browse more OERs on the OpenLab, or learn more to create your own, check out City Tech’s OER Fellowship project site. This site includes external readings, information about the fellowship, and a link to each OER made through this fellowship.

In the Spotlight: An OER for Biology II 1201, (Part 1 of 3)

header image and main menu of Biology II OER

This week we’re spotlighting an open educational resource (OER) created by Professor Tatiana Voza for Biology II (1201) using a project site on the OpenLab. You can learn more about OERs and OERs at City Tech below, but in general, OERs are online educational resources that are open, easily accessible, and freely available to the public. This description is both meaningful – given its contrast with dominant practices in the academy – and ambiguous. This spotlight on Professor Voza’s site is the beginning of a 3-part series spotlighting Open Educational Resources on the OpenLab. This series aims to introduce you to the variety of OERs available on the OpenLab – some of which may be of use to City Tech students – and to show you to how some faculty at City Tech are implementing OERs on the OpenLab. Each part will focus on a particular quality of the OER, why it matters, and how the spotlighted site achieves it.

Part 1 focuses on clarity and organization.

When you first visit to Professor Voza’s Biology II OER, you are greeted with a welcoming, easily navigable introduction tailored to the role of the visitor (are you a student or a faculty?). Each section helps the visitor get oriented to the site by breaking down how each user-type may use the site: Are you a professor preparing your class? Are you a student trying to use this site to study for an exam?

The clear, instructional and organized nature of the page is mimicked throughout the site. This is a very useful strategy when building an OER. In your class, when things are unclear, students can clarify instructions and tasks with professors in class and/or via follow-up communication. However, with OERs, the aim is for other faculty and students beyond your class to adopt and adapt your materials for their own purposes. In this scenario, the lack of familiarity and proximity between user and creator combined with a lack of understanding about how to use and navigate the site could discourage visitors from using the OER altogether.

Relatedly, being clear that your site is an OER and that to a greater or lesser degree the material can be used and remixed by others, is equally important. On this OER site, a reminder in the form a description of the Creative Commons license is visible in the sidebar on every page.

Another feature of Professor Voza’s OER that assists in presenting the content in a clear and easily digestible way is the use of the Table of Contents Plus plugin. Upon activating this plugin, introductory Table of Contents (TOC) boxes automatically appear on all pages across the site that include 3 or more ‘Headings’ (see image). Including a TOC, especially on pages with a lot of content assists users in quickly understanding what a page contains and navigating to content of interest. The Table of Contents Plug plugin is easy to use, great for organization on any site, and can easily be activated on your own sites by going to Dashboard > Plugins.

A screenshot of the Page editor indicating where users can create headings.
Not sure how to make a heading? When in the editor of a page or post, click the arrow next to ‘Paragraph’ for a dropdown menu that allows you to change text from ‘Paragraph’ to a sub-level heading.


What are Open Educational Resources?

Open Educational Resources, or OERs, are just what they sound like – educational resources that are open, easily accessible, and freely available to the public. In the context of higher education at CUNY, OERs are discussed in relation to alleviating textbook costs for students.  This is significant given that these costs too often play a role in the direction of studies a student may pursue, and/or may prevent a student from completing their studies all together. In addition to making higher education more affordable, OERs create transparency around course curriculum, allowing faculty to easily share the details, content, and organization of their courses. In this way, OERs promote culture of sharing, remixing and collaboration.

OERs at City Tech

Since 2015, City Tech’s OER Fellowship program has supported 25 faculty create and curate Open Educational Resources for a course of theirs on the OpenLab. Fellows are full-time faculty members representing a diversity of departments including Construction Management and Civil Engineering Technology, Biological Sciences, Social Sciences, African American Studies, Computer Science Technology and Dental Hygiene – to name a few. A full list of fellows and their OERs can be found on the OER Fellowship site hosted on the OpenLab. OERs on the OpenLab, however, are not limited to this list; other faculty have taken it upon themselves to develop OERs for City Tech’s community.

Further reading to learn more about OERs:

In the Spotlight: Pedagogy Profiles

colorful geometric abstract painting
Source: stock.tookapic.com

This week we’re spotlighting a new blog series on the OpenLab, Pedagogy Profiles. Pedagogy Profiles is an OpenLab blog series that highlights our educators here at City Tech. Each month we’ll feature different faculty members who will share the diverse and creative ways they are using the OpenLab to support their pedagogy.

Through a series of questions, educators are asked to reflect on their experiences using the OpenLab to support a range of pedagogy-related activities, from supporting a specific course to coordinating curriculum within a learning community. In their responses, educators discuss specific affordances of the OpenLab and the kind of course structure and culture they’ve been able to realize by integrating the OpenLab into their practice.

Through this series, we hope to give educators a chance to reflect on their pedagogy in a public arena, and to engage other educators in critical and transformative dialogue about teaching and learning. Our hope for Pedagogy Profiles is that it will further enrich the ongoing conversations around pedagogy already taking place at City Tech and across CUNY.

This series is hosted on one of our in-house sites, Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab. This site serves as forum where the City Tech community can ask questions, stimulate discussion, and share teaching materials, resources, and ideas related to teaching and learning on the OpenLab.

To view our latest featured profile, look in the blog or sidebar on our homepage. You can also review past posts by visiting our Archive.

Want to nominate a colleague or professor to be featured? Contact us today!

In the Spotlight: Accessibility on the OpenLab

Image Source: Bruno Cordioli

This week we’re spotlighting a post that lays out what you can do to improve accessibility on your OpenLab sites composed by the OpenLab’s Senior Instructional Technologist, Bree Zuckerman. Specifically, Bree’s post explains how to make sure documents, images, video, animation and links are accessible to all visitors, and how to present your content in a way that is legible to those with a range of disabilities. Bonus: These changes also generally improve the usability of your site for all users!

It is possible that you won’t have to change too much — for example, many users already use headings, or insert links into descriptive phrases (like the hyperlinked text, “a post”, above) rather than vague ones like “‘click here’.”

In addition, the OpenLab has activated a network-wide plugin, WP Accessibility Plugin, that builds features into the design of the OpenLab which support accessible-practices when creating on the OpenLab.

Just as it is important to be mindful of accessibility when planning and constructing physical infrastructure such as buildings and sidewalks, it is critical that we are mindful of accessible design when creating on the OpenLab and in other digital spaces. Making our sites on the OpenLab accessible means that people with disabilities can, ideally, better perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the various features of our sites. This may include navigating through a page or a menu, reading a PDF, or “viewing” an image or video. There are some specific ways OpenLab members can address issues of accessibility and ensure that all visitors to their sites are able to access the sites’ material equally.

In implementing these practices on your current and future OpenLab sites, you’re also ensuring that the OpenLab stays true to its foundational goal of creating and sustaining an open digital space where all City Tech students, faculty, staff, and alumni can work together, experiment, and innovate, ultimately enriching the intellectual and social life of our college community.

Related Upcoming Events & Workshops

In supporting OpenLab members in the thinking-and-doing of accessibility, the Community Team will host an Open Pedagogy Event focused on this topic, and a related hands-on workshop.

Open Pedagogy Event (THIS WEEK): Accessibility on the OpenLab
Thursday 2/22 5:30pm – 7:00pm in the Faculty Commons (N227) RSVP
This event continues the conversation about how designing the college experience with accessibility in mind benefits our communities. We’ll engage each other about how standards and accommodations vary across the disciplines. Our discussion will focus on universal design and how it can be incorporated into our pedagogy, mentorship, and administrative work on campus and beyond.

Workshop: Accessibility-a-thon!
Thursday 3/8 1:30pm – 3:30pm, Room TBA
RSVP (Coming Soon)
This workshop offers OpenLab users an opportunity to get in-person support with improving the accessibility and usability of their sites. The OpenLab Community Team invites members of City Tech to drop-in anytime and stay as long as you’d like (up to 2 hours).

In addition to these events, OpenLab members are always welcome to bring questions of accessible/universal design to our office hours or to contact us at openlab@citytech.cuny.edu.

A word map highlighting the different aspects of universal design.
Image Source: Giulia Forsythe

In the Spotlight: OER Fellowship

City Tech OER Fellowship Logo

This week we’re spotlighting the OER Fellowship project site on the OpenLab. Beginning in 2015, City Tech’s OER Fellowship supports full-time faculty in creating open educational resources (OERs) – or educational websites comprised of open-source and publically available materials that will consolidate and/or replace their course texts. While an important draw of OERs is the cut in textbook costs to students, during our Open Pedagogy event on this topic last year, Professors and 2016 OER Fellows Sue Brandt and Ari Maller also discussed the greater degree of flexibility in and customizability of content that OERs provide. Relatedly, Professor Brandt discussed the ability to keep course content up-to-date even if only by adding current examples, while Professor Maller enjoyed the ease of assigning texts of various mediums (i.e. videos, images).  

Information about the Fellowship, including participant requirements & guidelines and links to the OERs generated by past fellows, can be found on City Tech’s Ursula C. Sherwin Library website. This information and more – including the Seminar Syllabus, additional resources, and a forum that simultaneously documents the work of past cohorts and identifies some important conversations and considerations related to OERs – is available on the OpenLab site.

Further questions about the fellowship? Contact OER Librarian, Professor Cailean Cooney at ccooney@citytech.cuny.edu.

Further questions about OERs and their possibilities? Read the recap from our Open Pedagogy Event on OERs from last Fall (2016), the recap from our recent Open Pedagogy Event on Copyright and Attribution in Open Digital Pedagogy, and/or join us for our next Open Pedagogy event on Annotating Text on the OpenLab Thursday October 26th at 5:30pm in the Faculty Commons (N227). This is a follow-up to a well-received Spring event, “Annotating Texts in Open Digital Pedagogy”, and related to Librarian Monica Berger’s post, ‘Hypothes.is for OERs’ on the OER Fellowship OL site.