In the Spotlight: Student Technology Needs a 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: Connect Days Career and Technology Teacher Education

Header image for CTTE Connect Days Site, three students looking at a computer in a City Tech Classroom.

The transition to distance learning has challenged the City Tech community to create new digital resources for incoming students and faculty. Professor Sue Brandt and others developed an innovative Connect Days template, which different departments can customize to provide an online orientation to the degrees and certificates offered at the college. This week we spotlight the Career and Technology Teacher Education’s Connect Days site:

An Easy-to-Digest Home Page

The Career and Technology Teacher Education’s  (CTTE) Connect Days Home page is informative and easy to read. It begins with a warm welcome message from the chair, who includes a headshot of himself to help students associate “a face with the name”–something that can be nice in this era of remote learning! The page also makes good use of infographics, presenting flow charts that explain the different pathways students can take to Bachelor of Science in Education degrees. Finally, CTTE makes sure that practical and timely information is highly visible on the site’s landing page by including their remote advisement schedule.

Pages for Faculty, Staff and Student Leaders

Following the Connects Days template, CTTE has included pages not only for faculty and staff profiles, but for profiles of student leaders. This gives new students a sense not only of who will be teaching them, but of what veteran students are doing with their major, in other words what they can look forward to accomplishing! Notice that these pages include headshots of and contact information for each person profiled, another important practice to follow in this era of remote learning.

Multimedia Virtual Tours

Few of us may be setting foot into the campus this semester, but we think it’s safe to say that almost everyone is looking forward to a future when we can make full use of our facilities again. It’s important to let students know what these facilities look like and what resources are available there. To that end, CTTE has included multiple virtual tours of City Tech buildings and CTTE labs/ classrooms. We like that these include written directions to the campus, complemented by a well-labeled street map and pictures of the school buildings. We love that these tours include a promotional video created by existing CTTE students for prospective learners! Note that this video was uploaded to YouTube and embedded into the site: this is a great way to make use of the OpenLab’s multimedia functions, and an advantage of YouTube is that it provides automatic closed captioning, a best practice in terms of accessibility.

Please make sure to visit the CTTE Connect Days site to learn more about the program!

In the Spotlight: Virtual Office Hours, Summer 2020

A deer peeking out over a field of yellow flowers.
Deer in a Canola Field by Jim Choate on Flickr.

Greetings City Tech Community!

We wanted to extend our congratulations to all of you on completing an especially trying spring semester. A special shout-out to the class of 2020!

We know many of you will be spending a chunk of your summer developing online academic resources. Some of you will be preparing your fall courses, which may well need to be fully online; some of you will be developing online student orientation materials; others will be continuing the transition to virtual student club life. The OpenLab is a great community-run platform from which to expand your web presence. But we realize that you may need support in setting up your OpenLab site. The OpenLab team is here to help!

We have scheduled virtual office hours for the rest of the summer (see full schedule below).  These offer the opportunity to meet with a member of the OpenLab Community Team. All office hours are held via Google Hangouts and are open to faculty, staff, and students. 

Support in office hours is first-come, first-served. If possible, please reach out to the OpenLab team in advance to let us know what questions you have so we can be prepared.

Click here to sign up for virtual office hours.

Click here to join us in our Google Hangout during the office hours listed below.

Click here for instructions for joining via Google Hangouts.

6/26 Friday 2:00 PM-3:00 PM

7/1  Wednesday 2:00 PM-3:00 PM

7/9 Thursday 12:00 PM-1:00PM

7/17 Friday 2:00 PM-3:00 PM

7/22 Wednesday 2:00 PM-3:00 PM

7/30  Thursday 12:00 PM-1:00 PM

8/7  Friday 2:00 PM-3:00PM 

8/12 Wednesday 2:00 PM-3:00 PM

8/20 Thursday  12:00 PM-1:00 PM

 

In the Spotlight: NYCCT Prism Alliance

header image for prism alliance site: the letters PRISM are spelled out across a rainbow-colored banner.

This week, we spotlight NYCCT’s Prism Alliance. The Prism Alliance at City Tech is an inclusive safe space for all LGBTQIA++ students and allies. The club meets once a week, during club hour on Thursdays from 1-2 pm. The meetings are usually held in the library projection room, but the location can vary. Join the club site to get regular updates about meetings! And learn more about the Prism Alliance here!

 

In the Spotlight: City Tech Guide

This week we spotlight the City Tech Guide, an OpenLab site designed as a resource for new City Tech students. For those of you who are just starting at City Tech this semester, this site is full of great information to help you navigate the sometimes-dizzying world of CUNY. Below are just a few highlights:

  • Under the Academics menu tab, you will find various resources to support your learning. These include guides for working with your academic adviser, a video resource for transfer students, and a video overview of CUNY curriculum requirements.
  • The Calendars menu tab links to several calendars that are useful to refer back to, including City Tech’s calendar and the Student Life calendar of activities. Checking these calendars often is a good way to stay on top of your City Tech schedule–and CUNY holidays!
  • A menu tab for Campus Resources links to information about key areas of City Tech life. A page on clubs can help you find student organizations in which you may want to participate. A Campus Map can guide you through the often-confusing City Tech buildings. And another page for Important College Websites provides links to sites you may want to bookmark, from the Library website to the website for the Financial Aid Office.

All-in-all, the City Tech Guide is a great resource for incoming students. Join the site and refer back to it often–it will make your first semester here at City Tech just a bit easier!

Holiday Greetings from the OpenLab!

Image Source: geralt

Greetings from the OpenLab and congratulations to all on the closing of another successful semester!

While our weekly “Spotlight” blog series will go on hiatus until the Spring semester, 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.

Courses

Projects

Clubs

Portfolios

We also had a few special posts to make you aware of new developments:

In addition to reviewing these posts from this past semester, 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 winter session – please contact us with questions or concerns.

We are also beginning to post our spring programming.

January workshops for Faculty/Staff have been posted – view the schedule and RSVP on the Open Road! We will be in touch as we get more events and workshops on our calendar.

Wishing you all a very happy holiday season!

The OpenLab Community Team

In the Spotlight: Girls Who Code

This week we’re spotlighting the Girls Who Code club. Girls Who Code is a FREE after-school program for 6-12 grade girls and female college freshman. The aims of the club are to empower women by building technical skills, knowledge, and confidence, while also growing community among those with interest in tech. In supporting young women in this way, the club aims to counter stereotypes about who is and can be a programmer, and to help close the gender gap in tech. City Tech’s Girls Who Code club brings this initiative to the City Tech community – bringing together young females who want to explore coding in a fun, friendly, and community-based way. Through joining the club, members are supported in their learning of different coding platforms but also, though the community-building aspect, club leaders help members become confident in everything they do!

Curious to learn more? You can view the curriculum you would work through when you join Girls Who Code. As you’ll notice, the club meets members where they are – beginner, intermediate, and advanced – meaning your curiosity and interest in tech is enough to join this growing group!

Also, one of the faculty facilitators, Professor Ayesha Javed, has begun a “Blog of the Day” blog series that would be of interest to anyone with an interest in tech, and/or an interest in joining the club. Professor Javed covers various topics related to coding and programming, including “5 Reasons Why Learning Coding in Important”, “Why Choose Python as your Programming Language?”, “10 Famous Websites Built with Python” and “The Advantages of using Scratch as your language!”. Moreover, her posts include spotlights on women in tech, including Tarah Wheeler, Ada LoveLace (one of the first computer programmers in the mid 1800s!), and Bissan Al-Lazikani.

Curious still? On their website, you can find a list of their student and faculty leaders, and contact information. Reach out to learn more and get involved!

In the Spotlight: Clubs on the OpenLab

Black and white image of intersecting metal staircases.
Image Source: bogitw

There are many ways the OpenLab can support the diversity of work carried out by the City Tech Community. Hosting a club site on the OpenLab is one way. This year 13 new clubs joined the OpenLab and nearly half of those joined this semester – so this week let’s take a moment to consider how hosting your club site on the OpenLab can support your club’s activities and membership.

Through a workshop with the Club Council in Fall 2017, we learned that many clubs already have an established digital presence. Whether sharing information on Facebook or Twitter, or videos and pictures on Instagram, Club leaders at City Tech have experimented with using different digital platforms to reach out to members and promote the work of the club more broadly. GREAT! Depending on your goals for using these platforms, using mainstream social media accounts may perfectly meet the needs of your club. However, because there are important differences between social media platforms and the OpenLab, and because contrasts better highlight their unique and complementary features, the first three points for discussion compare the OpenLab with social media platforms.

City Tech’s Digital Community

When you publish content on a social media platform, the content is shared with the world, but generally speaking, those who follow your platform receive the content. To the extent that this content is then shared by your followers, it then reaches a broader but indeterminate audience. When you publish content on the OpenLab, it can also be shared with the world (if your privacy settings are set to “public”), but it is also shared with a determinate audience – the 27,000+ members of City Tech’s community who are also members of the OpenLab. When groups like clubs make new posts or comments on their sites, it shows up at the top of the “Clubs” section on the homepage and in the activity feed. We also may choose to “Spotlight” it in our weekly blog series. Each of these mechanisms gives your club greater exposure within the City Tech community – or within the community of people eligible to become members of your club and support, carry-out and grow the already amazing work you are doing.

Content Control

When you post on social media sites, your (club’s) content is copyrighted, but legal rights to use and repurpose your content are also extended to the platforms on which you are posting. This means that Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter can reuse and sub-license your content out, and profit off of it, without you being aware or compensated. When you share content on the OpenLab, you retain all rights to that content, and none of your content can be repurposed for someone else’s profit, and all content must be attributed to the original author. You  may also change the licensure on the content you post to meet your specific needs. More information here.

Static vs. Dynamic Content

When representing the work of your club on a digital platform, there is likely static and dynamic content you want to share. Static content is content that doesn’t change too often – maybe its updated each semester or each year. Static content might include the mission of your club, any recurring events you may host or participate in, when and where your meetings are held, who your club leaders are, resources that may be of interest to your members or future members, contact information and more. Dynamic content is content that is timely and current – maybe you have an upcoming event that you want to remind people about or opportunity that you are recruiting participation in. This is content that becomes outdated and no longer relevant to the work of the club.

Social media accounts are great for pushing out new and dynamic content, but often times there is limited space for housing static content, and groups link out to a stand-alone website that houses their static content. This is an approach you may want to consider, especially if your dynamic content is work your club has produced that you want to share with the world. The OpenLab has technical options for housing static and dynamic content. For static content, use pages and add them to your main- or side- menu. For dynamic content, create posts that will auto-populate your blogroll in reverse chronological order (the latest news at the top).

Ultimately which platform(s) your use, and how you may or may not integrate them (using a Facebook page and an OpenLab site, for example) depends on what content you want to share, and who your audience is. It may be that you use the static and dynamic content features of the OpenLab, AND a social media site – which would let you share certain content with the City Tech community specifically, and released more freely out into the world.

A One-Stop-Shop

Beyond housing public-facing static and dynamic content, the OpenLab allows for file sharing, collaborative drafting, discussion, and hosting a shared calendar on its group profile pages. These can be useful for a group’s internal organization, and is moreover useful because the site is easily accessible from this same digital space. This makes your club’s OpenLab account a one-stop-shop for all internal documents and public-facing content. Keeping things centralized and in one location makes it easier to find things, and can make onboarding new group members easier and efficient.

Recertify with Ease

Each year clubs at City Tech need to submit documentation to recertify their clubs, which allows them receive funding and more. As of Fall 2017, clubs are allowed to use their OpenLab sites in this process, making this process simple and easy!

Looking for Examples

If you want to see how other clubs have used the OpenLab to support their activities you can:

In the Spotlight: Black Theatre (AFR 1321)

This week we’re spotlighting Professor Foster-McKelvia’s AFR 1321 Black Theatre course, an introduction to African American dramatic literature that “explores the complex ways in which the black experience is constructed and presented by playwrights”, and offers one entry point for understanding the African American experience more broadly. Exploring this course site would be of interest to faculty looking for examples of how to organize course sites, as well as for students who may be interested in taking this course in the future.

For students, the clean structure of the site is helpful in knowing what you can expect of the course, and what the expectations, requirements, and opportunities of the course are. For starters, read through the course overview and prerequisites, download a pdf of the syllabus, and review the response papers.

For faculty, the organization of the content on the site offers useful insights for thinking about how to use the OpenLab to support your coursework. Professor Foster-McKelvia strategically uses a mix of static pages and categorized posts to organize content in an easy-to-navigate way.

Static pages like the Course Overview and Prerequisites, Syllabus, Theatre Termonology and Student Resources are pages specifically created by Professor Foster-McKelvia and contain content that she wants to communicate to students that for the most part will not change over the course of the semester.

In contrast, Announcements, Assignments, and Response Papers rely on “category archives”. Category archives collate all POSTS (not pages) which have been given a specific category (announcements, assignments and response papers, for example) and renders 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 down further in the feed. As Professor Foster-McKelvia has done, category archives can be inserted into the main menu so they are easily accessible to visitors of the course site. Posts, whether categorized or not, are great for dynamic content, or content that changes or may be updated over the course of the semester. Furthermore, posts can be created and published by students so, like Professor Foster-McKelvia, they can be used to submit assignments, engage in course discussions or ask questions.

Curious about how you can use these techniques in creating your course site? Join us for our Open Hour next THURSDAY (12/6) and ask our Community Team members! Sign up here!