In the Spotlight: Literary Arts Festival

This year’s Literary Arts Festival–the 40th annual installation of this City Tech institution–will no doubt be different than the previous 39, but certainly exciting and enriching as always.

We’re spotlighting both the festival itself–now virtual via Zoom–and the revamped call for student submissions. The organizers of the Literary Arts Festival emphasize that “Your Voice Matters. Your Story Matters. You Matter and We Care.” Instead of a writing competition, the call asks students to share stories with the City Tech community. The focus is on “quarantine, hardship, loss, resilience, social activism, remote education, mental health, essential workers, health care workers, caregivers” and can include “personal essay, poem, song, photography, illustration, video/animation, dance, spoken word performance”–so any format of creative work. Submit your work by March 17th.

Details on the call for submissions are available on the Literary Arts Festival’s OpenLab site.

Then check out–and share!–this awesome poster for the event, designed by Or Szyflingier in COMD! It has information for you to save the date for the event: on Tuesday, April 13, at 5:00pm, the City Tech community will gather for a Literary Arts Festival featuring spoken word artist Staceyann Chin and City Tech students from among those submitting their work for the call for submissions.

Before the festival, get to know Staceyann Chin’s spoken-word work. Here are some samples of her work from the Poetry Foundation, and some videos and further reading.

Thanks to the Student Government Association President Ngozi Okonkwo and the SGA Team for hosting, and for their work with English Department faculty, led by Dr. Caroline Hellman, in organizing and supporting this year’s festival.

In the Spotlight: OpenLab Support

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

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

Synchronous support

Open Hours

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

One-on-one Appointments

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

Workshops by Request

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

Asynchronous Support

Help

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

Email

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

Screencasts

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

Modules

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

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

Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab

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

Comforting Content for COVID Coping

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


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

New Screencast: Editing Menus on Your Site

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

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

 

In the Spotlight: Finding Inspiration on the OpenLab

Welcome to spring semester! Getting started on the OpenLab, even if you’ve used it before, can sometimes be overwhelming- there are so many different options for what you can do! On this edition of the Spotlight, we’re spotlighting one way to get inspiration and learn cool things you can do on the OpenLab without feeling overwhelmed. What is it? The Spotlight itself!

What is the Spotlight?

Every Monday, we feature a different site, project, or activity that someone is doing on the OpenLab that we’ve specially selected for you to check out. For example, last semester, we Spotlighted:

The OpenLab Tutorial for Students page (recommended for students and anyone interested in building online tutorials)
The Student Technology Survey (recommended for all faculty teaching online)
The Fifth Annual Science Fiction Symposium (recommended for anyone who might want to host an event using the OpenLab)
The Experiential Art and Design Club (recommended for students running student organizations)

However, we also suggest checking out Spotlighted sites that don’t directly relate to what you want to do on the OpenLab. For example, in her spotlight of the Connect Days template, Claire explains some design choices the creators made that help make the site work so well as an admissions tool, such as an easy-to-digest home page, profiles to help prospective students get a sense for who is in each academic department, and multimedia tours.

How Else Can You Use the Spotlight?

Whether you’re faculty, staff, or a student, you can also check out our Spotlight archive to look for other sites on the OpenLab specifically tailored to your interests.

Students:
Our Student Archive contains featured course sites so that you can preview classes you might want to take in the future, tips for professional development and presenting yourself online, learning resources, and sites created by other students.

Faculty and Staff:
Our Faculty and Staff Archive is arranged to make it easy to find inspiration for online pedagogy and class sites across disciplines, tips for how to guide students in making e-portfolios for your classes, community opportunities at City Tech, and tips for publicizing and coordinating your scholarship!

What Else is on the Open Road?

Aside from the Spotlight, this OpenLab site also contains OpenLab News, so you can learn about new features and our upcoming events, information on how to attend our OpenLab Open Hours, and screencasts for audiovisual guidance on the nuts and bolts of editing your OpenLab site.

You can always see our Spotlighted content for the week on the home page of the OpenLab, or you can join our project profile to get updates sent directly to your email. We hope you’ll come back each week to see all of the cool stuff your colleagues and classmates are doing on the OpenLab!

In the Spotlight: Experiential Art & Design Club

This week, I spotlight the amazing student-led group, the Experiential Art & Design Club. This club provides a “space to create & playtest digital experiences”: you can join to “make video games, immersive art, AR filters, websites, and literally anything else you can think of.” How has this club adapted to remote learning? They’ve moved 100% online and use the OpenLab to maintain an effective digital presence! Some highlights from their OpenLab site and profile include:

  • Featuring links to their Discord (where they meet every two weeks) and Instagram on their profile page.
On their profile page, the club features links to their social media accounts.
  • A “Sign-Up Now!” button at the top of their home page, where it is difficult to miss–and that’s a good thing!
EXP Club's "Sign Up Now" button sits at the top of their home page,
  • A sign-up form in the right-hand widget sidebar of their site, again making it as easy as possible for folks to join the club and get in touch with club leaders.

  • FAQs directly on the site’s home page. These are featured at the bottom of the page, in a collapsible accordion menu which doesn’t take up too much space. The reader can glance at the questions when first landing on the site, and decide whether or not they need answers before joining the club. I love that these questions address potential student insecurities about participating: “I suck at coding,” one of these questions reads, “can I still join?” The club leaders want to reassure you: “the whole point of our meetings is to get better. None of us started off where we are right now. If you’re bad at it, come anyway.”

Finally, beyond maintaining a wonderful site, the EXP club has also adapted their 2020 activities to fit the constraints of a pandemic-stricken world. They note: “For 2020, we’re switching to quick solo projects so everyone can try something new at their own pace. These ‘challenges’ take place every 2 weeks and come with inspiration, tutorials + download links to get started. Check out all of those here.”

This site provides a great example of how to use the OpenLab to keep your club members active and engaged. Check them out for inspiration!

In the Spotlight: Architecture Club

The Architecture Club has existed for over 30 years at City Tech! This week, I spotlight their OpenLab site, which shows how clubs can use the OpenLab to keep members engaged during this period of distance education. Below are some noteworthy features of their site.

A dynamic homepage

In OpenLab workshops, we encourage members to think through whether they would like their homepage to be static or dynamic. Static homepages, we explain, work well to communicate information that is unlikely to change much throughout a semester. For example, a club’s homepage might include a welcome message and an overview of the site. The copy written at the start of the semester for this page will likely need very little updating.  A dynamic homepage, however, might be better if the club maintains an active blog with time-sensitive information to be communicated to members. 

The Architecture Club shows how well the latter format works in a remote semester. Their homepage takes the form of a regularly updated blog with announcements reminding visitors of upcoming club events. In separate posts, they recap those events for anyone who misses them. The club also posts resources that are helpful for architecture students, and uses short blog posts to invite conversation from club members and keep the spirit of the club alive. I especially like this recent post that shared pictures of last year’s Halloween, when the club had a pumpkin carving  contest wherein the winner ended up “having their pumpkin printed as an adorable keychain!” The flurry of regular activity on this blog tells the visitor that club life is going strong, even during the pandemic.

Updates to the Welcome Widget

The right-hand sidebar of the site features a text widget with a “Welcome to the Architecture Club!” message. In “normal” times, this message might feature a sentence or two about the club, as well as where it meets, and contact information for the club leader. In the context of distance education, however, the Architecture Club has smartly updated the text to tell the visitor “we are now online” and to provide the Zoom link to their club meetings so that newcomers can easily pop in.

An Events Widget

It’s always a good idea to include a club calendar of events on your site, which the Architecture Cub does. But just to make extra-sure that visitors know about the latest club happenings, they also use the Events List Widget to display upcoming events on the right-hand sidebar. Smart! 

It’s not easy to keep a club going during this period of distance education, but the Architecture Club shows that a well-maintained OpenLab site is both a tool for communicating information and keeping community together. I encourage all club leaders to visit the site for inspiration!

In the Spotlight: Pharmacology (DEN 2315)

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

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

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

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

In the Spotlight: ComD Internship Coordination Site

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

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

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

In the Spotlight: 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!