In the Spotlight: Privacy in Open Learning

Happy second week of school to all City Tech faculty, students, and staff! At the start of every semester, hundreds of members of the City Tech community join the OpenLab for the very first time. If that’s your case, welcome! We want to take the start of the semester to go over the ins-and-outs of privacy in open learning. After all, the OpenLab is a public-facing platform. While this public-ness is part of what makes the OpenLab a rich environment for teaching and learning, some of you may have concerns about what working in the open means for your privacy. Here are a few things you should know:

The OpenLab is open

The OpenLab is open by default. The site is indexable through search engines, and can be accessed by anyone inside and outside of the City Tech community.

Privacy while working in the open

The OpenLab is open, so can anyone can find your personal information by looking you up on the OpenLab?

The answer is a resounding no! This is because members of the OpenLab can identify themselves using a pseudonym for their user name or display name instead of their real name. Their avatar can represent them without including a real photo or identifying image. Plenty of OpenLab members, for example, use pictures of their cats, their guitars, their cars, abstract sketches of themselves, etc. Check out our detailed overview of the OpenLab’s privacy policy, and best practices for protecting your confidentiality here.

If you are an instructor teaching a course on the OpenLab, or a staff/ faculty member leading a club/ project on the OpenLab, it is essential for you to know that members–particularly students–cannot be required to use their proper name or likeness when creating an OpenLab account.

Participating in courses on the OpenLab

If you are an instructor teaching on the OpenLab, you might wonder how you can identify your students if they are using pseudonyms on the platform.

The answer is that site administrators can identify group members in the site dashboard by full name and email address (as shown below). Therefore, they do not need to rely on usernames to identify members. In other words, members should not be asked to change their username or display name for identification purposes. Remember though: people’s full names are only visible for site administrators in the dashboard. They are not visible anywhere else on the OpenLab.

A screenshot of a site administrator's view of the dashboard. When the site administrator clicks "Users" in the dashboard, they will see the site's users avatars, full names, and email addresses.

We hope this helps explain how your privacy is protected when you work in the open.  Again, please visit our Help documentation on privacy on the OpenLab for a fuller overview of your rights and best practices for protecting your confidentiality.  As always, feel free to comment on this post if you have questions! 

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