In the Spotlight: Law 1101- Intro to Paralegal Studies

Header image from Professor Coughlin's Law 1101 site. An picture of two hands holding up a newly sprouting plant.

This week, we spotlight Professor Coughlin’s Law 1101 course, Intro to Paralegal Studies. The course is a great example of how instructors can use their OpenLab site as a dynamic syllabus, by which we mean a one-way communication tool with students. Here, Professor Coughlin provides students with all the information they need to complete their coursework, including a syllabus, class notes and materials, assignments, and answer keys for exams. This is a simple way to use the OpenLab that has a lot of benefits. Course materials live online at a URL students can bookmark and check regularly, and critical information is broken up into small, readable chunks. Site content is clearly labeled and organized in the main navigation menu: a student visiting the site will know at first glance where to retrieve what they need. A few other highlights from the course include:

  • Linking to important documents in multiple places. An advantage of using the OpenLab–and, really, any web platform–is that you do not have to think linearly. A course site is not like a book: information can be included and repeated in multiple places. In fact, repeating yourself–or, in Professor Coughlin’s case, linking to course documents in multiple places–is good practice: it helps ensure that key materials are prominent. We like that,on her Assignments page, Professor Coughlin links back to readings and notes found on the Class notes & materials page.
  • A dynamic home page. Professor Coughlin’s homepage is set to the course blogroll. Since she is using her course as a dynamic syllabus and is the only one posting to the site, her home page exclusively contains her announcements to students. This is a great way to make sure students know, on any given week, what’s on their plate for the course.
  • Using the Google Doc Embedder plugin to upload course documents. While it is best practice to create site content directly from your page/ post editor, it is also smart  for instructors to upload some key documents–such as their syllabus–to their site. This way, students or other site visitors can download and print the docs for themselves.

Thinking about using the OpenLab to teach? Check out Professor Coughlin’s Law 1101 course for a model for how to use a site effectively as a dynamic syllabus.

In the Spotlight: Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab

This week, as we prepare for our second Open Pedagogy Event of the semester, we’d like to draw your attention once again to our in-house site, Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab. This site operates as a forum where OpenLab community members can ask questions and stimulate discussion related to teaching and learning on the OpenLab and in open digital environments more generally. The site is replete with carefully cullied resources you can draw on in your teaching, from examples of digital pedagogy assignments to provocative readings on the value of multimedia pedagogy and public writing to information on best practices and tips for open digital pedagogy.  The site’s blogroll is a great place for online discussion on building a curriculum that integrates the OpenLab; each month, our Pedagogy Profiles blog series highlights a different City Tech faculty member who is using the OpenLab in creative ways. 

In conjunction with this site, our OpenLab team hosts Open Pedagogy Events, organized around particular themes and concerns related to teaching in open digital environments and more specifically with teaching on the OpenLab. This Thursday (11/7) we’re hosting our second Open Pedagogy event of the semester, Access Pedagogy. The event will be held in the Faculty Commons (N227) from 4:30-6:00pm. Refreshments will be served (thanks to the Faculty Commons for its generous support of this event!). Visit the event posting for more information and to RSVP! We hope to see you there! We will also consider the theme of “access” throughout this year, focusing in particular on how can a commitment to access can augment and alter digital pedagogies. Part-time faculty are eligible to receive a stipend for participation in the event.

As always, we encourage you to join the site, follow along and participate in the conversation!

In the Spotlight: Nursing Case Management- Role and Process (NUR4030)

This week, we’re spotlighting Professor Thomas’ NUR4030 OER,  Case Management: Role and Process. The course  “focuses on innovative, integrated nursing case and care management models within the context of assessment, planning, collaboration, negotiation, and evaluation.” The course site is clean, simple, and well-organized, and is a great example an OpenLab OER.   

A Static Home Page

Professor Thomas has set the course’s homepage to a welcome page. There, visitors to the site can find a course description and an overview of course objectives. Note that this content is static: it is unlikely to change much throughout the semester and is therefore published as a page, rather than in the dynamic format of blog posts. This is a great way of setting up an OER, which is likely to serve as a one-way conversation between the site administrator and visitors.

Readings, Broken Down By Unit

While the blogosphere and social media worlds of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter have gotten most of us accustomed to long vertical scrolls, it’s still a good idea to break down content on course sites. After all, it is easier to  find information when it is featured in short pages and posts. Professor Thomas makes things intuitive for her students by creating a separate menu tab for course Readings. These are not simply listed on one page, but instead linked to in a drop-down menu in which each course unit represents a separate page. Each page contains links to and citations for the readings for that unit. This makes the coursework and flow for the OER completely unambiguous. 

Navigation Menu Widget

Finally, Professor Thomas makes great use of the Navigation Menu Widget in the site’s right-hand sidebar. This widget features links to all pages linked to from the site’s main navigation menu, including those linked to in the drop-down menu. This gives visitors to the site yet another quick overview of the OER’s content; it allows them to navigate to different parts of the site more easily and offers an alternative to the drop-down menu, which isn’t always easy to read on one’s phone!

Are you building an OER on the OpenLab? Need inspiration for your course or project site? Check out Professor Thomas’ course for inspiration!

In the Spotlight: Mat1275 Algebra and Trigonometry Template

Mat1275 course profile page, including a brief description of the course.

This week, we spotlight the Mat1275 template course, which the Math department created to facilitate resource-sharing and cloning of the course among instructors. Such resource-sharing is a key way the OpenLab can help support open teaching and learning. Below, we focus on how the template site is built. We provide an overview that may be helpful to other departments wanting to create cloneable templates for their own introductory courses.

From the main menu, we see that the course’s homepage is set to the blogroll. This means that instructor and student posts will be featured on the home page in reverse chronological order. The Math department course uses a “template blogroll” in an innovative way. They create a first post, pinned prominently to the top of the page, which is a “Welcome post” directed not at students in potential Mat1275 courses but at instructors copying the template. The post gives instructions on how to clone the course. To make clear that these should be deleted once the course has been cloned, they are written in red. 

Another template post is also featured on the site. It outlines a potential first assignment for Mat1275, which is simply to have students introduce themselves on the course site. Here too, the post has clear instructions which are worth citing at length: 

 “Write a comment in reply to this post (scroll to the bottom to find the “Leave a Reply” box).  Your comment should be at least 2 paragraphs in length. In the first paragraph, introduce yourself in whatever way you wish (what do you want your classmates to know about you?).  In the second paragraph, choose ONE of the following two topics and write a response. Don’t forget to tell us which topic you chose. Topics (choose ONE).

  1. Was math ever your favorite subject? If so, when was it? What about math made it your favorite? If math has never been your favorite subject, what about it do you not like?
  2. Sometimes people can recognize a time when their opinion of math dramatically changed either for the better or the worse. Tell us about it.”

The main menu links to a page in which instructors can write a brief description “About the Course.” This is a top-level page that, in a drop-down menu, links to other pages for the course syllabus, the course calendar, and course assignments. To make things easier for instructors cloning the template, a sample syllabus has already been drafted. Parts that will need to be customized (e.g. the grading guidelines) are, again, written in red. Another noteworthy detail here is that the course assignments page is in fact not a static page, but a category archive called “assignments.” Using a dynamic blogroll for assignments is useful if your coursework is interactive and will involve students commenting on instructor posts, or creating new posts themselves.

Finally, the template includes a top-level page for resources. A range of items appear in this drop-down menu from instructions on how to use WebWork to video resources to links to different City Tech offices that offer tutoring. Such resources are invaluable; using an OpenLab site to link out to them is a great strategy to make sure that students know that there are various tools to support them in their learning.

This template then, provides a rich starting point for Mat 1275 instructors. Those who clone the course will have a basic site architecture to work with. They will also have foundational content, from a model syllabus to sample assignments to key resources with which to provide students. The site is a great example of how to use the OpenLab to facilitate remixing and copying of course sites. A template like this, which can be customized throughout the semesters, gives departments a durable, open, and highly usable resource to support instructors. Thinking about creating a template site for another core course? Check out the Mat1275 template course for inspiration.

In the Spotlight: Technical Writing (ENG 2575- E270)

 

This week, we’re spotlighting Professor Ellis’ ENG 2575  Technical Writing course. In the class, students will have “opportunities to learn the theory, skills, and heuristics of technical writing through projects relevant” to their degree program. The course encourages students to write often, and with intention. Assignments are scaffolded, moving from introductory to more advanced, so that students gain a range of skills to apply to many industries. The course’s focus is also on helping students develop a set of documents to include in their professional portfolio. Visiting this course site might be of interest to students thinking about taking the course, as well as faculty/ staff who are thinking through how to organize their course site this semester.

Dynamic Home Page

Professor Ellis has set the course’s home page to the course’s blogroll. This means that all posts to the site will appear on this page in reverse chronological order. This set up works well in a course like this, since the instructor makes frequent announcements. Indeed, announcements made through the class blog will be featured visibly on the course’s landing page. The most recent announcements will be at the top, and older posts will be pushed further down the feed.

However, there can be drawbacks to using a dynamic home page–i.e. a blogroll–instead of a static homepage. With a static homepage, you can display very specific, critical information such as a course description, an overview of the course site, and course office hours. This is harder to do with a dynamic homepage, which will feature all course blog posts–including those made by students.

Professor Ellis, however, finds a way to merge the best of both worlds. His blogroll allows recent content to be featured prominently. But he has also set the featured post to a welcome post that walks students through the course site and reminds them of his email and office hours. Don’t forget: you can always create a featured post by making a post “sticky” in your post editor in the dashboard. This will make your post “stick” to the very top of your blogroll.

An Opportunities Page

Professor Ellis includes a page on his course site in which he posts professional and academic opportunities  students might enjoy. This is an innovative way to use an OpenLab course site to support student development beyond the specific course curriculum. Professor Ellis does this by creating a category called “Opportunities” and inserting this category into the main menu. The “Opportunities” page, then, is visible and easily accessible from anywhere in the site.  For now, the opportunities include CUNY writing contests, and invitations to join professional organizations. More will be added as the semester moves along. 

An Examples Page

In the same vein, Professor Ellis also includes a page with examples of technical writing. These examples model the kinds of writing students will do in the course. The page features full-length documents for students to download, as well as images of more visual forms of technical writing, like posters and infographics. Creating a page like this is a great way of supporting students as they tackle new assignments. Research frequently shows that people learn best through case studies. Professor Ellis provides cases for students to study, and gives them a starting point from which to launch their own technical writing endeavors.

What kinds of opportunities and resources do you want your students to access? Can you include them in your course site? Check out Professor Ellis’ course for inspiration!

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: Gothic Literature and Visual Culture (ENGL 3407-D613)

A few weeks ago, we spotlighted Prof. Blain’s Writing in the Workplace course site. This site offered great ideas for how to organize student writing assignments. This week, we spotlight another well-organized, creative and visually compelling writing-intensive course: Prof. Westengard’s Gothic Literature and Visual Culture (ENGL 3407-D613). Here are some highlights from the site:

Prof. Westengard makes great, common-sense use of the widget space on the right sidebar of her course site. She posts there the information students will most need throughout the semester. This includes a text widget that gives her contact information, office hours and mailbox location. She also uses the “Categories” widget to provide links to the different blogging assignments students have throughout the semester. This makes crucial information less easy to miss!

Second, Prof Westengard’s landing page (the site’s home page) exclusively features timely announcements. This is a great strategy for communicating with your students!

Note that these announcements aren’t set up as a category archive, which would look similar to the set up the site has now, except that announcements would also populate the site’s blogroll by default.  Prof. Westengard has chosen instead to use a static page for her announcements and to edit it regularly with new content. The advantage of this strategy is that her announcements don’t end up mixed in with the courses’ blogroll, which is reserved instead for student blogging. In this way, neither student blogging exercises nor instructor announcements get buried or lost.

Finally, the site does make use of category archives to organize the different blogging assignments. These are given intuitive names “Blog 1,” “Blog 2,” etc. They are also organized neatly in a dropdown menu. Remember that, by activating the “Require Category” plugin, you can ensure that all members of your site choose a category before publishing their post. The plugin prompts the user to select a category and won’t allow them to publish without doing so. Using “Require Category” is a good way of keeping your site and its blogging exercises organized!

In sum, this is a rich and well-organized course site to return to as you begin thinking of setting up your own site for the fall. Want to learn more? Check out the site here.

In the Spotlight: Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab

Brooklyn, NY– DUMBO by Alh1

This week, as we prepare for our second Open Pedagogy Event of the semester, we’d like to draw your attention once again to our in-house site, Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab. This site operates as a forum where OpenLab community members can ask questions and stimulate discussion related to teaching and learning on the OpenLab and in open digital environments more generally. The site is replete with curated resources you can draw on in your teaching, from examples of digital pedagogy assignments to provocative readings on the value of multimedia pedagogy and public writing to information on best practices and tips for open digital pedagogy.  The site’s blogroll is a great place for online discussion on building a curriculum that integrates the OpenLab; each month, our Pedagogy Profiles blog series highlights a different City Tech faculty member who is using the OpenLab in creative ways.

In conjunction with this site, our OpenLab team hosts Open Pedagogy Events, organized around particular themes and concerns related to teaching in open digital environments and more specifically with teaching on the OpenLab. This Thursday (4/4) we’re hosting our first Open Pedagogy event of the semester, Curating a Faculty or Staff Portfolio. The event will be held in the Faculty Commons (N227) from 4:30-6:00pm. Refreshments will be served (thanks to the Provost’s Office for its generous support of this event!). Visit the event posting for more information and to RSVP! We hope to see you there! We also have a follow-up workshop that will look more closely at how to curate  your teaching portfolio (RSVP here!). Part-time faculty are eligible to receive a stipend for participation in the event and/or workshop.

As always, we encourage to join the site, follow along and participate in the conversation!

In the Spotlight: Writing in the Workplace (ENG 2570)

This week, we’re spotlighting Professor Blain’s ENG 2570 Writing in the Workplace course, “an advanced composition course emphasizing writing used in business and industry.” The course introduces students to the principles of workplace ethnography, and scaffolds assignments so that students gain a range of technical and analytical writing skills directly applicable to many industries. Visiting this course site might of interest to students thinking about taking the course, as well as faculty/ staff whose courses/ projects are writing-intensive

Public Writing

Professor Blain’s course is public. For students, this means that key assignments involve public writing. Students are asked to post a range of written work, from reflective posts, to workplace memos, to collaborative reports on workplace outcomes. This kind of public writing is a great way to raise the stakes of coursework by widening the potential audience. Students are not just writing for a grade or for their instructor, but for the other students in the course who will read their posts, as well as for anyone in the broader City Tech community who might pop into the site. While this can be intimidating at first, Professor Blain uses many of tools and tricks of Open Digital Pedagogy to ease students into the task. First, using the PDF Embedder Premium plugin, she embeds PDFs spelling out clear guidelines for assignments into her site (see for example here). Students can download, print, or view the assignments guidelines directly from the course site. Second, she scaffolds assignments: the first post students write is a short paragraph in which they reflect on writing and can air their doubts, as well as practice including an image in their posts. Later work, like this virtual workplace ethnography, is more involved. About that virtual workplace ethnography—we particularly like that, to practice writing workplace memos, students first write about a workplace featured in a popular TV show or movie. This playfully grounds the assignment in a (more or less) shared popular culture, allowing students to relate to each other’s work when they read each other’s posts.

Organizing Menus

Organizing a site for a course that is this writing-intensive can be a challenge. The default OpenLab course template features only one “Blog” page where ALL posts are collated and rendered in reverse chronological order. When students post every week, this can get messy. It usually makes more sense, as Professor Blain has done, to separate out student written work by category and course unit. This can be done through “category archives”. Category archives collate all POSTS (not pages) which have been given a specific category (announcements, assignment #1, assignment #2, and final assignment for example) and displays 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 further down the feed. As Professor Blain has done, category archives can be inserted into the main menu so they are easily accessible to visitors of the course site. The “require category” plugin, which requires authors to select a category before publishing their post, is a great way to ensure that students use the categories the instructor has created and post their work to the correct place.

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. Professor Blain achieves this first by keeping her main navigation menu brief: each menu item represents one of three course units. However, because of the many writing assignments required for a class like hers, she uses second-level drop down menus as well to list each of the category archives contained within a course unit. Drop down menus have some drawbacks, including that they are difficult to use on mobile phones—which are the devices most students use for OpenLab coursework. To provide an easy-to-navigate alternative, Professor Blain uses the “Navigation Menu” widget. This widget displays and links out to all category archives and pages as a vertical list in the course’s sidebar. This gives the user an overview of the content of the site and makes it easy to navigate to different parts of the site thereafter.

Check out the site and think through how you might a organize a writing-intensive course!

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!