In the Spotlight: OER at City Tech

This week, I spotlight the library’s fantastic new(ish) resource: the O.E.R at City Tech OpenLab site. As a reminder, the acronym “O.E.R” stands for Open Educational Resources and “refers to any educational content that is free and openly-licensed.” From the academic year 2017-2018 to the present, NY State has awarded CUNY $4 million annually to “scale-up O.E.Rs” across the university system. This site is your go-to hub for all things O.E.R at City Tech and–dare we say–at CUNY. Its main function is to showcase exemplary O.E.Rs at the college, but it also includes other invaluable resources, such as O.E.Rs developed CUNY-wide (not just City Tech-specific), different search engines and repositories from which to search for O.E.Rs developed worldwide, and a curated list of O.E.Rs by Subject, relevant to the disciplines offered at City Tech.

The entire site is worth checking-out, but I’d like to draw your attention to a page titled Find O.E.R to teach with. This page builds out from more generalized O.E.R search tools to repositories that showcase a specific digital medium. Thus, you’ll find a list of search engines to help you with Getting Started on your quest to find O.E.Rs, but also narrower repositories of open textbooks and curricula and open courses. Lest we forget, O.E.R refers not only to texts or websites, but  also to audio files, images, and videos, that is to say to things like free digital recordings of concerts and music, public domain photography, and TED talks. The site helpfully points the visitor to search directories to find each of these, including highly specialized repositories that curate collections of media such as “pictures of trans and non-binary models” and “music remixes under Creative Commons licenses.” I highly recommend navigating to this page as you teach this semester and look for new, creative, online tools to enhance your pedagogy. Using multimedia is important to meet the needs of different learning styles, and the library has done us all a great favor by highlighting these resources and search tools.

I also recommend following the O.E.R at City Tech News blog which, highlights “one O.E.R relevant to each school at City Tech in every (weekly) post.” The O.E.R featured here are exemplary and can inspire your teaching in a remote semester.

Curious about O.E.R.? Visit the site to learn more. Note also that if you’d like to get more involved in developing O.E.R at City Tech, the site lays out different workshops and faculty development programs to help you do so. Happy exploration! 

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: Understanding the City, Fall 2020 (LIB2205ID ARCH 2205)

Header image for Learning Places, a bridge extending over a river.

This week, I spotlight Professor Muchowski and Professor Duddy’s Understanding the City, a “special topics course” that “offers an interdisciplinary approach to investigating the built environment.” The course is taught every year and asks students to engage in “on-site exploration and in-depth research” on New York City. The city’s vast concrete landscape becomes the classroom, and when we spotlighted this class in 2015, for instance, students had just visited and written about Vinegar Hill and the Farragut Houses. 

Learning in such a course usually takes place in-place. Pedagogy entails a careful and embodied inquiry within the material world. How do students feel in different parts of the city? What memories do the smells and sounds invoke? What stands out when they observe public spaces like parks, or touristy spaces like DUMBO? What do they know about the history of the city’s different neighborhoods? Does learning this history change their perspective as they walk through these places? Full disclosure: I’ve taught similar place-based courses myself and find that exercises like walking tours and site visits are some of the most exciting tools for helping us all make sense of our world, not just through dialogue with one another but through direct observation of scenes unfolding in front of us. I spotlight this site this week to think through how such a course can be adapted to a pandemic world where it is not entirely safe to wander outside and where normal life–including for New York, a bustling tourist life–has not yet resumed.

What stands out in Professor Muchowski and Professor Duddy’s beginning of semester assignments is that they ask students to draw on memory: their first blogging assignment has students write about a public building or space in their neighborhood. Students describe watching these spaces evolve over their lifetimes and reflect on their experiences. The professors connect with students over the meaning of place by sharing their own ties to the sites students mention and describe, for example, exclaiming in (a blog) response: “I used to live at 98th and West End…there was a great playground at 95th where we would take our daughter.” Reading these blog posts and the professor-student exchanges in the comments is heart-warming, a reminder that, as different and isolated as our individual lives may sometimes be, especially in the current moment, place and memories of place give us a shared foundation.Students in the Mulberry Settlement House library in 1920, some reading, some laughing and talking, some browsing books on the shelf.

Other assignments rely on observations of photographs of city spaces, such as the one included above. I’ll note quickly, as I have so many times before, what a great platform the OpenLab can be for sharing and commenting on such visuals. This is a different type of exercise than going directly to a space, but it also makes for more focused observation. Photographs capture snippets of people’s lives and focus the gaze on details of the built environment that might be overlooked in an exercise like a walk-through or field trip. Interpretation of these details is left to the viewer, and students responding on the blog reflect imaginatively on what they see, speculating about the sounds that fill the spaces captured–did the wooden chairs in the 1920 Mulberry Settle House library creak? Why are some of the students in this old photograph of the library smirking? Did someone tell a joke? What memories does the picture invoke? Again, the exercise is both thought-provoking and validating, helping plunge students back into the city they live in, its past and, by extension, its possible futures.

Does your course usually incorporate place-based learning? How are you adapting it to these virtual times? Join the conversation by replying to this post, and, in the meantime, don’t forget to visit the Understanding the City course site for inspiration!

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!

In the Spotlight: Welcome Back & Fall 2020 Programming

Welcome back to all City Tech faculty, students, and staff! We hope your semester is beginning smoothly and that you are settling into a new routine of remote work. Last spring marked an abrupt and challenging transition to distance education. This fall, many of us are going in more psychologically prepared, though we recognize that these continue to be difficult times for many. We hope the resources and tools on the OpenLab can make your semester just a bit easier. There a number of different ways we’re here to support your work:

Fall 2020 Drop-in Office Hours

Meet (virtually) with a member of the OpenLab Community Team for support. These office hours are first-come, first served and are open to students, faculty, and staff.

September

9/3 (Thursday), 4:00-5:00

9/11 (Friday), 10:00-11:00

9/15 (Tuesday), 1:30-2:30

9/20 (Sunday), 4:00-5:00

9/29 (Tuesday), 1:30-2:30

October

10/9 (Friday), 10:00-11:00

10/16 (Friday), 10:00-11:00

10/20 (Tuesday), 1:30-2:30

10/30 (Friday), 10:00-11:00

November

11/5 (Thursday), 4:00-5:00

11/10 (Tuesday), 1:30-2:30

11/15 (Sunday), 4:00-5:00

11/25 (Real Life Wednesday, CUNY Friday), 10:00-11:00

December

12/3 (Thursday), 4:00-5:00

12/6 (Sunday),  4:00-5:00

Office hours are held via Google Hangouts. Click here for further instructions on how to sign-up and join us in our Google Hangout.

Fall 2020 One-on-One Consultations

Meet (virtually) one-on-one with a member of the OpenLab Community Team for support. These office hours require an RSVP, and are open to students, faculty, and staff.

September

9/3 (Thursday), 3:00-4:00

9/11 (Friday), 11:00-12:00

9/15 (Tuesday), 2:30-3:30

9/20 (Sunday), 3:00-4:00

9/29 (Tuesday), 2:30-3:30

October

10/9 (Friday), 11:00-12:00

10/16 (Friday), 11:00-12:00

10/20 (Tuesday), 2:30-3:30

10/30 (Friday), 11:00-12:00

November

11/5 (Thursday), 3:00-4:00

11/10 (Tuesday), 2:30-3:30

11/15 (Sunday), 3:00-4:00

11/25 (Real Life Wednesday, CUNY Friday), 11:00-12:00

December

12/3 (Thursday), 3:00-4:00

12/6 (Sunday),  3:00-4:00

One-on-one consultations are held via Google Hangouts. Click here for further instructions on how to sign-up and join us in our Google Hangout.

Support Documentation

We have help(ful) documentation on the OpenLab that offers step-by-step guides for everything from getting started, to thinking about specific plugins that build out the functionality of your sites and portfolios.

Teaching with the OpenLab

We have a new online self-paced training module for faculty: Teaching with the OpenLab. Read more about it or ask questions at our virtual office hours. The module walks you through creating a course and teaching a course with our new course template. It also provides step-by-step guidance for faculty cloning model courses.

Learning with the OpenLab

Check out The OpenLab for Students, a brand new online tutorial designed to help students use the OpenLab. Learn how to get started, participate in your OpenLab courses, and more!

Email

We are available to support you via email: openlab@citytech.cuny.edu.

Join Our In-House Sites

We encourage you to become members of our in-house sites (you can do so by visiting the profiles of each site). These sites will keep you up-to-date with all things ‘OpenLab’ and offer opportunities for deeper investment with City Tech’s community.

  • Learn more about the OpenLab, including workshops, events, community, and support opportunities on The Open Road. (Profile)
  • Share and discuss resources about open digital pedagogy with other City Tech and CUNY-wide staff and faculty on Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab. (Profile)

In the Spotlight: Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab

This week, as we prepare for our first 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 (2/27) we’re hosting our first Open Pedagogy event of the semester, Access in Service. 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 semester, focusing on how faculty and staff can leverage technology to increase our students’ access to learning and other academic opportunities  at CUNY. 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: Arch 2331, Building Technology 2

Header image for the architecture course; it is a rendering of an urban waterfront landscape that includes a bike path by aa river and large, triangular red building siting along the path.

This week, we spotlight Professor Aptekar’s Arch 2331, Building Technology 2. The course features many of the elements of a well-designed and compelling site. These include:

  •  A customized header image. The image here is a rendering of an urban waterfront landscape–so highly relevant for an Architecture course on building technology! Note also that it is a horizontal image and so works well in the header space.
  • A customized tag line that reads simply “Building Technology Support.” By tag line, I’m referring to the short bit of text featured (usually in italics) next to the site title. The default tag line reads: “An OpenLab course site.” Many OpenLab users forget to customize it, but note here that you can actually adapt it to your needs and use it, as Professor Aptekar does, to inform the visitor of the purpose of the site.
  • A search functionality at the top of the page in the widget area. The search widget here is very well-placed in that it is impossible to miss! It sits at the top right-hand corner of the site, such that anyone will know at first glance that they can simply type what they are looking for in the search box, rather than sift through the content of the entire site.
  • Rich and diverse course content, from lecture notes to assignments to additional resources. This content is cleanly-organized in various pages and posts, clearly labeled and accessible from the main navigation menu and its associated drop-downs menus. Lecture notes are featured in chronological order, with first lectures appearing first and last lectures appearing last.
  • An innovative question and answer set up on the home page. Here, Professor Aptekar posts questions that students ask about the course. These questions are updated weekly and range from inquiries regarding due dates for homework to questions about architecture and the course material. Professor Aptekar posts the student questions in green and his answers in black. These colors serve as neat visual cues. This is also a smart and original way to use the blogroll, such that students don’t miss key, up-to-date information and know that they can engage their professor in open dialogue through the OpenLab. Note how much more efficient this is to communicate information than a private, one-on-one e-mail exchange!

Curious about the course? Check it out for yourself here!

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!