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!

In the Spotlight: Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab

This week, as we prepare for our first Open Pedagogy Event of the semester,

Image Credit: Red Bull Curates by Laine Pub Company

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 (2/21) we’re hosting our first Open Pedagogy event of the semester, Curating Student Work in ePortfolios. 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 integrate curation into your use of the OpenLab (RSVP here!). Part-time faculty are eligible to receive a stipend for participation in the event and/or workshop.

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

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!

In the Spotlight: Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab

This week we’re spotlighting Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab, an in-house site managed by the OpenLab Community Team that’s dedicated to sparking and cultivating discussion, and facilitating the sharing of ideas, materials and practices related to open digital pedagogy (ODP) amongst City Tech faculty and staff.

Not sure what ODP is? In their piece Open Digital Pedagogy = Critical Pedagogy, Jody Rosen, OpenLab Co-Director and English Professor at City Tech, and Maura Smale, City Tech Librarian describe it as follows:

Open digital pedagogy is the use of cost-free, publicly available online tools and platforms by instructors and students for teaching, learning, and communicating in support of educational goals, can, as Kris Shaffer has argued, “facilitate student access to existing knowledge, and empower them to critique it, dismantle it, and create new knowledge.”

OpenLab is one of these these “cost-free, publicly available online tools and platforms” that faculty (as well as staff, students, and alumni) at City Tech can use to support their teaching, learning and community-building efforts; and the Open Pedagogy site aims to support their endeavors.d

With this in mind, the site houses a number of different resources aimed to support your work on the OpenLab (and other open digital spaces):

On the Resources page you can find writings penned by City Tech faculty and beyond on topics related ODP such as writing, multimedia pedagogy, annotation, open educational resources, specific assignment ideas, and copyright and attribution. As you’ll notice, not all of these topics are specific to open digital pedagogy, but the resources we provide offer insight into how these practices (around writing or annotation, for example) morph, expand or change in open digital learning contexts. Have something to contribute? Have a question you’d like to discuss with the community? After joining the site, you’re welcome to post and share – and we strongly encourage you to do so!

Pedagogy Profiles is an opportunity to hear more about other faculty’s experiences using and incorporating the OpenLab into their classrooms – how did they get started using the platform, what have they learned along the way, and how do they incorporate it now. Each month we highlight a different faculty member – this month, its Professor Jackie Blain in the English Department. Check out Prof. Blain’s Pedagogy Profile here!

We also host two Open Pedagogy events per semester that touch on various topics related to Open Digital Pedagogy. Our first of the Fall 2018 semester is coming up soon – Thursday Sept 27th @ 4:30p in the Faculty Commons (Namm 227) – and will focus on using open digital pedagogy in gateway courses (Learn more and RSVP). These events are a great opportunity to connect and have face-to-face conversations with other faculty and staff at City Tech about pedagogy and more. Light refreshments are served, and part-time faculty are eligible to receive a stipend for participation.

We hope your find these resources helpful in your (continued) use of the platform, and we hope to see you at our upcoming event on September 27th!

In the Spotlight: MTEC 3175, Experimental Game Design & Development

Site header image for MTEC 3175, Experimental Game Design & DevelopmentThis week we’re spotlighting Professor Boisvert’s fall entertainment technology course, MTEC 3175, Experimental Game Design & Development. This course is a “hands-on studio” where students explore various complexities of gameplay development and design through creating prototypes. In short, the course touches on technical game construction, to aesthetics and design (character development, level design), to user experience and more. This course provides a useful case study for thinking about how to use the OpenLab to support your course and student learning, as well as demonstrating the interesting coursework available at our College of Technology.

Integrating Environments

In the context of this course, the OpenLab is one among a suite of “environments” where students in the course will be creating, sharing and engaging course material, broadly speaking; in addition they’ll use GitHub, Slack, Steam and a personal Game Journal. Each of these environments offers a different set of possibilities – for example, GitHub is good for storing, sharing and co-editing files while Slack is good for centralizing communication; Steam is a platform that offers easy access to the latest video games and a community, while a personal journal allows space for personal reflection and the development of ideas. Integrating these separate environments is specific to each course, but could be a useful way of organizing course work and may also be useful in introducing students to platforms they may come to depend on later in their careers.

Blogging

In this context, the OpenLab is a centralizing and public environment where visitors can learn more about the course by accessing course materials provided by Professor Boisvert and by reading through students’ critical reflections via the blog on the homepage. As in other courses, Professor Boisvert uses the blog for low-stakes, reflective and critical thinking writing by students. This third blog post assignment, asks students to re-analyze a game they enjoyed as a child. Explained in another way, this assignment asks students to revisit and think (more) critically about something they know a lot about already. This is specific and useful pedagogical decision that aims get students writing and couch the anxiety that can accompany that practice by asking them to write about something that they explicitly already know a lot about. This is a useful trick many faculty use that not only gets students more comfortable with writing, but also, through sharing experiences, helps students get to know one another and build up a classroom and college community.

Menu Structure / 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. Building a site that is more-or-less intuitive and easy for visitors to navigate is one of the challenges of building a site on the OpenLab. Professor Boisvert’s site achieves this through one top-level, navigation menu. By ‘top-level’, I mean that Professor Boisvert doesn’t use any drop down menus. Instead, each menu item opens up to a page where students can find all of the readings or assignments for the course, can read through the syllabus, or find all resources provided by Professor Boisvert. Alternatively, drop-down menus may make a new page for each weekly batch of readings or each separate assignment. Drop-down menus seem appealing at first, but from a user standpoint, they can make the site more difficult to navigate. For one, this means students are going to a different place to find course materials each week, which could get confusing, and it can be easier to end up on the wrong page (reading next week’s readings, for example). Second, drop-down menus bury, hide, and/or conceal information in second- and third-level menu items – a visitor must notice there is a drop-down menu and navigate through it to find the information they are looking for, rather than clicking through to one page for everything. Third, though our sites are responsive (meaning they work on mobile devices) long drop-down menus, or ones with 3 or even 4 levels can run off the screen, rendering them invisible to the visitor trying to access course information and materials.

Follow along with the course this semester to see how student’s ideas develop, and what games they end up developing through this studio!