In the Spotlight: Mammoth.docx Converter

This week, we spotlight a new plugin that we believe will make your life easier: the Mammoth .docx converter!  This plugin allows you to more easily transfer content from Microsoft Word without losing formatting.

As a general rule, it is good practice to save copies of your pages, posts, (and homework assignments!) off the OpenLab, perhaps in Google docs, Microsoft Word, or some other text editor. It also best practice to paste content directly into pages and posts, rather than uploading bulky PDFs and Word Documents onto a site. However, the actual process of copying and pasting content into the WordPress post editor sometimes results in a frustrating loss of formatting. Headers, tables, bold, italics and lists have been known to vanish.

The new Mammoth.docx converter presents a solution! Content created in Microsoft Word can now be uploaded to the OpenLab through the plugin, and will automatically be converted into HTML and pasted into your post editor for you to publish online.

Using the plugin is easy. After you’ve activated it, you will see an option to use the Mammoth.docx converter at the bottom of the page in your post  editor. Click “choose file” to upload a Word document.

Once the upload is complete, you will see the content of the document appear in your post editor.

That’s it!  Keep in mind that the more formatting you include in your original Word document (e.g. headings, paragraph styles, links, lists, and text boxes), the better the formatting will translate in your posts and pages. This means minimal- if any- editing once you’ve uploaded your content. We hope this plugin will be useful to you and encourage you to try it with Word documents that have quite a bit of formatting, for example syllabi.

In the Spotlight: Clubs on the OpenLab

Black and white image of intersecting metal staircases.
Image Source: bogitw

There are many ways the OpenLab can support the diversity of work carried out by the City Tech Community. Hosting a club site on the OpenLab is one way. This year 13 new clubs joined the OpenLab and nearly half of those joined this semester – so this week let’s take a moment to consider how hosting your club site on the OpenLab can support your club’s activities and membership.

Through a workshop with the Club Council in Fall 2017, we learned that many clubs already have an established digital presence. Whether sharing information on Facebook or Twitter, or videos and pictures on Instagram, Club leaders at City Tech have experimented with using different digital platforms to reach out to members and promote the work of the club more broadly. GREAT! Depending on your goals for using these platforms, using mainstream social media accounts may perfectly meet the needs of your club. However, because there are important differences between social media platforms and the OpenLab, and because contrasts better highlight their unique and complementary features, the first three points for discussion compare the OpenLab with social media platforms.

City Tech’s Digital Community

When you publish content on a social media platform, the content is shared with the world, but generally speaking, those who follow your platform receive the content. To the extent that this content is then shared by your followers, it then reaches a broader but indeterminate audience. When you publish content on the OpenLab, it can also be shared with the world (if your privacy settings are set to “public”), but it is also shared with a determinate audience – the 27,000+ members of City Tech’s community who are also members of the OpenLab. When groups like clubs make new posts or comments on their sites, it shows up at the top of the “Clubs” section on the homepage and in the activity feed. We also may choose to “Spotlight” it in our weekly blog series. Each of these mechanisms gives your club greater exposure within the City Tech community – or within the community of people eligible to become members of your club and support, carry-out and grow the already amazing work you are doing.

Content Control

When you post on social media sites, your (club’s) content is copyrighted, but legal rights to use and repurpose your content are also extended to the platforms on which you are posting. This means that Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter can reuse and sub-license your content out, and profit off of it, without you being aware or compensated. When you share content on the OpenLab, you retain all rights to that content, and none of your content can be repurposed for someone else’s profit, and all content must be attributed to the original author. You  may also change the licensure on the content you post to meet your specific needs. More information here.

Static vs. Dynamic Content

When representing the work of your club on a digital platform, there is likely static and dynamic content you want to share. Static content is content that doesn’t change too often – maybe its updated each semester or each year. Static content might include the mission of your club, any recurring events you may host or participate in, when and where your meetings are held, who your club leaders are, resources that may be of interest to your members or future members, contact information and more. Dynamic content is content that is timely and current – maybe you have an upcoming event that you want to remind people about or opportunity that you are recruiting participation in. This is content that becomes outdated and no longer relevant to the work of the club.

Social media accounts are great for pushing out new and dynamic content, but often times there is limited space for housing static content, and groups link out to a stand-alone website that houses their static content. This is an approach you may want to consider, especially if your dynamic content is work your club has produced that you want to share with the world. The OpenLab has technical options for housing static and dynamic content. For static content, use pages and add them to your main- or side- menu. For dynamic content, create posts that will auto-populate your blogroll in reverse chronological order (the latest news at the top).

Ultimately which platform(s) your use, and how you may or may not integrate them (using a Facebook page and an OpenLab site, for example) depends on what content you want to share, and who your audience is. It may be that you use the static and dynamic content features of the OpenLab, AND a social media site – which would let you share certain content with the City Tech community specifically, and released more freely out into the world.

A One-Stop-Shop

Beyond housing public-facing static and dynamic content, the OpenLab allows for file sharing, collaborative drafting, discussion, and hosting a shared calendar on its group profile pages. These can be useful for a group’s internal organization, and is moreover useful because the site is easily accessible from this same digital space. This makes your club’s OpenLab account a one-stop-shop for all internal documents and public-facing content. Keeping things centralized and in one location makes it easier to find things, and can make onboarding new group members easier and efficient.

Recertify with Ease

Each year clubs at City Tech need to submit documentation to recertify their clubs, which allows them receive funding and more. As of Fall 2017, clubs are allowed to use their OpenLab sites in this process, making this process simple and easy!

Looking for Examples

If you want to see how other clubs have used the OpenLab to support their activities you can:

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: Diana Reyes’ Portfolio

personal logo by Diana Reyes - white background, black lettering. This week we’re spotlighting Diana Reyes’ Portfolio. Diana is a student in the Communication Design department. She currently uses her portfolio to reflect on her first internship at Bookstr and to share a digital portfolio of her work.

When you navigate to Diana’s Portfolio site, the first thing you notice is Diana’s name, in the upper-left-hand-corner. The simple-yet-elegant design of her personal logo mirrors the design of the rest of the site, which is visually sleek, and easy to navigate.

On her homepage is a blogroll sharing critical reflections on her internship. Each post reflects on a different aspects of her work or opportunities she’s been introduced to through the internship. For example, her posts describe the open, collaborative workspace that differs from the cubicle setting many of us might expect, a new digital technology (Slack) that she’ll need to rely on to communicate with team members, and her experience collaborating with a colleague on a project. These reflections could be of interest or use to other students who are interning for the first time, or thinking about interning, maybe even at Bookstr. They also demonstrate a great deal of personal and professional growth on the part of Diana – something that future employers may be interested in, or that may help her when applying for jobs in the future.

In addition to reflections on her internship, Diana has included a digital portfolio showcasing her design work. Here, the modest design of the site overall focuses the visitors attention on the designs themselves, and makes them pop.

Overall, I think Diana’s Portfolio site is a good example of how others might approach beginning to built out their sites. For me, there were three key takeaways:

The first takeaway is that a simple and straightforward design works well. We want the attention to be on the work we are trying to share, whether its our designs or internship reflections or something else, and we want visitors to be able to find it easily. That you know how to use WordPress (one of the softwares underpinning the OpenLab) is a bonus, but not really the point.

A second takeaway is to start with where you are. Maybe you’re not ready to add a resume to your site. That’s ok. Share the work you’ve done in your classes that you’re proud of. Blog about opportunities related to a career path you’re interested in or about a passion or hobby of yours. These sites will and should evolve over time, as you have other experiences, and your interests – career or otherwise – evolve and become more specific.

A third takeaway, is that there may be some learning value in using a Portfolio site to reflect on your experiences. As mentioned, these short but insightful posts by Diana seem like they will really help in a few years, to remind her of her own professional and personal growth over time.


Students – want more insight and support getting started? Join the OpenLab Thursday December 6th from 1:00 – 2:00 pm in Room AG-21 for a workshop titled “Presenting Yourself Online”. This workshop focuses on building a professional online profile using the OpenLab.

Learn about other student or faculty workshops here.  

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!

In the Spotlight: An OER for Biology II 1201, (Part 1 of 3)

header image and main menu of Biology II OER

This week we’re spotlighting an open educational resource (OER) created by Professor Tatiana Voza for Biology II (1201) using a project site on the OpenLab. You can learn more about OERs and OERs at City Tech below, but in general, OERs are online educational resources that are open, easily accessible, and freely available to the public. This description is both meaningful – given its contrast with dominant practices in the academy – and ambiguous. This spotlight on Professor Voza’s site is the beginning of a 3-part series spotlighting Open Educational Resources on the OpenLab. This series aims to introduce you to the variety of OERs available on the OpenLab – some of which may be of use to City Tech students – and to show you to how some faculty at City Tech are implementing OERs on the OpenLab. Each part will focus on a particular quality of the OER, why it matters, and how the spotlighted site achieves it.

Part 1 focuses on clarity and organization.

When you first visit to Professor Voza’s Biology II OER, you are greeted with a welcoming, easily navigable introduction tailored to the role of the visitor (are you a student or a faculty?). Each section helps the visitor get oriented to the site by breaking down how each user-type may use the site: Are you a professor preparing your class? Are you a student trying to use this site to study for an exam?

The clear, instructional and organized nature of the page is mimicked throughout the site. This is a very useful strategy when building an OER. In your class, when things are unclear, students can clarify instructions and tasks with professors in class and/or via follow-up communication. However, with OERs, the aim is for other faculty and students beyond your class to adopt and adapt your materials for their own purposes. In this scenario, the lack of familiarity and proximity between user and creator combined with a lack of understanding about how to use and navigate the site could discourage visitors from using the OER altogether.

Relatedly, being clear that your site is an OER and that to a greater or lesser degree the material can be used and remixed by others, is equally important. On this OER site, a reminder in the form a description of the Creative Commons license is visible in the sidebar on every page.

Another feature of Professor Voza’s OER that assists in presenting the content in a clear and easily digestible way is the use of the Table of Contents Plus plugin. Upon activating this plugin, introductory Table of Contents (TOC) boxes automatically appear on all pages across the site that include 3 or more ‘Headings’ (see image). Including a TOC, especially on pages with a lot of content assists users in quickly understanding what a page contains and navigating to content of interest. The Table of Contents Plug plugin is easy to use, great for organization on any site, and can easily be activated on your own sites by going to Dashboard > Plugins.

A screenshot of the Page editor indicating where users can create headings.
Not sure how to make a heading? When in the editor of a page or post, click the arrow next to ‘Paragraph’ for a dropdown menu that allows you to change text from ‘Paragraph’ to a sub-level heading.


What are Open Educational Resources?

Open Educational Resources, or OERs, are just what they sound like – educational resources that are open, easily accessible, and freely available to the public. In the context of higher education at CUNY, OERs are discussed in relation to alleviating textbook costs for students.  This is significant given that these costs too often play a role in the direction of studies a student may pursue, and/or may prevent a student from completing their studies all together. In addition to making higher education more affordable, OERs create transparency around course curriculum, allowing faculty to easily share the details, content, and organization of their courses. In this way, OERs promote culture of sharing, remixing and collaboration.

OERs at City Tech

Since 2015, City Tech’s OER Fellowship program has supported 25 faculty create and curate Open Educational Resources for a course of theirs on the OpenLab. Fellows are full-time faculty members representing a diversity of departments including Construction Management and Civil Engineering Technology, Biological Sciences, Social Sciences, African American Studies, Computer Science Technology and Dental Hygiene – to name a few. A full list of fellows and their OERs can be found on the OER Fellowship site hosted on the OpenLab. OERs on the OpenLab, however, are not limited to this list; other faculty have taken it upon themselves to develop OERs for City Tech’s community.

Further reading to learn more about OERs:

In the Spotlight: Typography Design III COMD 2427, Brooklyn Historical Society

name of project site on background of mosaic of student-created posters,This week we’re spotlighting the Typography Design III COMD 2427: Brooklyn Historical Society site. This project site showcases posters created and designed by City Tech students as part of an assignment in Professor John De Santis’ typography design class. The assignment aims to simulate a professional scenario where the student is the designer and the Brooklyn Historical Society is the client. Similar to what this may look like in the real world, students are asked to complete a creative brief, conduct research about their client and their client’s needs, to brainstorm multiple ideas for their design concept before choosing one to refine, to give and receive design critique with peers, and finally to finalize their poster based on feedback before giving a final presentation to the class outlining their final concept as related to their research and design choices. In addition to helping students develop their typography skills, this assignment aims to equip students with professional skills like client research conceptualization.

In addition to showcasing high quality student work, the Brooklyn Historical Society project site demonstrates a unique use of the OpenLab. The project site houses posters created by students across 6 sections of the same course, and is used in conjunction with private, individual course sites. This structure offers students a private space and closed community with which to develop their posters, while also creating a public-facing site to share completed work. In the same vein as the structure of the assignment, this use of the OpenLab also seems to simulate the professional environment design students may be walking into upon graduation.

To learn more about how Professor De Santis uses the OpenLab and his philosophy and intentions behind doing so, check out Pedagogy Profiles, a new blog series created by the OpenLab Community Team that aims to highlight and provoke discussion around the pedagogy of educators here at City Tech. Our first post features Professor De Santis!

In the Spotlight: The Open Road

colored pencils arranged in a circle with 'back to school' in the middle
Image source: George Hodan

Hello all, happy new year, and welcome back (nearly)! It’s that time of the year again when professors are scrambling to finish composing their classes, finalize assignments and get their course sites up and running on the OpenLab. With this in mind, this week we’d like to, once again, bring your attention to the Open Road, your one-stop-shop for ‘all things OpenLab’. The site houses information about our monthly updates, office hours, detailed information about our upcoming workshops and our weekly blog series, ‘In the Spotlight’.

Here at the OpenLab we are committed to helping you start the semester off right. With this in mind, we are offering numerous workshops in the next couple of weeks. We have workshops for everyone from first- or second-time to more advanced users (our ‘Open Hours’ are most appropriate for the latter) and remember, newly-attending part-time faculty receive a stipend. RSVP today (January / Spring 2017) !

‘In the Spotlight’ is another resource on the Open Road that may be helpful in making sure you are prepared this Spring. ‘In the Spotlight’ is a weekly blog that highlights best practices in site-making and course design here on the OpenLab. Thus, the archive – being full of analytic course reviews – is an important resource for thinking about how your site or course might be structured or what kinds of assignments might be possible when hosted on the OpenLab. In case you didn’t know, ‘In the Spotlight’ also has a participatory feature, ‘People’s Choice’, wherein you have the opportunity to recommend sites to be featured in the weekly series. Check it out and make a recommendation!

We look forward to hearing from you and working with you more closely this semester!

In the Spotlight: Rogue Bayron’s ePortfolio

BookCW

City Tech students, have you wondered what to do with your ePortfolio? If so, head over to Rogue Bayron’s site for an excellent example of an ePortfolio that showcases talent. The site includes all the essential elements of a portfolio that positions Rogue for the job market: a bio, cover letter and resume, and examples of classwork. Rogue takes their portfolio a step further by also including a weekly blog about an internship experience and posts from a student club where they serve as vice president. Any prospective employer needs only visit Rogue’s ePortfolio to capture an immediate snapshot of who they are and what they are capable of. We encourage students of all industries — from graphic design to hospitality management — to take advantage of your free ePortfolio in order to showcase your best work!

 

In the Spotlight: ARCH 1130 – Building Technology I

arch_1130_spring-2012_montgomery_435-copy-686x1024

In ARCH 1130 – Building Technology I, Prof. Jason Montgomery teaches a wide breadth of design topics: from building assemblage to documentation. To do so, his students move from architectural theory to drawing practice to case studies, all in one semester. Prof. Montgomery manages to cover this much ground with the help of his OpenLab site. Students can find all the materials they need for each section of the course: from text books to drafting triangles, lecture notes to sketchbook images. Prof. Montgomery also uses his site to make sure that students have all the resources that they need for success in his course. He includes instructions for creating an ePortfolio, as well as reading strategies and learning rubrics. Check out the site to see all this, plus beautiful samples of his students’ work.