Transition to Virtual Office Hours

If you’re reading this, you must have the OpenLab on your mind, too. Whether you’re completely new to it, an expert, or somewhere in between, the OpenLab team is working to support you. We’ve revamped our support schedule for the rest of the semester to support distance learning. Here are the highlights:

  • We’ve converted all in-person support to virtual office hours.
  • Please be patient with us, and we will certainly be with you–we’re still figuring out how these remote office hours will work, what we need to be mindful about, what the best practices are. Our trial run will be today, 1:00-3:00pm. You can meet us here.
  • We’re offering more office hours: each week has at least two sessions of office hours, two hours each.
  • We’ve shifted the workshop times to office hours: that way, we can address the specific questions you have rather than focusing on the content of our workshops.
  • We’re asking that if you’re interested in participating in office hours, please let us know by sharing  your contact info etc and in a sentence or so what you’re hoping to work on. It can help us be prepared and make the most of our time together.
  • Here are instructions for joining office hours remotely.
  • As always, we will continue to offer email support–if you can easily ask your question this way, we encourage it. It’s the same as for your teaching: asynchronous (not working at the same time) is going to be more feasible than synchronous (working at the same time) support. Email us at OpenLab@citytech.cuny.edu or use our contact form.
  • Our extensive Help section might have the answer you’re looking for!

As you think about what work you want help with, we want to encourage you to be realistic about what you can reasonably do this semester. Use tools that will make those goals possible, and that you’re comfortable with. During office hours, we might show you how to use the OpenLab to do something, but we might encourage you to use other tools you have available to you that you already know how to use (eg email).

We hope to see you on the OpenLab again soon!

The Transition to Distance Learning: Getting Started on the OpenLab

Welcome to the OpenLab!

As we shift to distance learning, the OpenLab is here for you, and the OpenLab team can support you through this semester. Below are three steps to help you get started on the OpenLab.

Step 1: Join!

Step 2: Get help and support with using the OpenLab

Step 3: Create!

  • Follow instructions to create a Course to support your teaching this semester.
  • Remember that even though courses are shifting to online, you do not need to recreate your physical class in virtual space, nor do you need to be an expert online instructor. This archive of exemplary courses might inspire you, but remember that this is a good time to keep things simple and manageable!
  • Help students join your Course by sending them the URL for the course profile–it starts https://openlab.citytech.cuny.edu/groups…. Students can then click Join Now! or Request Membership (depending on the privacy setting you chose when setting up your Course).

Now that you’ve joined the OpenLab community, you can join some of the collaborative communities that support your use of the OpenLab, such as the Open Road, where you can find updates, highlights, and announcements from the OpenLab, the Open Pedagogy project, where City Tech faculty and staff trade digital teaching resources, and L4, where instructors share sample digital assignments. You can also look for other Courses and Projects in your department to see examples and find resources.

This Month on the OpenLab: February 2020 Release

Groundhog with light behind it
Groundhog Day” by Alice Popkorn is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

On February 18, we released version 1.7.40 of the OpenLab.  It included one small interface change, a few plugin updates, and some bug fixes.

We removed the phone number field from student and alumni profiles.  Since members didn’t always realize it was public information, we decided that it was best to just remove the option altogether.

There were a few plugin updates that won’t cause any noticeable differences for OpenLab members, but included either minor updates or security-related updates.

We also fixed a number of bugs in this release:

  1. After a change related to the January release, the toolbar at top of the block editor was no longer sticking to the top of the page while scrolling.
  2. When Group admins had email notifications set to ‘No Email’, admins (but not members) were still getting email notifications about file uploads.
  3. There was a bug affecting a small number of groups where  group members were not able to change their email notification settings.
  4. Another bug affecting a small number of groups was preventing admins from choosing OpenLab members to invite to the group because when typing in a person’s name, the dropdown was failing to appear.
  5. When viewing another user’s profile, and then navigating to any group directory (My Courses, My Projects, My Clubs) on their profile, the group description excerpts were missing.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: January 2020 Release

polar bear balancing on a barrel in the snow
DSC_0489” by Valerie is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

On January  23, we released version 1.7.39 of the OpenLab. It included enhancements to existing functionality and design, a new theme, updates to all themes and plugins, and updates to WordPress and BuddyPress, the software that powers the OpenLab.

New Features and Changes

We made some adjustments to improve and standardize across all themes the grey menu that appears at the very top of group sites.

The new theme added in this release is Twenty Twenty.  This “default theme for 2020 is designed to take full advantage of the flexibility of the block editor.”

We also added a new custom template for COMD student ePortfolio sites.  These sites now have a theme and navigation menu designed for visual artists to display their work, and a custom site menu geared towards what COMD students will need to include in their portfolios.  Students don’t need to do anything different.  The template will automatically be used on new portfolio sites created by students who have chosen COMD as their major on their profile.

We also retired a few plugins that are no longer working or maintained by their developer:

  1. WP DPLA
  2. TinyMCE Comment Field

If they are currently activated on a site, they will continue to appear in the list of plugins, unless they are deactivated. They will not be available for activation on new sites.

We wish everyone a smooth beginning to the semester, and as always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: December 2019 Release

Snowman on the Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge Snowman” by Bradley Weber is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

On December 16, we released version 1.7.38 of the OpenLab.

It was a small release, which included a small accessibility fix for the new Lingonberry theme and an improvement to the Creative Commons widget, which was added in the September 2019 release.  This improvement adds two new fields to the widget, allowing site admins to specify a site author and author URL for their license.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: November 2019 Release

street in brooklyn with scattered leaves

On November 20, we released version 1.7.37 of the OpenLab. It included new features, a new theme, and a few minor updates to plugins and themes.

New Features and Changes

There were six new features or updates to current functionality included this release:

  1. We’re excited to release OpenLab Attributions, a new plugin we’ve built that allows anyone to add attributions for Creative Commons licensed content they’re using on an OpenLab site. Each attribution will add a superscript number that links to a reference list at the bottom of a page or post (see, for example, the bottom of this post).
  2. Another exciting new feature is a tool allowing faculty to more easily bulk add members to their course. Found in a course Profile > Membership > Invite New Members, this tool allows faculty to add a list of City Tech emails for students in the course.  If the students already have accounts on the OpenLab, they’ll automatically be added to the course.  Any emails not associated with accounts will be flagged as such, and once those students have created OpenLab accounts they will be able to join or be added to the course.
  3. We’ve created another Library widget, that can be added to the sidebar of any OpenLab site. The Library Subject Guides widget allows you to add links to any of the subject guides created by the City Tech Library.
  4. We made a few visual improvements to the Add to Portfolio feature added in the August release. These include some small adjustments to the appearance of the Add to Portfolio window so that it’s consistent in different themes, as well as a change in the display of the Add to Portfolio button, which now changes to a link to the author’s portfolio Dashboard after content added to their portfolio.
  5. We added a link to ‘My Portfolio’ to the My OpenLab dropdown menu, to make it easier for members to get to their portfolios.
  6. We added one new theme, Lingonberry, described as “a clean, simple, and responsive theme for bloggers.”

Bug Fixes

We fixed a few bugs in the Anthologize plugin for this release. One was causing items in the media library to be duplicated.  Another caused the content in certain posts and pages to be blank after being added to a project.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: October 2019 Release

Plastic jack-o-lantern bucket
Cool plastic Jack-O-Lantern in Fort Greene” by Jack Szwergold is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

On October 15, we released version 1.7.36 of the OpenLab.

It was a small release, that included a few minor theme and plugin updates, as well as a change to the way group email subscription options are described, to help clarify the different options (e.g. All email, Daily digest, etc.).

We also retired the theme Twenty Fourteen because of accessibility issues.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: September Release

boxes of apples at the farmer's market
apples” by Night Heron is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND.

On September 17, we released version 1.7.35 of the OpenLab. It included some new features, as well as few minor plugin updates and bug fixes.

New Features and Changes

There were three new features or changes to current functionality included this release:

  1. There’s a new widget available for use on OpenLab sites called Creative Commons License. We built it based on the widget in use on the CUNY Academic Commons, which allows site admins to choose a Creative Commons license to display in their site’s sidebar. Although all content on the OpenLab is automatically licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license, this allows site members to display a license more prominently on their own site, or to choose a different license.
  2. We added explanatory text on the OpenLab signup page beneath the field for username to clarify two things: (1) When signing up for the OpenLab, members don’t need to use their real name. (2) Usernames will be visible in the URL of a member’s profile and cannot be changed. For more general information, read the Open Road post, Privacy in Open Learning.
  3. We retired the PDF Embedder Premium Plugin, due to accessibility and usability issues. It will continue to work on sites where it’s already activated but will no longer be available for activation on new sites.

Bug Fixes

We fixed four small bugs in this release:

  1. There was an issue with the OpenLab Gradebook plugin causing special characters (e.g. accents or other characters, such as å, é, or ã) to appear incorrectly in the downloaded spreadsheet on Mac computers, due to different CSV encoding on Macs.
  2. Another Gradebook issue affecting Mac users was that CSVs created in the Apple program, “Numbers” could not be uploaded into a gradebook, also due to different CSV encoding in Numbers.
  3. We fixed a bug that was affecting certain sites cloned from a Math Department template site. When the TablePress plugin was activated on these sites, the site admin was not able to see the TablePress Settings page.
  4. The OpenLab logo that appears on the sign in page for private sites was incorrectly linked to wordpress.org. It now links to the OpenLab homepage.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: August 2019 Release

On August 14, we released version 1.7.34 of the OpenLab. It included new features, new themes, updates to all themes and plugins, and updates to WordPress and BuddyPress, the software that powers the OpenLab.

looking up from the bottom of a skyscraper
This untitled image is licensed under Creative Commons CC0.

New Features and Themes

There were a number of new features and themes included this release:

A new portfolio features allows any OpenLab member with a portfolio to turn on an “Add to My Portfolio” button, which appears on any post or comment they have created on an OpenLab site.  This makes it easier to add work from courses, projects, or clubs to a portfolio.  You can see step-by-step instructions for this new feature in OpenLab Help.

Another new feature created for portfolios is the ability to export the contents of a portfolio site, which can be imported into another site. This makes portfolios much more portable, and means they can be moved from one OpenLab community to another (for example, from BMCC’s OpenLab to City Tech’s OpenLab).

We added two new portfolio themes, which work especially well for the display of a visual portfolio.

    • Hamilton is described as “a clean WordPress portfolio theme for creatives. It displays posts in a beautiful image grid that can be set to either two or three columns, which makes it a perfect fit for photographers, illustrators or graphic designers looking for a theme for their portfolio.”
    • Koji is “a clean and lightweight theme for bloggers. It features a masonry grid on the archive pages, a beautiful and minimal design,” and more.

We also added a theme designed for Open Educational Resource (OER) sites on the OpenLab, although it can be used for any type of site. Built using the theme Education Pro, we’ve customized it to improve the design, to ensure accessibility, and to include styles that would be useful for an OER.

Improvements to existing features

We made an improvement to the WP Grade Comments plugin, which allows instructors to assign grades without comments. Previously, grades had to be accompanied by a comment.

A number of enhancements were made to the OpenLab Gradebook plugin, including:

    • Instructors can now add assignments and/or grades to their gradebooks using a pre-formatted CSV file that can be edited and uploaded to import new data.
    • The text on the About page has been improved to include more helpful information about the OpenLab Gradebook plugin with a link to the plugin’s help page.
    • A bug was fixed that prevented instructors from accurately pasting numeric grades.
    • The display of tables on mobile devices was improved.

We made a few improvements and additions to the Print this Page functionality that was introduced in the June release. We changed its appearance on pages and posts from a text link to a button.  The button is now turned off by default.  In addition to the ability to turn it on within each individual page and post, there is now a site-wide control, which will enable or disable it for the whole site.

We also improved the print formatting for two additional themes. Twenty Nineteen and Hemingway are now better formatted for printing.

One of the potential privacy settings available to OpenLab members is to have a hidden group with an open site. While this is not a common setting, if someone was viewing the site but was not a member of the group, they would get a “Page not Found” error if they clicked on the group profile link in the site’s navigation menu.  Now, this link won’t appear, except for members of the group who are logged into the OpenLab.

We made a few improvements to the layout and design of the Related Links List settings in a group’s profile settings, making them easier to understand and manage.

We improved the accessibility of the create/edit screen for a group’s Docs, including fixing some missing form labels and improving the color contrast for some of the links and other text.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: June Release

On June 24, we released version 1.7.33 of the OpenLab. It included a number of new features, as well as a new theme, and a few bug fixes.

Brooklyn Flyer ride at Coney Island
“Brooklyn Flyer” by Studio Sarah Lou is licensed under CC BY 2.0

New Features and Theme

There were five new features included this release.

  1. We added new functionality to the Files section of a group’s Profile, allowing files to be organized into folders. You will be able to create folders for new files as you upload them, or for existing files by editing a file.
  2. We added better printing functionality to posts and pages on group sites. You’ll see this in two different places.  On a site’s Dashboard, when editing a page or post, we added a checkbox asking if you want to display a ‘Print this Page’ link.  If selected, the link will appear on the page or post, allowing readers to print a nicely-formatted version of the page or post.  In the August release, we will make a few adjustments to improve the formatting for Hemingway and Twenty Nineteen themes, but it works well with all other themes.
  3. In group Settings, we added a checkbox to disable or enable the Calendar functionality for a group, similar to the way Discussion, Docs, and Files can be enabled or disabled.
  4. We added the Twenty Nineteen theme, which you will see available in the list of themes for any OpenLab site.

Bug Fixes

We fixed three bugs in this release:

  1. Files uploaded to group profiles were only sorting in alphabetical order, not by newest. Files can now be sorted correctly by any criteria.
  2. For OpenLab members using the new WordPress Block Editor (Gutenberg), we fixed an issue causing the editor sidebar panel to obscure the publish button and some of the other elements, after clicking the settings icon in the top.
  3. We fixed a few very small formatting issues in the OpenLab footer on sites using the Hemingway theme.

As always, please contact us with any questions!