This Month on the OpenLab: 1.7.9

Image Source: Brian Wolfe

We released version 1.7.9 of the OpenLab on March 15.

This release included improvements for two themes. In the Pilcrow theme, child pages didn’t appear in a dropdown menu in a site’s top menu navigation, as is standard with most themes. We made a change to Pilcrow so that they do. The Sliding Door theme requires the Page Links To plugin to make the sliding images link to pages on the site. Now when users activate Sliding Door, the plugin will automatically be activated.

We also fixed a bug in the first page of Portfolio creation causing department checkboxes to not display properly.

Finally, we added two plugins. Cardboard allows users to display 360 degree video and photos. Another plugin, which is automatically activated on the entire OpenLab, meaning that our members don’t need to activate on their own sites, allows users to upload .tex files to their sites.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

The Month on the OpenLab: 1.7.8

Image Source: Torbakhopper

We released version 1.7.8 of the OpenLab on February 15, which included mostly behind-the-scenes updates.

The only change that will be noticeable to members of our community was another improvement to the WP Grade Comments plugin. Last month we updated the plugin to hide grades by default when viewing a graded post, in case a faculty member is logged into the course site in class or another public setting so as not to accidentally reveal a student grade. The same functionality now applies to comments as well. To view a comment or grade, click the link that says “Show” and the comment or grade will appear.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

The Month on the OpenLab: 1.7.7

Image source: Alexas Fotos

We released version 1.7.7 of the OpenLab on January 17. The bulk of the release included major updates to WordPress and BuddyPress, the software that powers the OpenLab. These updates will largely be transparent to users, but we did also include a few noticeable changes in the release.

We added CUNY Language Immersion Program (CLIP) to our list of departments, so that CLIP courses can be correctly categorized, and CLIP students and faculty can add this designation to their profile. You can find it under School: Other > Department: CLIP.

We made two important changes to the WP Grade Comments plugin. One was to hide grades by default when viewing a graded post. This helps avoid accidentally revealing a student’s grade in cases where a faculty member is logged into the course site in class or another public setting. To view the grade, users will now just click a link that says “Show” and the grade will appear. The second was to ensure that faculty receive email notifications if students make a private reply to a private comment or grade.

We also hid a number of plugins that are no longer being updated, including TaskFreak and Featured Content Gallery. We also decided to retire AN Gradebook and continue to look for a better Gradebook plugin.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

The Month on the OpenLab: 1.7.6

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Image Source: Ingvild Hunsrød

We released version 1.7.6 of the OpenLab on December 14, which included a few behind-the-scenes updates, a few bug fixes, and some web accessibility improvements.

There were a few plugin issues, including one with Gravity Forms causing it to prompt users for a license key when activated for the first time. We also fixed a bug in the plugin WP Post to PDF, which displayed an error when uploading images to posts, and put in another fix for Screencast video embedding.

We also addressed a bug causing a blank screen to display at the end of group creation, and a very obscure issue causing an error when a project profile used a file uploaded to the Files section of the project as an external site.

We made a subtle change to the teal color on the site in a few places, to a teal with a contrast ratio that is accessible. For more information about color contrast, see our help post on accessibility.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: 1.7.5

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Image Source: Michael Levine-Clark

We released version 1.7.5 of the OpenLab on November 15, which in addition to a few behind-the-scenes tweaks, included some noticeable additions and improvements.

We added two plugins — AN Gradebook and SyntaxHighlighter Evolved. AN Gradebook replaces KB Gradebook, which is no longer being updated. We think it is easier to use than KB Gradebook, and also doesn’t require an external spreadsheet. Syntax Highlighter allows users to easily post and highlight nicely-formatted code on an OpenLab site.

This release also included a number of bug fixes. One addressed a problem preventing screencast.com videos from embedding properly. We also fixed a bug in the WP Pro Quiz plugin that caused the results of quizzes to not appear properly. Finally, there was an issue with the WP Grade Comments plugin that did not allow users to enter a grade of “0”.

As always, contact us with any questions!

The Month on the OpenLab: OL 1.7.4

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Image Credit: Chris Ford

We released version 1.7.4 of the OpenLab on October 18. In this release, we added a password strength notification on the sign up page. In addition, we retired KB Gradebook, a plugin that is no longer being updated. We’re testing out a few options for a potential replacement, so stay tuned. Other than those two items, it was another small release, with a few additional behind the scenes updates and ongoing accessibility improvements.

The Month on the OpenLab: OL 1.7.3

news-imageWe released version 1.7.3 of the OpenLab on September 20. It was a small release, coming on the heels of some significant changes over the summer, which you can read more about here. It included some improvements to the way error messages are displayed during the sign up process for OpenLab accounts, made a few fixes to the way our WP Grade Comments plugin displayed in the newly-added theme Hemingway, and also included a few behind the scenes updates that won’t be noticeable to users.

(Image: Stefan Schweihofer)

This Summer on the OpenLab

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(Image: Unsplash.com)

Welcome back to campus! We hope that you had a fun and restful summer. While you were on break, the OpenLab Team was hard at work making improvements to the site. Here is a brief overview of some of the new additions to the OpenLab:

  • We implemented a range of improvements to the site’s accessibility — from colors to links, labels to slider images. We want to make sure that the OpenLab is easy to use for all members.
  • We added a new plug-in, Hypothes.is Aggregator, which allows users to annotate and tag texts right on an OpenLab site. This is especially helpful for coursework.  Read more about the plug-in here.
  • We added Hemingway and Twenty Sixteen to the roster of WordPress themes available to you on the OpenLab.
  • We added “What’s Happening on the OpenLab?”, a new homepage activity feed that allows you to see what’s happening on the site in real time.
  • And, per your request, we added an update so that you can now embed videos from screencast.com by placing a URL directly into your text editor.

Have questions about any of these updates? Got a request for another? Let us know at OpenLab@citytech.cuny.edu. We’re excited to hear from you!

Growing Pains on the OpenLab

You may have noticed that the OpenLab experienced some slowness and even some downtime on Monday and Tuesday of last week, as well as this morning. Our Team immediately went to work to track down the issue and put a fix into place. We’re happy to report that the issue has been resolved and that the OpenLab is running smoothly once again.

We apologize for any frustrations or complications that arose as a result of this slowdown. We, the OpenLab Team, pride ourselves on the reliability, power, and performance of the site. When problems pop up, we work as hard as we can to address them quickly and to learn from them so that they don’t happen again.

As always, if you have any problems or concerns about the OpenLab, please contact us at OpenLab@citytech.cuny.edu. We’re here for you.

***

In the spirit of openness, we have included below the more technical details of what happened for those who are interested.

The action centered around the new “What’s happening on the OpenLab?” widget that we just introduced. We tend to roll out new features like this one during the summer, when use and the potential for disruption are at their lowest. The widget shows the ten most recent activity items that are public and are associated with a club, course, project, or portfolio.

A late-breaking issue arising from activity with future timestamps forced us to make the database query used for the widget more complex than originally intended. Unfortunately, the new query couldn’t be stress tested with the level of traffic that the OpenLab receives during the semester. The database table against which the query was being run has over two hundred thousand entries, and it hadn’t been optimized for the kind of complicated query we were throwing at it. Faculty, students, and staff returning for the Fall semester were visiting the site more and more frequently, and the widget was being loaded many times every minute. The requests started queueing for system resources, until the site ground to a halt.

It took a few days of back and forth between members of our Community and Management Teams, our developers, and the folks who manage the servers to figure out that this particular query was the bottleneck. Once we’d tracked it down, we needed a fix. In the long run, we’ll try to optimize this query to be inherently faster. But in the short run, we can work around its complexity by ensuring that it’s run infrequently. So now, when you load the “What’s Happening on the OpenLab?” widget, you’re seeing the results of a query that’s been cached, or stored away for a certain period of time, and is reused for multiple requests.