Early March News

... plan
“… plan” by wallsdontlie via Flickr

With Spring 2021 well underway–dare we say approaching midsemester!–the OpenLab team has some helpful information to share:

  1. Learn more about the support the OpenLab provides, both synchronous and asynchronous. The Spring 2021 support schedule includes open hours, one-on-one appointments, helpful OpenLab screencasts, and as always, email. Your group can also request a workshop.
  1. Everyone can share their ideas about the semester with the community on Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab. Anyone can comment–but also consider joining the project so you get updates whenever there are new posts about teaching and learning in the open!
  1. You can learn more about the latest OpenLab News, including the most recent updates to the OpenLab. For example, if you’re using the block editor to write posts and pages, you’ll be glad to know that the tool bar is now much easier to use! 
  1. PLAN Week is underway! You can learn more about the opportunities for students on the PLAN Week page of the City Tech Guide on the OpenLab.

The OpenLab, City Tech’s open digital platform for teaching, learning, and collaboration, offers virtual open hours, online support, and technical and pedagogical guidance throughout the year.

The OpenLab team also offers a selection of Help materials for Distance Education, plus Courses, Projects, Clubs, and Portfolios

Contact us with questions: openlab@citytech.cuny.edu!

The OpenLab Team

This Month on the OpenLab: February 2021 Release

On February 18, 2021 we released version 1.7.49 of the OpenLab. It was a very small release, which included one new plugin and a few small bug fixes. 

The new plugin is called Block Navigation, and adds a sidebar panel to the Block editor that shows an outline of all the blocks on the page or post. It provides an easy way to view the order and reorganize blocks.

We added a missing “required” label for the “account type” dropdown on the sign up page. We also eliminated the “Brute Force Protection” section in the Jetpack plugin’s settings because it was causing an error. 

As always, please contact us with any questions!

Welcome back!

Welcome back for Spring 2021! The OpenLab Team has some helpful information to share:

  •  The  Spring 2021 schedule  for OpenLab support is now available. Students, faculty, and staff can sign up for open hours and one-on-one appointments to ask specific questions or ask to learn more about topics such as getting started, using the OpenLab for courses, or how to use a tool  or pedagogical approach. Or any group can request  a workshop. Open hours and one-on-one appointments start today, 1/29, with additional options this Sunday and next Friday.
  •  Faculty members, have any questions about getting your course site ready for the semester? See helpful tips posted here: Teaching with the OpenLab.
  •  Students, want to help students get ready to use the OpenLab this semester? See the helpful OpenLab for Students module.  
  •  Get inspired by what City Tech has done on the OpenLab by looking through our past In the Spotlight posts. This week’s spotlight is shining on them!

The OpenLab, City Tech’s open digital platform for teaching, learning, and collaboration, offers virtual open hours, online support, and technical guidance throughout the year.

The OpenLab team also offers a selection of Help materials for Distance Education, plus Courses, Projects, Clubs, and Portfolios

Contact us with questions: openlab@citytech.cuny.edu!

The OpenLab Team

Artist credit: Adam J. Koon

This Month on the OpenLab: January 2021 Release

Three dogs bounding through the snow.
IMGP0908” by Vladimir is licensed under CC-BY-NC 2.0.
[Post author’s note: If I were to title this image, I’d call it “bounding, with hope, into 2021.”]

On January 21, 2021 we released version 1.7.48 of the OpenLab. It included a few new features and updates to all existing themes and plugins, including BuddyPress, the main plugin that together with WordPress, powers the OpenLab. We are postponing a WordPress update until the summer 2021 release because of some significant changes that could impact many of the themes and plugins on the OpenLab. We’re also holding off on updating the Gutenberg plugin that powers the WordPress block editor because it introduces block editing for widgets, which is a significant change to the interface and we wanted to provide additional time to introduce this change to OpenLab members.

New Features and Functionality

  1. We made a change to the default settings in the block editor, so that the block settings toolbar now appears in the “top toolbar” location rather than hovering at the top of the active block, where it can sometimes obscure what’s in the block.
Block editor with the block settings toolbar in the top toolbar location.

You can always change this by toggling the “top toolbar” location setting off or in the Block Editor Options menu. Click the icon with 3 vertical dots to access this menu.

Top toolbar location setting in the Block Editor Options menu.

2. We made a number of changes to the sign up page to help make the process easier for new members. We moved account type (student, faculty, staff, alumni) before email address, so that once you choose account type and then begin to type in your email address, there is an auto-complete suggestion that appears.

3. We made some improvements to the School and Office filters on the Projects directory page so that “All Schools” and “All Offices” are now selectable in the filters.

4. We also finished most of the work on a plugin we’re developing called OpenLab Private Comments, which is based on WP Grade Comments, but is designed for use with Portfolios. When activated by a site admin (e.g.  students as admins of their portfolio sites) it allows commenters (e.g. professors) to leave private comments as feedback on their portfolios. We’re planning to release this in February.

Bug Fixes

We fixed one bug. The modal window that appears when you click the Add to Portfolio button to add the contents of a post, comment, or page you’ve authored to your portfolio site from another site was not mobile friendly. We’ve fixed this so it can be used on mobile devices.  

As always, please contact us with any questions!

January Workshops

A close-up photograph of thin red-brown branches speckled with snow
Snow balls by blmiers2

Hi City Tech community!

We’re offering support throughout January for folks teaching and learning through the winter session, or even for folks who want to jump-start the spring semester!

Instead of synchronous workshops, which we have offered in-person in past semesters, we’re providing other options for support: screencasts, open hours, and 1-on-1 sessions.

We’re developing a growing playlist of short screencasts that focus on some of the most common support questions we receive; we recommend our Intro to Block Editor video for folks working with the new WordPress editor. Check out these screencast videos HERE!

We’ll be offering Open Hours and 1-on-1 sessions for staff, students, and faculty several times this month. 

Support Schedule – January 2021

Thursday Jan. 7, 2021: 3-5pm
Friday Jan. 15, 2021: 10am-12pm
Thursday Jan. 21, 2021: 3-5pm
Friday Jan. 29, 2021: 10am-12pm
Sunday Jan. 31, 2021: 3-5pm

To see the full schedule and to sign up for open hours and 1-on-1 sessions, visit The Open Road.

We’re also available 7 days a week for asynchronous support via email at openlab@citytech.cuny.edu


This Month on the OpenLab: November 2020 Release

Red squirrel amidst fall leaves on the ground.
“Red Squirrel” by hedera.baltica.

On November 19, 2020 we released version 1.7.47 of the OpenLab. It included two new features and five new plugins, as well as a few minor plugin and theme updates.

New Features

  1. We added a link on Course, Project, and Club directory pages allowing OpenLab members to create or clone these groups from the directory page, in addition to the usual location in My OpenLab. Please note that you must be logged in for the links to be visible, and the link on the Courses directory page will only be visible to faculty.

    New link on course directory page to create or clone a course.

  2. We added a link to My OpenLab on the red login box on the homepage of the OpenLab, to make it even quicker and easier to access.

    Link to my profile in the log-in/welcome box on the OpenLab homepage.


We added five new plugins:

  1. Advanced Sidebar Menu: allows you to add a widget to your sidebar that generates a menu based on the section of your site you’re viewing. It will show all the subpages related to the page being viewed, and could be helpful for sites with large amounts of content.

  2. Nested Pages – This plugin replaces the functionality of the Page Mash plugin, which is no longer supported and has been retired. It provides an easy interface for dragging and dropping pages to change the order and hierarchy of all pages on your site.

  3. Breadcrumb – This plugin allows you to add breadcrumb navigation to any theme, and using a shortcode. We have another plugin called Breadcrumb NavXT, but it only works with OpenLab Twenty Sixteen and OpenLab Twenty Thirteen themes. 

  4. Pager Widget – This simple widget allows you to add next and back links to navigate between pages on your site. 

  5. ARI Fancy Lightbox – this plugin adds a mobile-friendly lightbox effect to images on any site. It works with individual images, native WordPress galleries, and can also be used with the NextGEN Gallery plugin as the preferred lightbox for NextGEN galleries.

Documentation for the new plugins is coming soon.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: October 2020 Release

Dog with halloween costume
HAPPY HALLOWEEN from Benni and me by Bennilover is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

On October 15, 2020 we released version 1.7.46 of the OpenLab. It was a small release, which included a few small bug fixes and some minor plugin updates.

  1. Due to an oversight, the Highlighter Pro plugin installed in the August release wasn’t visible for activation to OpenLab Members. This has been fixed so it will appear in the list of plugins for any OpenLab site, where it can be activated.
  2. When a site using Gravity Forms was cloned, the forms were being copied to the new site, but they weren’t automatically embedded in the posts or pages on the new site, and had to be manually added again. The cloning of Gravity Forms is now working correctly.
  3. We cleaned up some confusing text on the Dashboard interface for the OpenLab Gradebook widget.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

Introducing OpenLab Help Screencasts

We are pleased to offer a new set of support materials for OpenLab users: screencasts! With video, audio, and captions, these screencasts provide step-by-step instructions for how to use different OpenLab features in a multimodal format.

Our screencasts are an ongoing project, so more will be released in the coming weeks! Right now, we have two screencasts available. The first is the Introduction to the Block Editor (used to edit both pages and posts on the OpenLab), and the second is the first part of a Site Building Blocks series. This series could be particularly useful for students creating eportfolios in the second half of the semester, for staff beginning new projects, or for faculty designing course sites for the winter term.

Check out the screencasts below, and keep an eye on The Open Road and/or our YouTube channel for more as they are ready!

Site Building Blocks: The Front End of Your Site


Intro to the Block Editor

This Month on the OpenLab: September 2020 Release

Autumn Cat” by Trish Hamme is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

On September 21, 2020 we released version 1.7.45 of the OpenLab. It was a fairly large release, and included improvements to cloning functionality, a few additional improvements and updates, and a new plugin.

Changes to Cloning Functionality

1. In shared cloning, authorship of all content from the group being cloned will now be switched by default to the person cloning the group. For example, if you clone a model course created by Professor Smith, unless you change the authorship settings, you will appear as the author for all posts and pages on your cloned site rather than Professor Smith. This setting can be changed during the cloning process if you would prefer to retain the same authorship.

Settings added to the first step of cloning allowing you to change authorship or keep it the same.

2. We made a few changes to the “Credits” section on the profile of groups that have been created through shared cloning. Credits are now called “Acknowledgements” and they have been moved down and reformatted slightly.

Acknowledgements section on course profile.

3. On cloneable groups, we added to the course profile a count that shows the number of times the group has been cloned, with a link to view all clones of that group.

Section on a course profile showing the number of clones of the course.

4. An additional change was made for both shared and regular cloning. Rather than copy privacy and member role settings from the group being cloned, you will now see the usual default settings during the cloning process, where you can choose whatever you would like for these settings.

Changes to Search and Badges

We made a few improvements to the new search and filter functionality introduced in the August release, and the “badges” that differentiate types of Courses, Projects, Clubs, and Portfolios:

  1. Searches that include members’ names are better matched with faculty name or project/club contact.
  2. You can now use quotes in your search to include multiple terms so that results include all terms rather than any of the terms.
  3. To improve clarity, we changed the short version of the “Cloneable” badge from “Clone” to the full name, “Cloneable.”

Other Fixes

  1. We fixed an issue with “Button” blocks, causing buttons created with an outline style to be invisible in the Block Editor.
  2. We fixed some display issues with the Search & Filter sidebar widget (part of the Search & Filter plugin).
  3. We made a few more minor theme styling fixes for Education Pro and Hemingway.

New Plugin

We added the Post Types Order plugin, which allows you to change the order of posts and pages through a simple drag and drop interface.

Retired and Removed Plugins

We retired one plugin that is no longer being updated and removed one for security reasons.

  1. Google Docs Embedder was no longer being maintained and was not working consistently. For this reason we retired it, which means that it will still be active on sites where it’s currently activated but won’t be available for activation on new sites.
  2. Captcha was removed from the wordpress.org plugin repository for security reasons. Out of caution we have removed rather than retired it. This means it won’t be available on sites where it was activated, and won’t be available for activation on new sites.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

New on the OpenLab: Model Courses & Course Hubs

This semester, you may have noticed Model Courses and Course Hubs on the OpenLab. 

Model Courses

  • Model Courses are department-specific OpenLab courses that faculty can clone to use with their students, via the OpenLab’s “shared cloning” feature.
  • They are built by course coordinators and/or other faculty, reviewed by colleagues, and assigned a “Model” badge by the OpenLab team.
  • Model courses contain course information, example assignments, resources for students, and other materials, and are designed to help faculty meet recommended best practices for teaching online.
  • They are created as freely-available open educational resources (OER), meaning that faculty can choose to use them in whole or in part, adapting and remixing them to meet their needs, and they can be accessed by all, including faculty and students using Blackboard. 

Three departments/programs created Model Courses as part of the OpenLab Model Course Initiative in the summer: Communication Design, the English Department’s First Year Writing program, and Mathematics. 

You can find them in the Courses directory by checking the “Model” checkbox. 

Profile of ENG 1101 Core Books Model Course
ENG 1101 Core Books Model Course

Faculty and students are already using the Model Courses this semester: the Profile page shows how many times each course has been cloned. 

Course Hubs

  • Depending on the department, Course Hubs may contain course materials for students and faculty to use alongside the model courses and/or resources to help faculty who are teaching the course. 
  • Like Model Courses, they are built by course coordinators and/or other faculty, reviewed by colleagues, and assigned a “Department Resource” badge by the OpenLab team.
  • They are not designed to be cloned but, like Model Courses, are created as freely-available open educational resources (OER), so they can be accessed by all, including faculty and students using Blackboard. 

The English First Year Writing team created a single Course Hub designed to support faculty teaching with the Model Courses. 

The Math Department team created a Course Hub for each of the Model Courses; they’re  designed to act as a central resource for courses with syllabus, lessons, review sheets, and other resources for students and faculty. Faculty can link to the Course Hub from their own course in Blackboard or OpenLab, use it to supplement their own instruction, or as part of a “flipped classroom” model. Students can use it to catch up or refresh their knowledge, check out a course, or prepare for an exam.  

MAT 1475 Course Hub

You can find Course Hubs in the Projects directory by checking the “Department Resources” checkbox. 

Freely available for all!

Both Model Courses and Course Hubs are open educational resources (OER) made freely available on the OpenLab for others to use, edit, and remix. Because they’re available to everyone, they can be accessed by faculty and students here at City Tech and anywhere in the world. 

Want to learn more?

Interested in bringing Model Courses and/or Course Hubs to your Department? Contact the OpenLab team! We’re happy to help and advise.  

For general information and instructions on cloning a Model Course, see the Working with Model Courses section of Teaching with the OpenLab

For more about the Communication Design Model Courses and how they were created, check out the Working with a Model Course and Model Course Development sections of the COMD Pedagogy Project.

For more about the Mathematics materials, see the Model Course and Course Hub sections of the Math Department Instructor Resources site