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!

This Month on the OpenLab: May Release

fern unfurling
Image credit: “Brooklyn Botanic Garden – May 2013” by David Pizzitola

On May 15, we released version 1.7.32 of the OpenLab. It was a small release, and included two new features, minor plugin updates, and bug fixes.

New Features and Updates

There were two new functionality updates in this release.

  1. We added Course and Project “Type” as a heading on the search results page, when you filter Courses or Projects by Type (e.g. FYLC, OER, or Cloneable).

course type heading on results page

  1. We added breadcrumb navigation to the default site for new courses, in order to improve navigation on a site’s subpages. Currently breadcrumbs are available with the OpenLab Twenty Sixteen and OpenLab Twenty Thirteen themes, but they will now be included by default on all new course sites, created after the May 15 release.  A few things to note:
    1. If you change from the default theme to anything other than OpenLab Twenty Sixteen and OpenLab Twenty Thirteen, the breadcrumbs will no longer appear.
    2. If you want to keep the default theme but don’t want the breadcrumbs, you can remove them by deactivating the Breadcrumb NavXT plugin in Dashboard > Plugins.
    3. You shouldn’t need to change any of the plugin settings, but if you do, you can find them in Dashboard > Settings > Breadcrumb NavXT.

Breadcrumbs navigation on course site

Bug Fixes

We fixed two small issues in this release:

  1. In rare cases where a course was cloned through shared cloning but the original source course was deleted, it appeared in the credits as “Course – “. We made a change so that if the original course was deleted, nothing appears in the credits line.
  2. For OpenLab members using the new WordPress Block Editor (Gutenberg), you may have noticed that the OpenLab toolbar at the top of your site covered up some of the elements at the top of the Block Editor page. We’ve fixed this so that it no longer overlaps.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: April Release

person's shadow holding flower drawn on sidewalk
Image credit: “Happy Spring!” by Ian Sane

On April 18, we released version 1.7.31 of the OpenLab. It was a small release, including a few new features as well as few minor plugin updates and some bug fixes.

New Features and Updates

We made two additions related to features added in the March release:

  1. Last month we made a text change to the widget on sites with shared cloning enabled. This release, we’ve made the same change to the course profile so that text “Logged-in faculty members can clone this course” appears beneath the course description. Logged-in faculty will continue to see the “Clone this Course” button that appears beneath the course avatar.
  2. We also made an addition to the email notification checkboxes added last month, and have also included this functionality for Docs.

In addition, on all directory pages (People, Courses, Projects, etc.) we changed the text for group and member counts so it no longer breaks onto two lines. For example, instead of “1 to 12 (of 2,516 Projects)” it now reads “1 to 12 (of 2,516).”

In the footer text describing the OpenLab, we made a small edit to better align with City Tech branding guidelines.

Bug Fixes

We fixed one bug in this release, which was causing the upload date for all files uploaded to a group’s “Files” section of the profile, to display as the current day.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: March Release

pussywillow buds
Image credit: “March Tree Branch” by _Alicja_

On March 19, we release version 1.7.30 of the OpenLab. It included a number of new features as well as few minor plugin updates and some bug fixes.

New Features

On the OpenLab Courses directory page, we added “Cloneable” as an option Cloneable dropdownunder the “Type” dropdown, so you can now search for courses that allow other OpenLab faculty to clone them.

In another cloning-related update, we made a change to the widget on sites with shared cloning enabled. Anyone who is not faculty, or faculty who are not logged in will now see the text, “Logged-in faculty members can clone this course.” Faculty who are logged in will continue to see a link to “Clone this Course.”

Sharing Widget

We also added a checkbox allowing site admins to control on a more fine-grained level what actions will send email notifications for Notify members checkboxDiscussion, Docs, Files, and Calendar.  Now, any time you add new or edit existing content, you can choose whether or not you want to send an email notification to all members of your group.


WP Broken Link Status Checker is a new plugin that allows you to run scans on your site to check for any links that no longer work.  This could be helpful especially for evergreen sites that include links to many external resources, such as OERs.

Bug Fixes

We fixed five bugs in this release.  One caused “Library” to stop appearing as a department choice under the School of Arts and Sciences, meaning there was no way to categorize Library courses.  Now, all projects, clubs, portfolios, and people can choose Library as an option under Arts and Sciences and/or Academic Affairs, and courses can choose Library under Arts and Sciences.  If you teach a Library course this semester, and weren’t able to properly categorize it, you can correct this by going into Profile > Settings, and then choose School: Arts and Sciences > Department: Library.

Another bug was causing the time reported for activity of different kinds in a group (e.g. blog post, comment, discussion post, new doc, etc) as five hours ahead of the correct time in daily and weekly digest email notifications.

There were two bugs fixed in the OpenLab Gradebook plugin.  One caused an issue for people who had cloned a course with Gradebook active on the source course.   The plugin on the new course didn’t allow them to save new gradebooks or add students to a new gradebook.  This issue is fixed for all newly cloned sites, but if you cloned a site prior to March 19 and are experiencing this issue, you can fix it by deactivating the Gradebook plugin and reactivating it.  The second issue was a conflict with the “Page Links To” plugin, which has been fixed.

We also fixed an accessibility issue with the Hemingway theme by adding labels for screen readers for two buttons that were missing the labels that identify the element as a button so users with screen readers are aware of its function.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: February Release

Image Credit: jolier

February 2019

On February 19, version 1.7.29 of the OpenLab was released. It included a few minor updates for plugins and, as well as a number of new features and some bug fixes.

New Features and Updates

We added a Pronouns field to member profiles, so OpenLab members can now include their preferred pronouns (e.g. she/her/hers) on their profile page.

We also made a change to Portfolio functionality, allowing Discussion, Docs, and Files to be activated on Portfolio Profiles.  To activate any of these tools, navigate to your Portfolio Profile > Settings (in the right-hand menu) > Settings (in the sub-menu at the top of the Settings page).  You can click the checkboxes for any of these tools you would like to activate.

OpenLab members may notice a new theme and new plugin available for activation on OpenLab sites.  The theme is called OpenLab Twenty Thirteen, which is a child theme of Twenty Thirteen.  For now the only difference between the two is that activating the theme also automatically activates the plugin, Breadcrumb NavXT, which adds breadcrumb links to pages, making it easier to navigate sites that might have a large number of pages. The plugin may be deactivated if you don’t want to use breadcrumbs, but it is only compatible with the OpenLab Twenty Thirteen and OpenLab Twenty Sixteen themes.

The plugin is Mammoth .docx converter, which allows you to more easily copy and paste from Microsoft Word without losing formatting.  Something to keep in mind with this plugin is that the more semantic your Word docs are (e.g. use of Heading and paragraph styles), the better the formatting will translate in your posts and pages.

Finally, we made a few accessibility improvements to the settings page for the Breadcrumb NavXT plugin.  These were incorporated by the plugin developer, so they are included for anyone who uses the latest version of the plugin in the broader WordPress community.

Bug Fixes

We fixed three bugs in this release.  One was preventing admins from sending messages to all members of a course, project, or club.  Another was causing the accessibility link in the footer to break, and a third fixed a problem where department and major were no longer required fields when editing a member profile.

As always, please contact us with any questions!


This Month on the OpenLab: January Release


Image Credit: Marko Verch

January 2019

On January 17, version 1.7.28 of the OpenLab was released. It included updates for all themes and plugins, as well as for WordPress and BuddyPress, the software that powers the OpenLab. The release also included a number of new features and plugins, as well as some bug fixes.

Block Editor / Gutenberg

Gutenberg, or the block editor, is the new editor for WordPress posts and pages, which marks a significant change from the editor we’ve been using on the OpenLab. To ease the transition, we kept the usual “classic editor” as the default, but site admins have the option to choose which editor to enable on their sites, and site members can also choose which editor to use on the level of individual posts.

Starting at the end of this summer (2019), we will enable the block editor as the default, while still allowing members to use the classic editor if they prefer.

You can learn more about the block editor on’s Gutenberg site, where you can also try it out, and find links to more advanced resources. If you’d prefer to watch a video, WP Tavern has posted a quick introductory video.

New Features

1. More options for member roles

One of the new features included in this release is the ability for admins to choose the default roles for members on the profile and site when they join a course, project, or club. For example, if you want members to receive email notifications and have your site included in their “My OpenLab” page, but not allow most members to post on the site, you can now set such combinations of profile and site roles when you first create the site, or edit the roles in Settings for existing groups.

2. First Year Learning Community badge

Another new addition in this release is a badge for First Year Learning Communities (FYLC), similar to the Open Education Resources (OER) badge. Courses with an FYLC badge can also be searched for in the courses directory. You can read more about FYLC badges in our help section.

3. Anthologize improvements

As part of our improvements to the Anthologize plugin, the latest update adds “author” as an option when searching for posts to add to an Anthologize project.

4. Improved formatting on Settings pages

We cleaned up a few small formatting inconsistencies in the Settings > Settings section of course, project, club, and portfolio profiles. These changes are likely not noticeable to most of our members, but nonetheless improve the appearance of these pages.

New Plugins

We added two new plugins in this release.

1. Shortcodes Ultimate provides more than 50 shortcodes that can be used in the post or page editor to add different kinds of functionality and visual elements, such as dropcaps, accordions, tabs, sliders, and more, to posts and pages. You can preview the available shortcodes on the plugin site.

2. Search and Filter allows you to add advanced options for searching and filtering posts on your site, such as the ability to allow people to filter posts by tags within particular categories, and more.

Bug Fixes

There were a number of bug fixes included in this release.

1. There was a problem with email notifications causing daily notifications to not be sent out properly in some groups with more than 300 members. This has been fixed.

2. There was another email notifications bug fixed that was preventing weekly and daily digest notifications from being sent.

3. We fixed an issue in the OpenLab Twenty Sixteen theme, that was causing the bottom horizontal borders of dropdown menus to extend a little farther to the left than they should.

4. We fixed a bug causing faculty and staff offices to appear as options along with departments, for students creating ePortfolios. The offices no longer appear.

5. There was a bug causing the required fields of “major” for students and “department/office” for faculty and staff to no longer be required when creating an account. This has been fixed.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: December Release

Image Credit: Kev Wheeler

December 2018

Version 1.7.76 of the OpenLab was released on December 17. This release was small, but did include some important new features and a bug fix.


We added the ability to disable and enable Discussion, Docs, and Files on the profile page of any Course, Project, or Club. If you don’t use any of these tools you can now disable them, and they can always be enabled again if you decide to use them. By default these tools are enabled for new Courses, Projects, and Clubs, but they can be disabled in Profile > Settings > Settings, in the Discussion, Docs, and Files Settings section.

Two additional improvements to the Anthologize plugin were also included in this release. When editing a project, you are now able to view more details about each page and post, including categories, tags, and author, as you’re choosing them to add to a project. In addition, when exporting a project to save as a pdf or other file type, the author is now generated automatically from all post and page authors included in that project.

Bug Fix

We fixed a printing-related issue causing the OpenLab footer to overlap with content on a page or post when printing from an OpenLab site.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: October and November Release(s)

Image Source: Ian Sane

October & November 2018

The last two OpenLab updates were on October 15 and November 13, 2019, for versions 1.7.25 and 1.7.26 of the OpenLab. They were both fairly small releases, but each included some notable new features.


The October release included an improvement for staff profiles, which has been under development for quite some time. Staff are now able to add their office or department to their profile, which can also be used as a filter to search for staff members on the OpenLab People page.

The November release included an update to the default tagline for Openlab sites, which used to be “Just another City Tech OpenLab site.” Now each tagline is specific to the type of site, such as “A City Tech OpenLab Course Site.” However, we still encourage members to create their own unique site tagline that briefly describes their site!

OpenLab members may also notice that the Users page of their site Dashboard includes a column with the Display Names of all site members. Hopefully this will make it easier to identify each member, and match usernames with Display Names and real (first and last) names. As a reminder, members may choose to remain pseudonymous, and should never be required to use their real name unless they choose to do so.


We made a number of enhancements to the Anthologize plugin, including a number of accessibility improvements to the dashboard interface. We are also including some changes to the formatting and options available for PDF exports. These include improvements in the way image captions display, and the way text wraps around images. In addition, we added options for including the author and date for a post or page being included in a project.

We added one plugin, Easy Table of Contents, which improves upon the functionality of the Table of Contents plugin we currently have installed but is no longer being maintained by its developer. We recommend that members use Easy Table of Contents rather than Table of Contents Plus, but the latter does still work.

Bug Fixes

Both releases included a few small bug fixes. One was a bug in the Twenty Sixteen theme that caused the black border to be fixed when scrolling down a longer page. There was another bug which prevented Course, Project, or Club admins from “unbanning” a member who had previously been banned from the group. Now the interface that allows admins to unban members can once again be found in the Membership section of a group’s profile.

As always, please contact us  with any questions!

Announcing Commons In A Box OpenLab!

Commons In A Box OpenLab logoEver since the OpenLab launched at City Tech back in Fall 2011, the OpenLab team has  been asked: “How can I get the OpenLab at my campus?” There wasn’t a good answer, until now.

The OpenLab team is excited to announce the public release of Commons In A Box OpenLab, a free open-source software platform for teaching, learning, and collaboration.

For the past two years City Tech’s OpenLab team has partnered with the Commons In A Box team, based at The Graduate Center, CUNY, to create a new teaching-focused version of their Commons In A Box community-building software that’s modeled on City Tech’s OpenLab.

Because the software is freely available, faculty members, departments, and entire institutions anywhere in the world will be able to create and customize their own OpenLabs!

This exciting development would not be possible without the contributions of our 27,000 OpenLab members over the past seven years. The OpenLab is a community-focused and community-driven platform, and it is so successful because of our community. So a big thank you to each and every one of the OpenLab’s members.

CBOX OpenLab homepage

The project was made possible by a Digital Humanities Implementation Grant awarded to The Graduate Center, CUNY, by the National Endowment for the Humanities’ (NEH) Office of Digital Humanities.

To learn more, check out the official launch announcement and the Commons In A Box site. And, as always, contact us at if you have any questions.