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 openlab@citytech.cuny.edu if you have any questions.

This Month on the OpenLab: September Release

Image Source: Jeff Power

September 2018

On September 18, 2019 we released version 1.7.24 of the OpenLab. It was a small release, with two small functionality improvements, and a few small bug fixes.

In this release, the Navigation Menu widget functionally was changed slightly so menu that appears in the widget no longer includes the Group Profile and Home links by default, without a way to remove them. This should be helpful for anyone who wishes to use a menu in the sidebar for sites with more complex navigation structures.

The unsubscribe links that appear at the bottom of email notifications were changed slightly to improve consistency across different types of emails.

Some of our members may have noticed that the “Log in” and “Sign up” text was not formatted properly in the top menu on some parts of the site, but this has now been fixed.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

The Month on the OpenLab: 1.7.23

Water coming out of sprinkler on lawn.
Image Source: steve p2008

On August 15, version 1.7.23 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 few new features and plugins.

New Features

1. One of the new features included in this release is a change to course cloning functionality, called “shared cloning.” This feature can be enabled to allow other faculty to clone a course that is designated as available for shared cloning. This functionality will likely be especially useful for sites like Open Educational Resources (OER) and course coordination sites, but, it can be activated on any course site.

Once enabled, other faculty will be able to clone the course, creating an exact copy of the existing course, including all content created or uploaded by the course admin, which can be reused, remixed, transformed in the new version. Cloned versions of the course will include a list of credits on the course profile and in the site sidebar with attribution to any of the original courses. If the original course was itself a clone of another faculty member’s course, that course, as well as all previous iterations, would be included in the credits list as well.

You can find instructions on shared cloning in our help section.

2. Another new feature is the addition of an OER badge, which appears on the avatar of a course or project designated as an OER. Courses and projects with an OER badge can also be searched for in course and project directories. You can read more about OER badges [https://openlab.citytech.cuny.edu/blog/help/oer-badge/] in our help section.

3. OpenLab members can now use “@” mentions in a few places around the site. In the four places listed below, when you type the “@” symbol and then begin typing another member’s display name or username, suggestions will appear after a moment:

1. When writing a private message
2. When writing a discussion topic or reply in a course, project, or club.
3. When writing a post on a site Dashboard
4. When writing a comment on a site

After published, the @-mention will link to the member’s profile, and in all cases except a private message, the person mentioned will receive an email notification.

New Plugins

We added two new plugins in this release:

1. Embed Comment Images, provides an easy way to include images in comments.

2. TablePress provides a very robust but simple way to add tables to any post or page. It is mobile-friendly and allows anything from simple to more complex tables that can be sorted or filtered, or split into multiple pages.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

Summer Greetings from the OpenLab!

 

Street art found in NYC; NYC New York Brooklyn Street Art Urban Graffiti
Image Source: Nikon D3200

Greetings from the OpenLab and congratulations to all on the closing of another successful academic year!

While our weekly “Spotlight” blog series will go on hiatus for the season, we wanted to remind you of the sites we featured this past year and encourage you to check them out if you haven’t already done so.

Spring 2018 Spotlight Posts

Fall 2017 Spotlight Posts

We also spotlighted two new initiatives of the OpenLab this year…

…and improved our practices and built out our documentation around ongoing initiatives:

In addition to reviewing these posts from this past year, you can find a full curated list of all sites that have been spotlighted in our *new* Spotlight Archive. This archive offers visitors 3 curated lists to help them sort through the posts:

  1. For everyone (By type of site – course, project, club, portfolio)
  2. For faculty/staff
  3. For students

As always, we also encourage you to check out our in-house sites:

The OpenLab Community Team will continue to offer email support over the summer – please contact us with questions or concerns.

We are also beginning to post our fall programming. August workshops for Faculty/Staff have been posted – RSVP & mark your calendars! We will be in touch as we get more events and workshops on our calendar.

Wishing you all a very happy summer!

The OpenLab Community Team

This Month on the OpenLab: 1.7.21

Flowers/dandelions in a meadow.
Image Source: Andrew Gustar

On May 17, we released version 1.7.21 of the OpenLab. This was a small release, but it included a few new plugins. One is the premium version of the PDF Embedder plugin, which adds functionality that should be useful to many OpenLab members, including a download button for embedded PDFs, the ability to show active links in PDFs, and a better views on mobile. If you’re already using PDF Embedder, you can continue to use it, but in order to take advantage of the new features, you’ll need to deactivate it, and activate the premium version. It appears in the list of plugins on your site dashboard just below PDF Embedder, and is called PDF Embedder Premium. We also added a plugin called Easy Custom Sidebars, which allows you to show a different sidebars, on different pages of your site. This plugin replaces Dynamic Widgets, which had a similar functionality, but was more difficult to set up.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: 1.7.20

Rainy day in the city, people crossing the street with umbrellas.
“April Showers”. Image Source: Robert S

We released version 1.7.20 of the OpenLab on April 18, which included a few new features and a small bug fix. We added a new theme and new plugin. The theme is called OpenLab Twenty Sixteen. It’s a child theme of Twenty Sixteen, and is quite similar, with a just few tweaks. We got rid of the black border around the site, and decreased some of the margins around the content so there’s less white space. We also increased the size of the site title, and changed some of the heading styles. We changed bulleted and numbered lists so they’re indented. Activating the theme also automatically activates the new plugin, Breadcrumb NavXT, which adds breadcrumb links to pages, making it easier to navigate sites that might have many different pages, such as Open Educational Resource (OER) sites. The plugin may be deactivated if you don’t want to use breadcrumbs, or activated on sites that aren’t using the new theme.

In addition, the mobile version of the site was improved, so that when viewing Course, Project, Club, or Portfolio Profiles, the link to the associated Site is at the top rather than bottom of the page.

We fixed a bug that affected only sites with both the Ultimate Category Excluder and Category Sticky Post plugins activated at the same time. If the Category Excluder plugin was activated and being used to exclude any categories from the home page, then sticky posts would not be “stuck” at the top of the homepage.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

The Month on the OpenLab: 1.7.18

Flower in Abstract Water

We released version 1.7.18 of the OpenLab on February 16, which included a some new features and a few small bug fixes. We added prominent links on the homepage to our three in-house sites—The Open Road, The Buzz, and Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab—so that it’s easier to stay up to date with all things OpenLab!

Also included in the release were some changes to the text in email notifications, making it more clear that members can’t reply by email to OpenLab messages from other members, discussion forum posts, or site comments. We made a few adjustments to the default settings of the WP Accessibility plugin. Most settings will not be visible for anyone not using a screen reader, but some members may notice that links don’t open in a new tab. This is a best practice for both accessibility and usability, but it can be changed in Dashboard > Settings > WP Accessibility.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

This Month on the OpenLab: 1.7.17

Aster d'automne...!!!

On January 22, we released version 1.7.17 of the OpenLab. It included updates for WordPress and BuddyPress, the software that powers the OpenLab, and all themes and plugins. The release also included a few bug fixes, and the introduction of three significant new features.

New Features

We’re very excited to introduce project cloning in this release, which was previously only available for courses.  Any project admin can now clone a project, which will an exact copy, keeping all content created or uploaded by the admin, while no content created by non-admins will be copied over. The project avatar, settings, and site settings will all remain the same, although admins can adjust anything as necessary.

Another major change to functionality is the loosening of the relationship between member roles on a Course, Project, or Club Profile and the Site. Previously, changing a member’s role on the Site Dashboard would always be overridden by the member role in the Profile settings. This is no longer the case. You can now change member roles by going to your Site Dashboard > Users, and change anyone’s role. This allows for usage of the wider range of roles available on the Site, such as Editor or Subscriber. Roles will only resync to match the Profile if that member is either promoted or demoted on the Profile, or if they leave the Course, Project, or Club.

As many of our members have probably noticed, we introduced HTML email. You can now read email notifications in a more attractive format. Please be aware, however, that as with previous plain text emails, you still can’t reply by email. So, as before, please log into the OpenLab to respond to messages, update Discussion Forum threads, and reply to Site comments.

We made a small change to the functionality of the “Email all members” feature, where admins can send a message to all members of a Course, Project, or Club. We improved this functionality so that instead of the sender appearing as “City Tech OpenLab,” it appears instead as the sender’s name.

New Themes and Plugins

We added two new themes – Twenty Seventeen and Gillian. These are both responsive (meaning they display well on mobile) and accessible. We also retired a number of themes that are not responsive or accessible, including Coraline, Filtered, Hero, Pilcrow, Sliding Door, Twenty Ten, Twenty Eleven, and Twenty Fourteen.  If you have any of these themes activated on an existing site, the theme will remain active.  However, they’ll no longer be listed in the themes available for activation on new sites.  Or, if you deactivate one of these themes on an existing site, you won’t be able to reactivate the theme.

We also added one new plugin, WP Accessibility. This plugin makes a number of improvements to the accessibility of all OpenLab sites. You can read more about it on our WP Accessibility page in Help, or on the WordPress.org WP Accessibility plugin page. On the OpenLab, the main function will be ensuring that everyone remembers to add alt text to images. It will also remove the target attribute from links, which makes them open in a new tab, and is not a good practice for both accessibility and usability. In addition, it will remove title attributes for images and tag clouds, which will improve accessibility for people using screen readers.

For more information about accessibility on the OpenLab, please read our Help posts on Making your Work Accessible and Summary of Accessibility on the OpenLab.

Bug Fixes

We fixed an issue with the WP Grade Comments plugin causing the show/hide link to disappear for private comments. This didn’t affect privacy — private comments have always only been visible to the site admin(s) and the student receiving the grade — but the show/hide (“spoiler”) link was missing. It now appears as it should.

There was a small bug which caused help documents to print out with some blank pages for Firefox users. This has now been fixed.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

Image Source: Denis Colette

This Month on the OpenLab: 1.7.15

Overlooking Georgian Bay

We released version 1.7.15 of the OpenLab on November 14. This was a very small release that included a few minor plugin updates and two small bug fixes. One corrected an issue preventing members from sending invitations to people who are not already members of the OpenLab. The second fixed an issue causing the subtopics in the Help section to display in the wrong order.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

[Image Source: Jeff S.]