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.

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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.

This Month on the OpenLab: OL 1.6.9

We released version 1.6.9 of the OpenLab on May 16, which we kept pretty small since the semester is wrapping up. There were a number of updates that will be unnoticeable to users that help us move towards improving accessibility on the OpenLab, but we did make one visible improvement. The Related Links List, which allows users to add a list of related sites in the sidebar of their Course, Project, or Club Profile, is now available for Projects and Clubs as well as Courses. You can find more about how to use it in on this page in our Help section.

 

Recap: The Buzz at the City Tech Honors and Emerging Scholars Poster Presentation

In case you missed it, members of The Buzz, the OpenLab’s student blogging team, presented research about their site at the annual City Tech Honors and Emerging Scholars Poster Presentation last week. As part of their project, the team analyzed The Buzz’s site analytics — including generated page views and comments according to hour, day, week, month, and blogging topic. They arrived at a series of conclusions about best practices for blogging, commenting, sharing, and posting. Among them: the most successful posts focus on a specific topic, garner views rather than comments, and are published in the middle of the week. See the team’s research poster below!

Download (PDF, 1.01MB)

 

 

Recap: The OpenLab at Teach@CUNY

 

On Monday, May 2nd, members of the OpenLab team led a workshop on digital open pedagogy at Teach@CUNY Day, a series of workshops and events hosted by the Teaching & Learning Center at the CUNY Graduate Center. Living Lab Project Co-Director Charlie Edwards opened the workshop with a warm welcome and introduction to the OpenLab, followed by an overview of the site’s design and infrastructure by OpenLab Co-Director Prof. Jenna Spevack. Fellow OpenLab Co-Director Prof. Jody Rosen then oriented participants to the openness and the ‘lab-iness’ of the site, which together allow students, faculty, and staff to communicate, collaborate, and experiment within the college community and with the broader world. Then Prof. Rosen, OpenLab Instructional Technology Fellow Bree Zuckerman, and OpenLab Community Facilitator Destry Sibley presented examples of the exceptional digital pedagogy taking place on the site: Prof. Rosen’s own walking tour assignment; a film in food assignment from the Art of Food Learning Community; and Profs. Montgomery and Leonard’s Farragut Houses Wikipedia article assignment for their interdisciplinary course Learning Places.

Participants then had the opportunity to play the famous OpenLab Open Pedagogy game, which is designed to help faculty discover new strategies for integrating digital pedagogy in the classroom.

Thank you to all who participated, and special thanks to OpenLab Community Facilitator Andy McKinney, who helped to coordinate Teach@CUNY!

Canceled: Monday 5/2 Office Hours

Students, Faculty and Staff: Please note that our office hours scheduled for Monday, May 2nd from 2:00 to 3:00 PM have been cancelled. Please join us instead for office hours this week on Wednesday, May 4th from 5:00 to 6:00 PM. We also have office hours scheduled next week on Tuesday, May 10th; Wednesday, May 11th; and Thursday, May 12th. All office hours take place in the conference room of the faculty commons, N227. As always, you can refer to our schedule of office hours or to our OpenLab calendar. We hope to see you soon!

This Month on the OpenLab: OL 1.6.7

We released version 1.6.7 of the OpenLab on April 18th, which included a number of behind-the-scenes updates, as well as two improvements you might notice.

We’re especially excited to have added the ability to search our Help section, which should help you find the answers that you’re looking for more quickly.

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We also changed the format of email notifications for site activity so that the entire text of posts and comments is included in the email. Before, some users only saw the first few lines of a post.

We look forward to hearing your feedback about these updates. Stay tuned for more next month!

Recap: Getting Hands-On with Research Projects on the OpenLab

Thursday evening brought the last Open Pedagogy event of the semester, Getting Hands-On with Research Projects on the OpenLab. A working session, the workshop focused on tools and strategies to implement research practices on the site. Faculty who attended were especially interested in exploring methods to support web-based student research. The event began with OpenLab Community Team members presenting strong examples of research and collaboration on the OpenLab, including Prof. Raffi Katchadourian’s professional portfolio, the collaborative Opening Gateways site, and Prof. Jody Rosen’s interactive map assignment, a Being in Brooklyn Walking Tour.

Participants then broke into working groups to begin to implement particular strategies according to their needs. For example, one group discussed integrating visual mathematical elements, like graphs, into posts as a way to build resources for students in Economics classes. An OpenLab Community Team member is now looking into possible WordPress plugins to enable this kind of activity. Another group considered using the OpenLab to facilitate the design and implementation of a survey, as well as its results. How exciting to see faculty members begin to implement ideas that they had been developing in Open Pedagogy events throughout the semester!

To that end, thank you to all who participated in Open Pedagogy events this spring! We look forward to following your ideas, projects, research, and collaboration on the OpenLab!

Join us for Open Pedagogy: Getting Hands-On with Research Projects on the OpenLab

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Remember to bring your devices on Thursday — hopefully one a little less dated than this. (Image by Javier Carcamo)

Getting Hands-On with Research Projects on the OpenLab
Thursday, April 7th, 5:00 – 6:30 pm (N227)

Refreshments will be served.

Interested in building a space for your research on the OpenLab? Bring your own laptop or device to this follow-up working session on research projects on the OpenLab, where we will explore and build projects on the OpenLab centered on specific research questions. Participants will leave with a collaborative space on the OpenLab for organizing, archiving, and publicly displaying their research.

Please email us at OpenLab@citytech.cuny.edu or comment below to let us know your ideas for the session. What research project do you want to work on?

And remember to bring your devices, as this will be a working session!