Get to Know the OpenLab in 5 Steps!

The OpenLab,, is an online teaching, learning, and community-building platform for publishing your work on the web, built by and for the City Tech community!

This 5-part self-guided series provides short tasks that help you get to know the OpenLab. Tasks are oriented around different questions, and will help answer the question by introducing you to various aspects of the platform and opportunities for participating in its growing community. We focus on guidance for instructors and students who are participating in distance learning in the fall.

The series begins with the most basic question – How do I join the OpenLab? Subsequent sections will answer questions about how others use the platform for teaching, learning and community-building efforts at City Tech, and how you can go about doing so as well. The final part addresses how you can get help and support as you continue to use the platform going forward.

By the end of the series, you should have started creating on the OpenLab, either by designing a course site launching your ePortfolio / Portfolio, or actively joining a club.

Part 1: Get Started on the OpenLab

  • Task 1: Before you join the platform, take some time to read the OpenLab’s brief About page to learn more about ethos and values driving the OpenLab.
  • Task 2: Sign up for an OpenLab Account. To sign up, you’ll also need access to your City Tech email account. See the OpenLab’s help documentation on Accessing your City Tech email if you run into problems.
  • Task 3:  Set up your OpenLab profile. You’ll notice as you do this that only some fields are required. You can always come back and complete missing information later when you have time to learn how to manage your account and profile. That said, we recommend filling out as much as you’re comfortable with in this early stage: your OpenLab profile communicates who you are to the OpenLab community. If your OpenLab profile is public, it can also be indexed in internet search engines. 
    • What kind of relevant information would you like to include here? If you are a student, you may want to specify your major/minor, contact information, pronouns, extracurricular interests, any awards or honors you have received, and even a brief overview of your projects and goals. 
    • If you are faculty or staff, you will want to make your contact information available to your students and colleagues, and you may also choose to detail some of your academic interests, as well your experiences and roles within the college. 
    • Finally, profiles provide the opportunity for OpenLab members to include a photo associated with their OpenLab display name: please note that this photo can be of anything that you feel represents you adequately, and does not have to be an actual photo of yourself.
  • Task 4: Practice logging in to your account. Sign out of your account and close your browser. Then open a new browser window, navigate back to the OpenLab, and log in to your account.We’ll be in touch next week to help you answer: How do others use the OpenLab?

    Part 2 of 5 of: Explore the OpenLab and Learn How to Get Help with Using the OpenLab

    • Task 1: Check out In the Spotlight, our blog series that features a different site each week. You can review these blog entries by:
      • Scrolling through the blog – this will give you a reverse chronological view
      • Visiting the Spotlight Archive – this will give you a topical/categorical view
        • If you are a student, you may want to scroll through some student ePortfolios and clubs.
        • If you are faculty, you may want to scroll through some spotlighted courses. If you are staff, you may want to look at some spotlighted projects.
    • Task 2: Check out our example courses.

    • Task 3: Explore the community using various search and filter options:
      • You can search through people, courses, projects, clubs and portfolios using the menu at the top and the magnifying glass in the top-right.
      • You can also search courses, projects, clubs and portfolios using the links titled by type of site (courses, projects, clubs, portfolios) under the slider. From the search page, use the filters (top-right) to tailor your search.
    • Task 4: As you explore, you may find yourself inspired to start creating your course or ePortfolio. To get help with these tasks and using the OpenLab you can:
        • Check out our Help Documentation – it has everything you need to get started joining and building sites on the OpenLab. Get help with everything from Creating a Course, inviting students, and sharing materials.
        • Throughout this summer, we have virtual office hours. These allow you to get a one-on-one consultation with a member of the OpenLab team. You’re welcome to meet with us at any stage of your work, whether you are just starting to think through how you will set up your site or whether you’re more advanced.  
        • We are available to support you seven days/ week via email at

Part 3 of 5 of: Create on the OpenLab

  • Task 1: Create Connections.
    • Join our 3 in-house sites to stay connected and updated about what’s happening on the OpenLab:

      • The Open Road: Our one-stop-shop for all things OpenLab: news, workshops, events, community, and support!
      • The Buzz: Our student blogging team’s site; they post about life at City Tech and beyond!
      • Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab: A site for sharing and discussing resources about open digital pedagogy!
  • Connect with your friends and join other groups related to your interests:
      • You can search through people, courses, projects, clubs, and portfolios using the menu at the top and the magnifying glass in the top-right.
        • If you are a student, you may want to join a club and introduce yourself online to its members. Some active clubs include the Prism Alliance, the City Tech Union for Differently Abled Learners, and the VR & AI Club.
        • Whether you are a student, staff member, or an instructor, you may want to look at the projects for different academic departments and school bodies, which often have helpful resources. These include the College Council, the Math Education Major Project, and Peer Advisement.
        • You can also search for courses, projects, clubs and portfolios using the links titled by type of site (courses, projects, clubs, and portfolios) under the slider. From the search page, use the filters (top-right) to tailor your search
        • more here.
  • Task 2: Create a course site! The tasks below will get you started on the task of building a site.
    • Get familiar with the (new!) course template. Take a video tour of the template and read our help documentation.
    • Follow these steps to create a course site from this template.
    • Take time to fill out your course profile:
      • Customize your course avatar. If you do not have an image for your avatar in my mind, you can search for reusable images online. You can also create an avatar of your own; Barbara Smith Mishara from Architecture, for example, has created an avatar that clearly features the name of her course and the semester. This is a great way to make your course easy to find for your students.
      • Include a course description and your contact information in the course profile. A good example of an information-rich  but easy to read course profile is John De Santis’ Spring 2020 COMD1127 class.
      • Get familiar with course profile tools, including Discussion boards, Files, and Docs. You don’t have to decide now whether  you will use any of these tools, but it’s a good idea to play around and see what each can do.
    • Customize your site’s appearance:
        • You can choose a header image.
        • Under Dashboard> Appearance, you’ll have the option of changing the title to your site (we recommend making this your course’s name!), the site’s tag line (we recommend that it feature your name, the course section, and semester), and the site’s identity.
        • You can edit your site’s widgets. You will want to edit the “About this Course” widget to share your name, office hours, contact information, and a brief paragraph about this Course. You may also want to include a picture of yourself in the “About this Course” widget.
        • As always, as you begin the course creation process, we recommend consulting our example courses for inspiration and model work.

Part 4 of 5 of: Planning your Semester, Pt. 1

Below, we suggest two tasks to guide faculty in planning their semester. Both of these tasks focus on student-instructor communication, suggesting ways to customize the OpenLab course template to communicate things like class announcements, assignment guidelines, and grades and feedback to your students.

Task 1: Explore Student-Instructor Communication in the New Course Template

    • Get familiar with the different types of communication facilitated through the course template:
      • The template facilitates one-way communication from instructors to students. Under the Course Info tab, you will notice pages for your syllabus, grading policy, the course schedule, and your contact information—all crucial content for your students to know and have access to on your site. The template also suggests using a category archive for your regularly updated announcements to students.
      • The template facilitates two-way communication between instructors and students. For example, the home page includes a survey for your students to fill out at the start of the semester so that you can understand the technology and working spaces available to them as they continue working off-campus. We recommend you use the data from the survey to inform your communication with students throughout the rest of the semester, as well as to inform your expectations for course assignments and participation. The template also uses category archives for students to submit their assignments, and suggests a number of mechanisms through which you can provide feedback and grades on student work. (Note that FERPA protects student record privacy, and student work should not be graded publicly.)
      • The template facilitates communication between students! A category archive for Discussions creates a suggested space for students to hold class dialogue online. A first assignment is suggested in which students introduce themselves to each other: they receive extra credit for responding to each other’s introductions.
    • Remember that the template is a suggested model for designing your course. It is informed by common-sense best practices for online or hybrid teaching, but can and should be customized to suit your vision for your semester. Before you further customize the template, ask yourself:
      • What information do my students need from me to be successful this semester? How can I support them and adapt my teaching to these unusual circumstances?
      • How would I like my students to communicate with me this semester?
      • What kind of class dialogue would I like to see this semester?

Task 2: Customize the Pages on your Course

    • Prepare and gather your “static” course materials for your site. “Static” here refers to those materials that your students need from day one of the semester and that won’t be updated very much as the months go by. These materials convey information from you to your students, and include:
      • Your syllabus.
      • Your contact info.
      • Your grading policy/ grading rubrics.
      • Your course schedule.
    • Update the pages on your course site with these materials!
    • If you have course readings that are available online, decide now how you will link to these readings from your OpenLab site. Please make sure to read our copyright guidelines as you do this.
      • Are your readings freely available online? Can you provide links in your syllabus/ class agendas/ course schedules?
      • Are your readings large PDF files? If so, we recommend using an external hosting service to host these files, such as Dropbox, Office 365 or other hosting service provided by the college. You can provide your students with instructions on how to access this service on your OpenLab site.

These tasks have taken you a long way in setting up your course for the semester. In the final section of this 5-part series, we help you continue with course creation by asking: How can I further design my course to facilitate communication between students? How can I collect student work on the OpenLab?

Part 5 of 5 of: Planning your Semester, Pt. 2

This week, we wrap up our summer series with two tasks that will get your course up and running before the start of the semester. These tasks involve setting up your dynamic course content as well as your first few assignments.

Task 1: Customize your Posts

  • Read through the posts that come pre-loaded in the new course template. By default, these are published all together in the Home page. 
    • Note the function of these posts. Unlike pages, which you used last week to publish static content like your syllabus and course policies, posts are used to convey dynamic content: new information that will be updated throughout the semester.
    • Note that these pre-written template posts have 6 categories: Announcements, Surveys and Quizzes, Discussions, Student Work, Assignment Instructions, and Class Agendas. These categories can be accessed from the main navigation menu and can always be edited.
  • Edit each of these posts, adapting them to your course’s needs. You may decide that you don’t need some of the posts, in which case you can delete them.
    • Note: if you cloned a model course, please read through our faculty teaching module. You’ll want to update the cloned posts and make sure you are these posts’ author (Dashboard>Posts>Author and select yourself from the drop-down).

Task 2: Design Student Assignments

  • Consider the kinds of assignments that are best for remote/ hybrid learning.
    • Note that students may have limited access to technological resources, and may be constrained in the kind of work they can submit.
    • Read the Designing Assignments section in OpenLab help for links to example assignments created by your colleagues.
    • Check out this great resource on Assignment Design for Teaching Online by the Baruch Center for Teaching and Learning.
    • Design a few more assignments for your semester.
  • Decide how you will  collect student work:
    • First answer the following questions:
      • Do you want students to submit work you can read directly on your Course Site, or files that you can download onto your computer?
      • Do you want students to be able to see and respond to each other’s work?
      • What kind of feedback do you want to provide?
    • Read through the different ways you can receive student work on the OpenLab. Based on your answers to the questions above, select the way(s) you will receive student work on the OpenLab.
  • Once you have designed a few more assignments and decided how students will submit them, draft additional assignment instruction posts. Remember that you can save these posts as drafts for now, and schedule them to be published at a later date.

That’s it! You are now well-equipped to start the semester on the OpenLab.