In The Spotlight: The Hospitality Garden is Back

Lettuce and herbs grown by the Garden Club at City Tech’s Hospitality Garden.

This week, we spotlight The Hospitality Garden, “a project that teaches students and faculty about the excitement and nuance of growing flowers and vegetables for the Culinary and Pastry Labs at NYC College of Technology.” The Garden Club tends to the garden, which was on hiatus the past 1.5 years, but it is back in action this semester. Students who are interested in volunteering are invited to help set up the new Hydroponic system. Currently the club is working with the new technology to plant lettuce and herb seeds. 

Some other noteworthy aspect of the site:

  • The home page is the project’s blogroll, meaning that posts appear there in reverse chronological order. Prof. Mark Hellerman, who runs the project, uses regular blog posts to keep members abreast of garden news and, most importantly, club meeting times. The club currently meets during club hours, from 12:45 -2:30pm on Thursdays, in Namm 201. Note that these blog posts are a smart way to remind members about club or project meetings. Another strategy is to feature club meeting information in the sidebar in the widget, such that it will be displayed on every page of your site.
  • The tag line–or the text featured next to or below the site title–is customized. It reads “Growing flowers and vegetables for the dining room, and for fun.” This tells the readers precisely what the project is about and is exactly how a tag line should be used. Because it’s more of a detail than a prominent feature on OpenLab sites, members sometimes forget to customize their tag lines and end up with the default text that reads “A City Tech OpenLab site.” This isn’t nearly as descriptive as what the Hospitality Garden has drafted. As a reminder, if you would like to customize your tag line, you can do so by going to Dashboard > Appearance > Customize > Site Identity. You will see an option to type in free text for your tag line.
  • The site’s menu links to a photo gallery. The photos featured show students and faculty planting herbs, vegetables and fruit on the rooftop garden, with the Brooklyn waterfront in the background. It is, indeed, a very picturesque setting. It also features photographs of the finished products– pastries and appetizers the Hospitality Department has made from the Garden Club’s produce. Note that the reader gets a vivid sense of what the club does by scrolling through these pictures and is given the (visual) context needed to imagine themselves volunteering for the club. This is a fantastic way to draw people into your work and projects.

Are you interested in joining the Garden Club and Hospitality Garden Project? Visit the site to learn more!

In the Spotlight: Advanced Accordions

This week we spotlight Accordions, which can now be easily added to your site with the PublishPress Blocks plugin. Those of you who have worked on the OpenLab a while know that we advocate keeping content on a single page brief. It is always easier for the reader to digest information in smaller chunks, and pages or posts that are text heavy can be visually overwhelming. Accordions are a great way to keep a page/ post short, while still making available additional information that might be useful to your reader. 

But, first, you might be wondering: what are accordions? And how can I create them?

Accordions are collapsible lists: the header for each item on the list is always displayed, but the text and multimedia below the header can be opened and closed. For example, in the image below, the Experiential Art & Design club features an FAQ accordion at the bottom of their home page. Each accordion item takes the form of one FAQ, such as “Do I need to bring a laptop?” When you click the question, the accordion expands, and the answer becomes visible. This is a great way for the club to save space; it also invites the reader to interact with their site!

To create an accordion of this kind, first activate the  PublishPress Blocks plugin in your Dashboard. Then, in your page/ post editor, select the Advanced Accordion block. You now have a fully customizable accordion! The block settings that appear on your right allow you to do things like change the icon of the accordion, the color of the header, the size of the font, etc. Note that beneath each header you can include images as well as text.

We encourage you to play around with Advanced Accordions. While you probably won’t want to hide crucial information in an accordion (e.g. an assignment prompt), they can be a great space-saving design tool for information that might be thought of as “additional” or “further reading.” 

Do you already use accordions on your site? What are some of your use-cases?

This Month on the OpenLab: September 2021 Release

Vole sitting on a branch eating apples.
Apples Galore” by Sue Cro is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

On September 15, 2021 we released version 1.7.54 of the OpenLab. It was a small release that included a few bug fixes and some minor plugin updates.

We fixed a bug causing acknowledgements to appear on portfolio profiles, when they should only appear for Courses, Projects, and Clubs. We also updated the acknowledgements widget that is added to cloned sites. The widget will now include changes we made to the format of acknowledgments on group profiles, added in the August release. It will show any additional group creators added, as well as any additional text. In a future release, we’ll make the widget available on sites for non-cloned groups that include acknowledgments.

As always, please contact us with any questions!

In The Spotlight: The HSI Committee

A group picture of faculty and staff serving on the Hispanic Serving Institution Committee.

This week, we celebrate Hispanic heritage month by spotlighting the Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) Committee’s new site! The site is clean and well-organized and can serve as a model for other academic committees. From left to right, its menu features: a static home page which describes the committee’s goals; a page that answers the question What is an HSI?; a page About the Committee; and a page with additional Resources. Note how intuitive this set-up is: it briefly gives the information needed to understand the committee’s purpose before offering in-depth descriptions of the context in which the committee is working, the faculty and staff serving on the team, and additional readings and support opportunities for those who are interested. Note also that the header image features a group picture of the faculty and staff serving on the committee: this is a lovely personal touch!

We’d also like to draw your attention to the events page, as there many coming up for HSI Week 2021. Today, September 13, there will be two HSI forums: one for faculty, staff and administrators and the other for students and families. You can sign up for these forums here.

Finally, we want to highlight the committee’s recommendations for City Tech, which include doubling the number of students who complete their associate degrees or transfer to baccalaureate programs in three years and achieving a six-year graduation rate of 50% for baccalaureate program students. To do this, the committee recommends City Tech recognize the importance of having a representative size of Hispanic faculty and offer mentorship that is tailored to the needs of Hispanic Students.

All-in-all, this is a richly informative and easy to navigate site. Check it out for inspiration and mark your calendars with any HSI Week events you’d like to attend.

In the Spotlight: Bulk Adding Students to your Course

Are you teaching this semester on the OpenLab? If so, a new feature allows you to add students in bulk to your course:

  1. Create a list of your students’ emails: you can download these in a spreadsheet from Blackboard or CUNY First.
  2. Go to your Course Profile > Membership.
  3. Click Invite New Members
  4. At the bottom of the page is an option for Import Members to Your Course.
  5. Here you can paste a list of City Tech email addresses for your students. These can be either separated by commas, or one email address per line. 
  6. Click the checkbox next to “I acknowledge that the following individuals are officially enrolled in my course or have approved this action.”
  7. Click Import.
  8. You will see a list of students who were successfully added to your course. They will receive an email notification that they were added.

If any students do not have OpenLab accounts, a list of their email addresses will appear below the students who were added to your course. They will need to create an account before they can be added to your course. You can also copy the email addresses and send invites to those students by clicking on “Invite the following to join the OpenLab and your Course.”

Sources:

This page is a derivative of “OpenLab Help” used under CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0.

In the Spotlight: Welcome Back!

End of Summer by It Is Elisa on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Welcome to a new academic year! The OpenLab Team has some helpful information to share:

  • The  Fall 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. 
    • We have workshops slated for the next two weeks, including on Getting Started on the OpenLab, and using the Block Editor on the OpenLab. 
    • Any group can request a workshop!
  •  Faculty members, have any questions about getting your course site ready for the semester? See helpful tips posted here: Teaching with the OpenLab.

  • Are you a student getting ready to use the OpenLab this semester? See the helpful OpenLab for Students module. If you are faculty you can refer your students to this module as well.

  • Get inspired by what City Tech has done on the OpenLab by looking through our past In the Spotlight posts.

  • The OpenLab released several new features this summer, including an option to save Courses, Projects, Clubs and Portfolios to a list of “favorites,” and a new quiz-making plug-in. You can also now add students in bulk to your course by using a list of student emails: our help documentation will walk you through how to do this step-by-step.

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

This Month on the OpenLab: August 2021 Release

Seal covering itself with sand to cool off.
Cooling Down” by Judith is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

On August 12, 2021 we released version 1.7.53 of the OpenLab. It was a large release, and included multiple new features, new plugins, a few bug fixes, and updates to all existing themes and plugins, and updates to WordPress and BuddyPress, the software that powers the OpenLab.

New Features

Favorites

We added a new feature called “My Favorites,” which allows OpenLab members to save Courses, Projects, Clubs, or Portfolios to a list of “Favorites.” This list appears in a dropdown menu in the My OpenLab toolbar, making it easily accessible from anywhere on the OpenLab.

Acknowledgements for Courses, Projects, and Clubs

We added additional flexibility and options to the acknowledgements that appear on the profile of Courses, Projects, and Clubs. Now you’ll be able to add additional ‘creators’ to a Course, Project, or Club. These may include creators who are not members of the OpenLab so that they can also be credited for their work.

In addition, there’s now a section where you can add custom text that will appear in an acknowledgements section on the profile. This could credit another person, work, or funding source that contributed to the creation of your site.

New ‘Creator(s)’ section in Course Settings

My OpenLab: Ability to Sort My Courses, Projects, and Clubs

We added a dropdown to the My Courses, My Projects, and My Clubs sections in My OpenLab, which will allow you to sort by last active, alphabetical, and newest, making it easier to find particular groups in My OpenLab. 

Non-joinable Groups

This feature allows admins to define a Course, Project, or Club as non-joinable, meaning that the ‘Join Now’ or ‘Request Membership’ buttons will not appear on the profile. We imagine that this would be useful mainly for groups such as model courses, which are open but not intended for membership, or projects that are used as working groups that are only intended for use by a small number of people.

OpenLab Export / Import plugin

We’re releasing a plugin that will allow members to export a site on the OpenLab to be used on any other WordPress installation, such as the CUNY Academic Commons or a CBOX OpenLab installation. Since cloning can’t be done across different installations, this is a way to provide easier sharing of materials. The plugin has more features than the regular WordPress exporter, and packages up all the site contents, together with a readme file to provide context for the person importing the site contents into their own.

New Plugins

We added two new plugins:

  • Quiz Maker Pro replaces WP Pro Quiz, which was retired in June, and removed in this release. It provides an easy way to add quizzes, with many different options for customizing. 
  • Posts by Tag adds a widget that allows you to display posts from different tags of your choosing.

Retired Plugins

We retired a number of plugins that are no longer being updated. These plugins will still be active on sites where they’re currently activated but won’t be available for activation on new sites. They include:

  • Accordion Shortcodes
  • ARI Fancy Lightbox
  • CubePoints
  • DK PDF
  • Download Media Library
  • Google for WP
  • Link Manager
  • WP Twitter
  • WP2Static
  • Tako Movable Comments

WP Pro Quiz, which was retired in June has now been removed entirely, to avoid any potential security risks. Unlike a retired plugin, it will no longer be available, even on sites where it was activated. 

Bug Fixes

We fixed a bug in the OpenLab Attributions plugin, which caused the ‘Add Attribution’ window to close when using the down arrow on a keyboard to choose a license from the dropdown.

We discovered a conflict between two plugins: WP Lightbox2 and Gravity Forms. If both of these plugins are activated together, the panel for adding fields in Gravity Forms does not display correctly. We’re not able to fix the conflict, but want to make people aware of the issue.

Documentation in Help is coming soon for all new features. And as always, please contact us with any questions!

Summer Series 2021

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

Greetings,

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 including  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. 

If you want to review this or previous week’s tasks, visit the archive on The Open Road.

Cheers,

The OpenLab Community Team

See the full 5-part series on The Open Road.

Summer Series 2021

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

Greetings,

This week, we suggest two tasks to guide faculty in planning their semester. Both tasks help faculty customize the OpenLab course template to communicate with their students. 

Task 1: Explore Student-Instructor Communication in the 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, 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! This is a key part of creating a lively online classroom. A category archive for Discussions creates a suggested space for students to hold class dialogue online. A first assignment is suggested to you in which students introduce themselves to each other, and encourages students to respond to each other’s introductions for extra credit.
  • Remember that the template is a suggested model for designing your course. It is informed by known best practices for online and  hybrid teaching, but can and should be customized to suit your vision for your semester. Before you begin further customizing 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? How can I pierce through some of the inertia that we are all feeling as the pandemic wears on?
    • What kind of class dialogue would I like to see this semester? How can I make it relevant to the current moment?

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 schedule?
    • 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. 

We’ll be in touch next week to help you to continue to answer: How can I further design my course to facilitate communication between students? How can I collect student work on the OpenLab?

Cheers,

The OpenLab Community Team

See the full 5-part series on The Open Road.

Summer Series 2021

Part 3 of 5: Create on the OpenLab

Greetings,

This week, create on the OpenLab! In this case, “create” can refer to creating sites, but also to creating communities, collaborations, and dialogue by joining other sites, connecting with friends and colleagues, participating in discussion forums, and more. That said, task 2 is intended for instructors and focuses on the first steps of course creation, taking a particularly close look at the course template.

  • Task 1: Create Connections:
     
    • Join our 2 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!
      • 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.
    • 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.
    • Want to create a club, portfolio, or project? Learn 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.

We’ll be in touch next week to help you answer: How can I design my course to facilitate communication with my students?