This Week In OpenLab! February 26th Edition

Announcing our Upcoming Workshops!

All through the rest of the term the OpenLab team will be offering workshops for faculty, staff and students.  Whether you’re thinking of ways to improve your course management, just getting started, or would like to explore a topic of your own choosing, we’ll be here to meet your needs.  More information will follow, but the first of these workshops will be:

Working with Courses on the OpenLab (FOR FACULTY)  Tuesday, March 6. 11:30am – 12:45pm. A540 (in the library)

Thinking about teaching a course on the OpenLab? Already using the OpenLab for your courses? Bring your questions to these mixed-level sessions. You will need an account on the OpenLab, and your syllabus. Workshops are open to all City Tech faculty and staff. Part-time faculty are eligible to receive a small stipend.

What is the OpenLab?  (FOR STUDENTS):  Thursday, March 8th, 1:00pm – 2:15pm, A540 (in the library)

Please RSVP to OpenLab@citytech.cuny.edu. Please specify workshop date(s), and we’ll see you then!

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Featured Course:  ENG 2003: Introduction to Poetry

In most of our recent entries we’ve focused on the course site–today we’d like to highlight those project management tools you can find on your Course/Club/Project Profile page.  This can be a valuable place for students and/or members to work collaboratively on a particular document, or have a discussion that you might want to distinguish in some way from what is going on on the course/group/project site:  a project or club might use the Site for more public-facing announcements, etc, and use these discussion boards on the Profile page for in-group discussion.  Privacy settings are all customizable, so it’s easy to do.

And just as an example, one of our favorites, Professor Jody Rosen’s on-going glossary project, which one suspects gives students a great sense of accomplishment by the term’s end, and which you can see here.

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(image by Andrew Mertz, licensed via creative commons)

Weekly Tutorial:  WP-Latex

We mentioned last week that Jonas Reitz, a professor of Math here at CityTech, was helping us out with a tutorial for the WP-Latex plug-in, which allows teachers and students to write mathematical formulas directly into OpenLab comments, posts or pages.  You can find that tutorial here.

The plug-in presumes you know LaTeX, and as such is most useful to the mathematically inclined among us, but in the interest of intellectual curiosity, there is a useful tutorial/summary here.  In addition, Jonas has kindly allowed us to link to an assignment in his Calc II class which includes some basics, like fractions, radicals, and integrals.  You can find that here.  And if you’re trying to write LaTeX code, you’ll find that a tester is an invaluable too.  You can find a good one here.   Thanks to Jonas for all these resources!

This Week in Openlab! February 20th Edition

(Image by KitAy licensed via Creative Commons )

Greetings from Cleveland!  Some of us are scattering around the less clement parts of the country for various non-cuny winter breaks, and I for one am happy to be watching the OpenLab from inside.

Before we begin this week’s installment, special thanks to those clubs whose members we talked to at the CityTech Club Fair last week.  If we can get all that talent and all those interests growing and on display here on the OpenLab, I think everyone inside and outside CityTech will see even more clearly what an exceptional place this school is.  Contact us for help setting up your Club site, and thanks for having us!

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Featured Course:  MAT 1275, College Algebra and Trigonometry

Jonas Reitz is having his students write equations and work in LaTeX, which allows students and professors to write formulas directly into OpenLab comments, posts or pages.  We’ll have a tutorial up on that plugin soon, but have a look here for a wonderful example of an effective use of an online platform that all professors can utilitze:  not only are Jonas’ students learning valuable skills, we also see that Jonas is taking fulll advantage of the OpenLab’s transparency (between students, between professor and students).  By asking students to think about and write possible exam questions, he’s giving students an active role in reflecting on their learning and even shaping their own course of study.  All of which, of course, we love to see on this open platform.

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This Week’s Tutorial

This week we’re taking a break from the plugin tutorials (don’t worry, more are on the way!) to feature a few tips on image re-sizing.  This is important for a few reasons:  first, it’s good practice to keep images as small as needed in order to keep pages loading smoothly and quickly.  Note that most digital cameras and even some phones are likely to take image that are vastly larger than you’re likely to need (unless you’re NASA, then you might feel the need for this).

Second, all OpenLab posts and pages have media upload limits, and this can help you get under those limits.

And third, OpenLab sites themselves have storage limits–if you are running photograph- or image-heavy courses (as we do here in the CityTech AD/GA department, for example) or clubs, you might find yourself approaching that limit unnecessarily.  These tips will help with that, and you can find the tutorial here.  Do note, while all images can be changed later, we can’t recommend enough the importance of editing images when you upload, rather than setting yourself up for the daunting project of going back in to edit when things have gotten out of hand.  If you’d like a member of the OpenLab team to come to your class to discuss these best-practices with students, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Image Resizing

Image resizing gets easier and easier with WordPress.  Once upon a time editing of that sort had to take place elsewhere, but now most simple image editing can be done directly in the media upload dialogue box, or later in the Media Library.

That said, image-resizing is critically important for a few reasons:  first, it’s good practice to keep images as small as needed in order to keep pages loading smoothly and quickly.  Note that most digital cameras and even some phones are likely to be set to take images that are vastly larger than a user of a computer screen is likely to need (unless you’re NASA, then you might feel the need for this).  Second, all OpenLab posts and pages have media upload limits, and this can help you get under those limits.  And third, OpenLab sites themselves have storage limits–if you are running photograph or image heavy courses (as we do here in the CityTech AD/GA department, for example) or clubs, you might find yourself approaching that limit unnecessarily.  These tips will help with that.  Do note, while all images can be changed later, we can’t recommend enough the importance of editing images when you upload, rather than setting yourself up for the daunting project of going back in to edit when things have gotten out of hand.

To resize your images, after you upload your image click on ‘edit image’ in the media upload dialogue box:

Then click ‘Scale Image’ in the upper right of the dialogue box.  It depends on the theme you’re using, but as a general rule, most posts are about 600 to 700 pixels wide.  So if you don’t need your viewer to enlarge the image to see greater detail, no image needs to be wider than 600 to 700 pixels, and you can set that here.

Also note the Thumbnail Settings, which will allow you to choose which part of your picture will appear as a thumbnail in your post (this is especially valuable when the focus of your picture isn’t in the center–by default thumbnails will focus there).

And you’re done!  Also remember that you can resize images when inserting them into the post or page, but that won’t change the image size in the media library, just how it appears  on your site.  And as always, contact us with any questions!

WP LaTeX

The WP LaTeX developers created this plugin to “combine the power of LaTeX and the simplicity of WordPress to give you the ultimate in math blogging platforms” which, they admit really “sounds nerdy.”

The plug-in presumes you know LaTeX, but just in case you’d like to know more, or if you’re looking for a refresher, or if you’re just one of the curious, there is a useful tutorial here.  In addition, Jonas Reitz has kindly allowed us to link to an assignment in his Calc II class which includes some basics, like fractions, radicals, and integrals.  You can find that here.  And if you’re trying to write LaTeX code, you’ll find that a tester is an invaluable too.  You can find a good one here.   Thanks to Jonas for all these resources!

What follows, then, are guides and tips for how to use the WP LaTeX plug-in, written by the plug-in creators.  More information about them can be found here.  As always, contact us with any questions.

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How do I add LaTeX to my posts?

This plugin uses the WordPress Shortcode Syntax. Enter your LaTeX code inside of a[latex]...[/latex] shortcode.

[latex]e^{\i \pi} + 1 = 0[/latex]

You may alternatively use the following equivalent syntax reminiscent of LaTeX’s inline math mode syntax.

$latex e^{\i \pi} + 1 = 0$

That is, if you would have written $some-code$ in a LaTeX document, just write $latex some-code$ in your WordPress post.

For the curious, the shortcode syntax is slightly faster for WordPress to process, but the inline syntax is a little easier for us humans to read. Pick your poison.

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Can I change the color of the images produced?

Yes. You can set the default text color and background color of the images in the Plugins -> WP LaTeX admin page.

You can also change the colors on an image by image basis by specifying color andbackground attributes inside the LaTeX shortcode. For example:

[latex color="ff0000" background="00ff00"]e^{\i \pi} + 1 = 0[/latex]

will produce an image with a bright green background and a bright red foreground color. Colors are specified in RGB with the standard 6 digit hex notation.

The equivalent “inline” syntax uses fg and bg parameters after the LaTeX code.

$latex e^{\i \pi} + 1 = 0&bg=00ff00&fg=ff0000$

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Can I change the size of the image?

You can specify a size attribute in the LaTeX shortcode:

[latex size="4"]e^{\i \pi} + 1 = 0[/latex]

or, equivalently, an s parameter after the LaTeX inline syntax:

$latex e^{\i \pi} + 1 = 0&s=4$

The size can be any integer from -4 to 4 (0 is the default). These numbers correspond to the following LaTeX size commands.

size = LaTeX size -4 \tiny -3 \scriptsize -2 \footnotesize -1 \small 0 \normalsize (12pt) 1 \large 2 \Large 3 \LARGE 4 \huge

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The LaTeX images work, but they don’t really fit in with my blog’s theme

You can adjust the CSS used for the LaTeX images to suit your theme better. Go to Settings -> WP LaTeX and edit the Custom CSS.

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I want to break out of math mode and do some really wild stuff. How do I do that?

You can’t with this plugin. WP LaTeX forces you to stay in math mode. Formatting and styling for your posts should be done with markup and CSS, not LaTeX.

If you really want hardcore LaTeX formatting (or any other cool LaTeX features), you should probably just use LaTeX.

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Instead of images, I get error messages. What’s up?

  • Formula does not parse: Your LaTeX is invalid; there must be a syntax error or something in your code (WP LaTeX doesn’t provide any debugging).
  • Formula Invalid: Your LaTeX code attempts to use LaTeX commands that this plugin does not allow for security reasons.
  • You must stay in inline math mode: Fairly self explanitory, don’t you think? See above.
  • The forumula is too long: Break your LaTeX up into multiple images. WP LaTeX limits you to 2000 characters per image.
  • Could not open TEX file for writing or Could not write to TEX file: You have some file permissions problems. See Intallation instructions.

This Week in Openlab! February 13th Edition

 

Maybe there’s no mail, maybe the school is closed, but we here at This Week in OpenLab are working away to bring you this week’s highlights!  And here they are, in no particular order:

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CityTech Club Fair!

(video from 2011 CityTech Club Fair, posted by The New Tech Times)

On Thursday February 16th, The CityTech Club Fair 2012 will be here–this is a great place to find fellow students who share your interests and check out all that the CityTech student body has to offer.  Events like this remind us that our school is the place where we can make lifelong connections that will enrich our CityTech life both inside and outside the classroom.  The event will be held in the Atrium Building  from 12:45 to 2.  See you there.

And if you are a club hosting a table at the Club Fair, be sure to mention it on your OpenLab page!

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This Week in the Digital Humanities

It’s no secret that many of those behind and in front of the OpenLab are dedicated and prominent Digital Humanists, and at the forefront of thinking about how technology like the OpenLab can affect learning.  And if you’re wondering what all that means, you’ve come to the right place:  Our very own Charlie Edwards, Project Coordinator of the Living Lab Title V grant, and a graduate student in the English PhD and IT & Pedagogy Certificate programs at CUNY Grad Center, will join one of the OpenLab founders, Matt Gold, at the CUNY Graduate Center to discuss Matt’s new book, Debates in the Digital Humanities.  The event is on Friday February, 17th, and it’s free and open to the public.  You can find more information here.

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Weekly Tutorial

This week we’re featuring the new Calendar Plug-in.  ‘Calendar,’ the not-so-creatively-named but very-nicely-designed plug-in, allows you to create a customizable, searchable calendar for your course, club, or project.  And that calendar can be hosted in a post or on a page, and ‘today’s events’ and ‘upcoming events’ drawn from the Calendar to appear in your site’s home sidebar!  You can learn more about it here.

As always, contact your Community Team with any questions!

 

Calendar, The Plug-In

‘Calendar,’ the not-so-creatively-named but very-nicely-designed plug-in, is now available on the OpenLab.  As you might expect, it creates a customizable, searchable calendar for your course, club, or project, and that calendar can be hosted in a post or on a page.  And the Calendar comes with two widgets which allow ‘today’s events’ and ‘upcoming events’ drawn from the Calendar to appear in your site’s home sidebar!

To get started:

1) Visit your plug-ins page, search for ‘Calendar’ and then click ‘activate.’

2) Create a new page or post (I’d name it ‘Calendar’) and type just what you see in the screen-shot below (because the plug-in is activated here on The Open Road, I can’t type it here!).  Be sure to remember the {} brackets:

3) To show ‘Today’s Events’ and ‘Upcoming Events’ in your sidebar, you’ll want to drag those widgets (found under APPEARANCE>WIDGETS) into the sidebar where you’d like them to appear.

4) Once activated and placed, you’ll find the settings for the Calendar at the lower left of your screen, near the bottom of your left menu bar.

From there you can Manage the Calendar…

Manage the Categories…

And Change Calendar Options…

Do note that on the Calendar Options page you can allow members to add their own events, and you can change appearance and even edit the code itself.  Here you can change colors, sizes, etc.  And if you’re not that comfortable with code, there’s a handy reset button just below to undo anything you don’t like.

And you’re done!   Remember, if you’d like the Calendar to be a sort of ‘home’ page for your site, you can set the Calendar into a post, then make that post sticky.

A Couple of Final Notes:  

On Usage:  Why a calendar?  A calendar is a great way for a club or group to tell its users about upcoming events, deadlines, etc.

But a Calendar can also be a useful course management tool, as a useful visual ‘catch-all’ way to organize an entire course.  Sometimes students (and instructors) find it a clearer overall view of the course as opposed to separate assignment/reading/activity pages, or long drop down lists of dates and readings/assignments.  The information here can all be repeated on other pages, and readings can be directly linked to (you can link from here to a readings page within your own site, and keep that readings page password protected).  When we talk about using the OpenLab to manage courses, we’re often trying to bring the various elements of a course to a single hub for a student, who can sometimes be overwhelmed when they feel course elements scattering across a site.

On support:  Here you can find forums started by and/or moderated by the developer of this wonderful plug-in.  Do remember that a lot of this support (like much wp support) is for people running their own sites, and so don’t be overwhelmed by installation questions, and remember we’re always glad to help.  As always, contact your Community Team with any questions!

SlideShare

The SlideShare plugin allows you to embed presentations or documents you’ve uploaded to SlideShare into your posts or pages. Since there are only a few steps involved, I’m including instructions below. But if you’d like help using the plugin — or using SlideShare itself — just let us know.

1. Go to Dashboard > Plugins, and activate the SlideShare plugin.

2. Log in to your SlideShare account or create a new one for free.

3. Find or upload the presentation you want to include on your site. Click on the “Embed” button that appears above the presentation, and then click on “Customize.” You’ll see some code labeled “Shortcode for WordPress.com blogs”: copy that code.

4. Paste the code into the post or page where you would like the SlideShare presentation to display. Click publish, and you’re done!

This Week In OpenLab! February 6th Edition

Welcome to the second installment of “This Week In OpenLab!”–a weekly post sharing what’s new around our community, as well as ways to make the most of your OpenLab experience.  Be sure to join this project in order to get “This Week in OpenLab” updates via email!

More!  New!  Members!

Nearly 400 people joined the OpenLab this week!   As of this writing, we have 1,416 total members and more than 250 courses, clubs and projects.  Not bad for a project that’s been officially live for just a few weeks.  That’s exciting enough for TWO exclamation points!!

(image by elias via Creative Commons)

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 Johannah Rodgers:  Second Year Fellow

We’re going to be featuring various members of our community here on This Week In OpenLab, and this week we’d like to introduce you to Johannah Rodgers, one of the tremendous group of Second Year Fellows.  In addition to her work there and teaching writing here at City Tech, she is also currently developing a digital novel on our very own OpenLab.  When this project is ready for release we’ll feature Johannah more fully (particularly around what it’s like to combine this technology with creative writing), but for now you can read a previously published excerpt from Johannah’s DNA:  A Digital Novel here.  And be sure to check out her lovely drawings on her own site!

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Definitions of Poetry

If, like me, you’re always looking for definitions of poetry, Professor Matt Gold’s Introduction to Poetry class has done a lot of the work for you.  If you’re a teacher using the OpenLab, particularly, for the first time, Matt’s courses can provide some of the best models you’ll find.  It’s particularly great to see how the comments aren’t just one way–by commenting and then responding and then commenting again, Matt and his students are continuing key conversations, even when they aren’t in the same room.

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This Week’s Tutorial:  Embedding SlideShare

 

The SlideShare plugin allows you to embed presentations or documents you’ve uploaded to SlideShare into your posts or pages. Since there are only a few steps involved, I’m including instructions below. But if you’d like help using the plugin — or using SlideShare itself — just let us know.

1. Go to Dashboard > Plugins, and activate the SlideShare plugin.

2. Log in to your SlideShare account or create a new one for free.

3. Find or upload the presentation you want to include on your site. Click on the “Embed” button that appears above the presentation, and then click on “Customize.” You’ll see some code labeled “Shortcode for WordPress.com blogs”: copy that code.

4. Paste the code into the post or page where you would like the SlideShare presentation to appear.  Click publish, and you’re done!

And as always, please join The Open Road to get “This Week in OpenLab” updates via email!

 

 

KB Gradebook

The KB Gradebook is our new grader option for the OpenLab.  It allows a professor to upload a spreadsheet that the student can then access directly, via a secure password.  That means, say, you can as professor put in all your mid-term grades in one place (the place you already keep them, probably), upload it to the class site, and save yourself the trouble of distribution, etc.  It’s extremely easy to use once set up, and so as always, if you need help with set up, contact us.

The best tutorial I’ve found on the KB Gradebook is the video you find at the bottom of this post, by Kyle Jones, alias “The Corkboard.”  Because the KB Gradebook is already installed on our system, you can skip past the first minute of the video.  There are a couple of key points, though, that I want to emphasize because they can cause a bit of trouble.  The only thing that I’ve found a bit confusing about KB Gradebook is that it sometimes will produce an error message that doesn’t give much or gives improper information.  So if you’re getting ‘Your spreadsheet has too few columns,’ or something like this, look for these issues.  But I would watch the video first, then look for these problems.

  1. The single most important thing about the Gradebook is setting up the spreadsheet properly.  He emphasizes this in the video, but the key elements are the email addresses and the headings, which is what the plug-in uses to recognize the proper fields.
  2. The second most important thing to note, though it will affect fewer people, is that it seems that Excel for Mac will not save the spreadsheet properly in the CSV format.  If you have a mac, you should use Numbers (the mac alternative to Excel).
  3. Lastly, there can be issues with apostrophes, so leave them out of any column on the spreadsheet.  Joe Ugoretz wrote about this on his own blog, if you’re interested in these issues.  If not, just remember to leave out all apostrophes, and you should be fine.

And here’s the video (this will take you to Vimeo):

 

This Week in OpenLab! January 30th Edition

Welcome to the first installment of This Week In OpenLab!  Here you’ll find updates on what’s new around our community, as well as ways to make the most of your OpenLab experience.

New Year, New Members, New Courses!

As the term begins, our OpenLab community is growing at a tremendous pace. We’ve gained more than 50 new members this week alone!  If you’re keeping score at home, this means we now have 1,050 members and more than 210 courses, clubs and projects.

Second Year Fellows Seminar Begins

We’d especially like to welcome the Living Lab Second Year Fellows, a group of City Tech faculty who will spend the semester working in The General Education Seminar, part of the College’s Title V grant-funded initiative A Living Laboratory.

This seminar will concentrate on the second year of the student experience at our college, a critical year for students that focuses on collaborative assignments and projects, and associate degree capstones.

Last Friday, the Fellows had their first meeting, where they shared ideas, discussed teaching and reading, and had a (very wet) scavenger hunt. Though their project is for Second Year Fellow use only, you can follow their adventures here!

Associate Fellows

We would also like to welcome the more than thirty full-time and part-time faculty members who are joining the Living Lab as First Year Associate Fellows. The Associate Fellows will be participating in a series of workshops led by our wonderful First Year Fellows, who have spent the last year working on the first year student experience. You can follow their progress here.

The New Term:  A Great Time to Update Your Club!

If you’re a club or project administrator, remember that the beginning of the term means a host of new OpenLab users and thus potential new members.   We’ll have a more in-depth post on community-building soon, but in the meantime, please try these simple ways to get and keep members of any project:

  • create new comments and posts on your site and discussion forum–nothing indicates activity like new content! Aim to post at least once a week, as we’re doing here at This Week in OpenLab.
  • make sure that your club or project profile page shows the name of and a way to contact the administrator of your club or project.
  • contact OpenLab members to invite them to join. You can do that on the club or project profile page, and then ‘send invites’ using the right hand navigation.

The Open Road

Check out the first of our tutorials here.  This one is on the KB Gradebook, which is a great plug-in which allows faculty to create a spreadsheet for students to privately access their grades.  If you have questions about anything you see on this page, or would like to suggest an upcoming tutorial, please contact us here.

And as always, please join The Open Road to get “This Week in OpenLab” updates via email!