Each Monday until the beginning of the school year, the HLBLL blog will feature a Summer Series on Fall Teaching (SSOFT), with brief writeups and links to resources in the CUNY world and beyond to help you prepare for the upcoming semester of teaching in CUNY.
This week, SSOFT features free website services–OpenCUNY and the CUNY Academic Commons–and the new Commons writing environment, Social Paper.
CUNY Academic Commons
The CUNY Academic Commons hosts the HLBLL site and provides a social media and website platform for CUNY faculty, staff, and graduate students using the open-source content management system WordPress as its foundation. Read more about the Commons on its Wikipedia page.
Through the Commons, users can create sites for programs, groups/organizations, courses, or for individuals. All sites are free. Users can also create and join groups, both public and private, and connect with individual users of the site as friends.
The Commons can be used to create a course site that is much more dynamic, flexible, and attractive than other Learning Management Systems available, although without some built-in features customary to an LMS like Blackboard. The Commons currently has over 300 plugins available for users to expand the functionality of their site, with everything from an academic citations generator to a widget that displays a Twitter feed. Additionally, pages can be password protected so that they are only accessible by your students.
Social Paper is a Commons feature that allows for sharing and giving/gathering feedback on writing. Created by PhD students Erin Glass (English) and Jennifer Stoops (Urban Education) with Professor Matt Gold, Social Paper was developed with the Commons team and funded in part by a National Endowment for the Humanities grant. Read all about Social Paper’s capabilities in this post by Sarah Morgano on the Commons News blog.
The one drawback to using Social Paper as a writing, sharing, and feedback resource for courses taught outside of the Graduate Center is the limitation of the available sharing settings. Papers can be kept private or privately shared via invitation with Commons users selected by the author. But as the Commons’s membership includes CUNY faculty, staff, and graduate students, the students in many CUNY courses are not eligible for accounts. Papers can also be completely public, which would allow non-Commons users to comment on them, but also would make them open to comment from anyone else.
Predating the CUNY Academic Commons, OpenCUNY is a student-run, student-based, participatory digital medium which provides a free WordPress platform for websites created by the Graduate Center community. OpenCUNY is an affiliate of the Doctoral Students’ Council and is run by three student coordinators. An advisory board of four OpenCUNY student users is elected each spring by OpenCUNY participants.
OpenCUNY sites have been used for everything from personal and course sites to sites for student groups and PhD programs. Over 70 plugins are available for site customization, and pages and/or entire sites can be password protected. The OpenCUNY coordinators maintain an extensive archive of FAQs and tutorials created specifically with the Graduate Center student in mind; OpenCUNY.info assists their users in beginning and maintaining a site. The coordinators are also available for individual meetings with student users of OpenCUNY to assist them in getting started or refining their OpenCUNY sites.