A Midsummer Night’s Commons Update

I hope you’ll forgive the tortured title of this post, but with Twelfth Night earning rave reviews in Central Park, I’ve got Shakespeare on the brain. Not that I’ve seen the current production — the lines are far too long for me to get in, as Joe Ugoretz can attest. (For those who fit the bill, the Senior Citizen line is reported to be much shorter than the regular one, though you’ll still need to get there early in the morning; and for those who prefer more downtown fare, check out Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, which is currently performing the play alluded to in the title to this post).

the Saturday newspaper on Sunday by zomerstorm

Reading the news (image credit: zomerstorm)

Although it has been a while since we’ve updated the News blog, that hasn’t been due to a dearth of news. Rather, it’s because the development team has been putting most of its efforts into the infrastructure of the website, as detailed in this recent post on the Development blog. Indeed, we’ve been updating the Dev blog pretty frequently with posts about new site features, plugins, and code releases.

With the Dev blog continuing to cover technological issues on the Commons, we’ll use the News blog to highlight some of the ways in which members of the Commons have been using the site. So, here’s a quick update:

The Commons is still in beta: we’ve opened it to the CUNY community on a limited basis, encouraging those who feel comfortable with the technology to jump in, but requesting that others less familiar with it wait until the fall, when we plan on having our help system in place. We still have not made a single large-scale announcement about the Commons; news of its existence has so far come from word of mouth.

So, here are the numbers as they stand right now, on July 17, 2009:

123 members
73 blogs
24 groups

We’re averaging between 350-400 visits per week and 2000-2400 page views per week. The average visit length is 6 minutes and 45 seconds. All of these numbers are sure to rise in the Fall, when we begin publicizing the Commons on various CUNY campuses.

One of the most heartening developments we’ve seen on the Commons has been the arrival of several CUNY groups who have been looking for an online home. Among them are LILAC (Library Information Literacy Advisory Committee) and CUNY ITUNESU Management Council Team. We have one group using the Commons to plan a conference and another using it to plan a series of monthly New-York pizza excursions.

While we’re happy to have these groups on board, we realize that we have much more to do to make the Commons more hospitable to groups. That’s one central area of focus for us this summer; if you have thoughts about how we can make the Commons work better for you or for your group, please let us know in the comments to this post.

In late May, several members of the Commons (Joe Ugoretz, Mikhail Gershovich, Luke Waltzer, and I) organized a one-day conference that explored the use of WordPress in higher education. Titled CUNY WordCampEd, the event was held at the Macaulay Honors College, and it turned out to be a huge success. We used a blog on the Commons, CUNY WordCamp Ed during the event, and this post provides a roundup of the wonderful posts written about the conference. Many of those posts, especially those by Jim Groom, Luke Waltzer, Mikhail Gershovich, and Joe Ugoretz, remarked upon the ways in which the Academic Commons could serve as a virtual hub for CUNY, which Jim Groom aptly described as “a bustling, non-stop engine of difference and change.”

Wiki Work
The wiki remains a central part of this site; many thanks to Karen Greenberg, in particular, who has done a yeowoman’s job of adding content to the wiki (you can see — and try to match! — her full list of wiki edits here.

We do hope that as the Commons develops, we’ll see more movement from groups, blogs, and forums to the wiki. And we’re currently looking for members of the Commons to join us in rethinking the organization of the wiki. If you have suggestions, please let us know.

We have so many new blogs on the Commons that it seems only fair to highlight a sampling of the most recently updated blogs:

Majoring in Meta: CUNY GC grad student Ben Miller has made the Commons his central online home. He has imported older blog posts that show him off as a reader, student, teacher, and writer.

Maura Smale has been tracking information literacy issues on her blog From the Library of Maura. Check out her wonderfully titled post, Interesting Info from the Interwebs.

Carlos Guevara just recently wrote a post asking What is podcasting?. Help him answer that question!

On The Bleeding Edge, Bruce Naples describes the technology behind QCC’s Digital Signage. It would be interesting to see how other CUNY colleges have set things up, too.

Resident poet Carl Grindley has been publishing his work on Poems in Progress. His most recent work is Reply to Browning(s).

After using the Commons to play with WordPress Multi-User, Michael Cripps announced that he is presiding over collaborating with colleagues on a new installation of WPMu at York College that will be used, at least initially, for student ePortfolios. We’re proud to claim the York installation as the first offspring of the Commons!

Other bloggers have been writing up a storm. Take a look, for instance, at Joe Rosenberg’s Fundamentals of Teaching & Learning With Technology, Joe Ugoretz’s Prestidigitation, Michael Oman-Reagan’s My God, it’s Full of Macs!, and George Otte’s Purely Reactive.

For the latest blog posts, you can always check out the Blogs link, which will list the most recently updated blogs at the top of the list.

Presenting the Commons to a Wider Audience
One of the most exciting developments around the Commons is that the Commons itself is becoming a model for other academic online communities. This is due, in part, to the publicity we have received by freely releasing our code to the public on the development blog, but it’s also due to the wonderful community that has already formed here.

We’re honored, for instance, that Jim Groom of UMW Blogs is looking to the CUNY Academic Commons for design inspiration, especially since UMW Blogs and Jim’s work more generally inspired us to get started here.

George Otte, chair of the CUNY CAT Committee and the man behind the Commons, recently presented on the Commons at the Sloan-C conference in San Francisco. George wrote a wonderful blog post about the presentation, “A picture is worth … ?”; you can see his full set of slides here. Reportedly, George’s talk was a big hit, with several members of the audience remarking afterwards that they were going to start similar projects for their own academic communities.

Summer Plans
Here are the current priorities of the development team, the things that we see as the most pressing needs on the Commons, and the tasks to which we will devote most of our energies this summer:

1. Help Section
2. Sitewide Search
3. Home Page Redesign
4. Group Pages
5. Other

Here are those items in more detail:

1. Help Section
—Create a help blog and use it to feature short screencasts (30-40 secs long)
—Create an introductory tour of the site and its features for new users.

2. Sitewide Search
—Create a search function that searches all sections of the site, including blog posts, wiki pages, profile pages, groups pages, forum posts, and activity feeds.
—Search form will allow users to search all sections or to choose certain sections for search.

3. Home Page Redesign
—Redesign home page to include new widgets (Featured Blog, Featured Group, Latest activity, etc.)

4. Group Pages
— Reshape group pages to better fit group communication needs
—Offer easy means for groups to: 1) communicate with one another 2) Provide new content
—Make group pages aggregation points for group content, but have group content produced in other sections of the site. Ex. a list of recent forum posts will show up on the group page, but forum posts will be written on the forums themselves
—Create system that allows members to easily create email subscriptions to various discussion forums

5. Other
A. Usability Issues
—Rename Wire —> Wall.

B. Bug Tracking/Communication
—We’re in the process of setting up a redmine installation to use for bug reporting

Again, we invite your feedback on all of this. Please use the comment section to let us know what you’re thinking and how the Commons can better serve your needs.

And, to stay on top of the latest Commons news, visit the News page, follow the Commons twitter account, and check out the development blog.

5 Responses to A Midsummer Night’s Commons Update

  1. Maura July 17, 2009 at 8:17 am #

    Fantastic work all around — the Commons just keeps getting better!

  2. Michael J. Cripps July 17, 2009 at 10:09 am #

    Clarification: York College has installed WordPress Multiuser as an eportfolio platform, as is reported here. While Michael Cripps is among the individuals at the center of this effort, he is not “presiding” over the installation or the project.

    Rafael Nunez and Eric Tyrer, York’s web systems director and web systems manager, are handling the technical side of things, working under the direction of Peter Tighe, York’s Chief Information Officer. Wenying Huang-Stolte, York’s instructional designer and Blackboard administrator, has been instrumental in the process, as has been Xin Bai, a faculty member in the Teacher Education Department at York. It is the collaboration represented by the shared work of faculty and IT that will help shape the direction of York’s fledgling effort.

  3. Matthew K. Gold (he/him) July 17, 2009 at 10:49 am #

    Thanks, Maura! If the Commons has reached any level of marvelousness, it’s due in no small part to your awesome community-building efforts. Thanks for all of your work.

    And thanks for that clarification, Michael. I know better than anyone that a project like the one you’re working on with your colleagues at York requires a team effort; I’m sorry that the initial version of this post didn’t reflect that. I’ve corrected the post with a link to your comment here; I hope that that meets with your satisfaction and I wish you and the team lots of luck with the project!

  4. George Otte July 20, 2009 at 7:24 am #

    To the person who is really “the man behind the commons”: I agree with Maura, Matt. Please let me know if I can help in any way — including nudging others to help. Speaking of “help”: I gather the priorities are listed in order of importance, not chronological priority. My guess is that the home page redesign and even the reshaping of group pages has to be done before the development of a full “help” system via screencasts. Is there a way to jumpstart that work?

  5. Matthew K. Gold (he/him) July 21, 2009 at 10:55 am #

    Thanks very much, George — though I will take a lesson from Michael and deflect that praise to the larger team!

    At any rate, you’re right that we need to finish up our design work (to the extent that it will ever be finished) before we complete the help screencasts. Chris Stein has been pitching in with the home page redesign, which has been great, and we’ll gratefully accept any other volunteers! We’re making progress, but I’d love to see this conversation continue to develop and for the members of the community here to speak up for what they’d like to see on the home page.

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