What is the Commons?
The Commons (https://commons.esc.edu/) is a growing collection of web sites hosted by Empire State College that have been created using open-source web site publishing software called WordPress. Each commons web site can be used for professional or personal (but not commercial) purposes. Commons sites can be quickly customized and updated, literally with just a few clicks the look of your entire site can be changed. Commons sites are transportable and can be moved to other WordPress sites.
WordPress or Commons sites may sometimes be referred to as “blogs”. The word “blog” is a shorted version of “web log” or to put it another way: web+log=blog. A blog is a special type of web site with “regular” publishing of news or articles and usually includes some way for readers to comment on the articles. Commons sites are very flexible and will allow you to create a traditional web site or a blog site or a combination of the two. The option for reader comments is available for every Commons page, regardless of what “type” of site has been developed.
What can you do with a commons site?
There are a variety of applications for a Commons web site that range from professional or personal web sites to text or audio/visual blogs to sites that have very specific purposes. Commons web sites provide general information, topical news or articles meant to invite discussion or commentary by readers or between the readers and the author. Commons sites be an integral part of a study or provide a service to students. Some examples are listed below:
Additional sites can be found in the Commons site directory located at:
How do you get started?
After looking over the examples and additional resources (listed below), the first step is to write a short simple plan for what you want to accomplish. The plan can be developed in two 30 minute blocks of time.
First 30 Minutes:
- List the top three goals or objectives, consider how your commons site will address a need that cannot be addressed by another tool or method.
- Describe what your site will include in general terms in about three to five paragraphs. Include descriptions of the information the site will provide or special features or functions – avoid describing visual design or how the site will look.
- Who is the audience? Will the site serve students, colleagues, the public? What will their expectations be for your site?
Second 30 Minutes:
- Review your goals/objectives and description to see if you have any new thoughts or ideas
- Make a Content Inventory that lists the items that you need to include on your site. The list should be specific – examples would include: “Curriculum Vitae”, “List of Studies Taught”, “Portrait Photo (self)”, “”YouTube video of ______” . Note: This is a specific list of items that you want to include on your site, you do not need to have the fully developed or completed items at this time (such as full-text).
- Site Organization (Architecture) – Once you have a list of content, you can organize the content into logical groupings according to the purpose of you site by using an outline:
Outlining – Create an outline that lists all of the content inventory items, group together using different heading levels to identify categories and hierarchies. A web professional rule of thumb is to limit the total number of main categories to a range of 6 to 8 maximum.
“A good hierarchical structure for the Web is one in which information is categorized and content is only a few pages away from the main home page.” (Horton, 2000, p.33)
What if you have more than three goals? Do you need web sites for multiple studies? Would you like a blog, but feel it will detract from your professional information Commons site?
The solution may be to create more than one Commons site. However, creating and maintaining commons sites takes time, therefore creating one site at a time, each with site plan will ensure high quality results for all of your Commons sites. There is no limit to the number of sites you can have!
Working with your Faculty Instructional Technologist (FIT)
Your FIT can help answer questions as you develop your plan. Your FIT can also provide training and technical advice for the process of creating the Commons site. This may include questions related to setting up your commons account, creating a site URL (web address), helping you to choose a theme (visual look) for your site – there are more than 100 choices, working with photographs, videos and links, and adding new content and updating the site.
The Commons and Angel
The Commons is not a replacement for Angel for several reasons including the difficulty in creating and maintaining a roster as well as FERPA related security issues. Any postings by students should be suitable for a potentially public forum and should not contain personal or confidential information.
Getting on the Commons
To create your commons site you will need to:
- Log In (follow instructions carefully)
- Click on the Create a Site Link
- Watch the tutorial videos or schedule an introductory session with your FIT
The Commons is very flexible and keeps an archive of all versions of a page – if you make a mistake, you can roll-back to a previous version. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
Additional information and resources:
Commons Site Policy and Acceptable Use Guide
Blogging in Higher Education – AT Blog article
Horton, S. (2000). Web Teaching Guide: A Practical approach to creating course web sites. New Haven: Yale University Press.