CUNY Academic Commons Team

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CUNY Academic Commons Team

Group logo of CUNY Academic Commons Team

2015 Budget Request Report


The CUNY Academic Commons team continues to strive for an innovative approach to community development, with an increasing focus on building major features requested by our users. During the 2014-15 academic year, the Commons prepared two major feature releases.

Version 1.7, released in October 2014, introduced My Commons, a new tool that allows site members to keep up-to-date on the Commons activity that matters most to them: that created by their friends, in their groups, and on their favorite Commons sites. This release also featured a number of improvements to the way group members communicate and work, including an overhauled forum system and the ability to download group files in bulk.

Version 1.8, released in May 2015, focused on the new Events Calendar feature. The Events Calendar is the Commons team’s answer to a longstanding user request for event management and publicity within the CUNY Academic Commons. Using the Calendar, members can create one-time or recurring events and easily publicize them to their friends and fellow group members.

In March 2015, the Commons team announced the fruits of a yearlong collaborative grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation: the DiRT client plugin for WordPress. This tool allows members of the Commons – or any WordPress/BuddyPress-powered site with the plugin enabled – to browse and declare their interest in tools from the Digital Research Tools Directory (DiRT), developed at Berkeley with support from Mellon. In addition to its use on the CUNY Academic Commons, the plugin is also being leveraged on a number of popular sites devoted to local digital humanities communities.

Grant Applications

The CUNY Academic Commons continues to look for opportunities to fund initiatives, increase Commons functionality, and find innovative collaborations. In the past year we have been awarded and applied for several grants.

We have applied for and won an NEH Digital Humanities Start-Up grant as part of our Social Paper project, which aims to create a social network that allows graduate students to share seminar papers, enabling students to collaborate and facilitate conversations across the disciplines.

In collaboration with CUNY’s New York City College of Technology (City Tech) we applied for a NEH Digital Implementation Grant to fund a project creating a new version of CBOX, one which will support teaching and learning in similar ways to City Tech’s OpenLab platform.

In partnership with the MLA we are also part of the team that was awarded a planning grant from the Mellon Foundation to create Humanities Commons, a federated network of sites that will link the MLA with other humanities organizations to further collaborative interdisciplinary research.

A similar partnership was formed, in this case with SUNY Geneseo, to apply for and win a NEH Challenge Grant to support the Digital Thoreau project, a resource and a community dedicated to promoting the deliberate reading of Thoreau’s works in new ways.

We are also in discussion with the Sloan Foundation for a planning grant to create an Institutional Repository for CUNY.

Commons Members Usage

(As of June 28, 2015, compared with 1 year ago)


6524 (⇑ 22%)


878 (⇑ 35%)


2121 (⇑ 45%)

User Stories

Departmental use: The PhD Program in History has had phenomenal success since using the Commons since 2012. Some of the benefits are:

  • The ability for users to subscribe to the departmental blog and receive email updates, or to view the site on demand. This has allowed the program to communicate unofficial business (ranging from adjunct openings to History events around the city to apartment listings to a reminder of the anniversary of the end of Prohibition) without cluttering inboxes of its stakeholders. The blog has replaced several listservs (still in use by many programs) which were unwieldy for the administrators to manage, and did not allow for graphics.
  • Extending a voice beyond CUNY through Google and other search tools. For example,  any historian in the world who Googled James Kloppenberg in October 2014, would have discovered an article on his latest work in the program’s blog as the 6th hit!  The private sector might often pay for this is the kind exposure, which is helping the overall Graduate Center effort to gain notice and has raised the History Program’s international profile, which has likely contributed to a stronger applicant pool.
  • Within CUNY, because the Commons is now being used as a sharing site for CUNY administration committees,  professors and other administrators (like those at CUNY Central) who are on various planning committees are now frequent visitors. Many of them are likely to notice the History Blog on the front page increasing the visibility to individuals who control funding decisions.

Course use: Professors Stephen Brier and Anthony Picciano use the Commons in both its blog and group formats to organize the coursework and discussion in Fall 2012. Unlike other course management systems (CMS) used within CUNY, this work remains public. A Graduate Center faculty member with an interest in the topic (The History of CUNY) was able to join the group two years after the course ended. This archival resource will enable community members who may otherwise not be aware of common interests to easily find it. Students in find that using the Commons as a platform for course collaboration is both easy to learn and enjoyable.

Whimsical use: While some uses of the the Commons may appear to be frivolous, they help to define and broaden the sense of shared community with the vast CUNY landscape. In one instance, a member of the CAC dev team started a group called CUNY Pie six years ago. Its mission? “To address the paucity of professorial pizza punditry, CUNY Pie has assembled a crack team of pizza-loving academics to make periodic pilgrimages to pizza joints both great and small, and to report back on their findings.” This kind of use of the Commons allows the type of connection that enhance both student and employee experience and recognize that the CUNY community is more that just work and scholarship.

Publication Use: The Commons is used as a publication platform for a wide variety of academic journals, including Journal of American Drama and Theatre (JADT), European Stages, and Theory, Research and Action in Urban Education (TRAUE). The Commons team works closely with publishers to find suitable WordPress themes and plugins, coordinate domain mapping, and troubleshoot issues.

Our open access publishing platform’s built-in social layer advertises new journal issues and blog posts, provides a discussion platform to encourage conversation, and social media links.  Editors use groups on the Commons to collaborate on new issues and share reflections on manuscripts.

An exciting example is the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (ISSN 2166-6245), now in its seventh issue. The Commons is proud to host this publication and support its mission “to promote open scholarly discourse around critical and creative uses of digital technology in teaching, learning, and research.” Besides its two issues per year, the journal publishes assignments, reviews, tool tips, and an “Assignment Fails” section which investigates how good ideas can sometimes go wrong, and offers possible remedies. Each week, a member of the JITP Editorial Collective assembles and shares news items, ongoing discussions, and upcoming events of interest.


Conference use: The Commons offers great tools to help with publicity, organization, and registration before a conference. And during the conference, a WordPress website and groups on the Commons serve as social hubs, where participants can meet and discuss issues, access information, post presentations, and aggregate tweets. Presentations can be live streamed on our CUNY.IS/LIVE page for those unable to attend in person. And once the conference is over, the social network that has been created provides a way for people to stay connected and keep the conversation going, as well as a space to archive what went on.

  • Bronx Ed Tech Showcase

Lehman, Hostos and Bronx Community College use the Commons to host their annual Bronx EdTech Showcase. The site gathers proposals via online forms, posts agendas, showcases presentations, provides directions, and archives past conferences.


  • The CUNY Games Festival

Another great example of how the Commons can be used to host a conference, The CUNY Games Festival used its site to publish its program, recognize sponsors, archive presentations, link to live streaming, provide directions, food and lodging information, and a blog for reflections and wrap-ups. The Commons homepage had a slider promoting the festival, with links to the site and registration page.


Commons Site Traffic

The chart below uses Google Analytics data to show how usage of the Academic Commons has grown over its first five full years.

Year Sessions % Change Users % Change Pageviews % Change
2010 197,433 129,594 668,562
2011 357,763 44.81% 243,429 46.76% 996,782 32.93%
2012 598,325 40.21% 405,962 40.04% 1,549,440 35.67%
2013 757,317 20.99% 524,719 22.63% 1,769,251 12.42%
2014 959,431 21.07% 694,316 24.43% 2,027,622 12.74%
Totals 2,870,269 1,998,020 7,011,657

After the explosive growth in usage during the first two years of the Commons’ existence, our user base and site usage have settled into a consistent and steady growth of about 20-25% in both Users and Sessions, a trend that appears to be continuing into 2015.

We see this same trend when looking at figures for ‘returning users’  as our users rely on the tools and resources provided and engage with the site.

Year Returning User Sessions % Change Returning Users % Change Returning User Pageviews % Change
2010 67,743 16,691 290,215
2011 117,718 42.45% 31,252 46.59% 419,347 30.79%
2012 192,506 38.85% 55,453 43.64% 651,515 35.64%
2013 234,880 18.04% 71,252 22.17% 715,412 8.93%
2014 272,460 13.79% 81,865 12.96% 864,307 17.23%
Totals 885,307 256,513 2,940,796

Additionally if we look at the statistics for 2015 year-to-date and compare that with the same span in 2014, as seen in the carts below, we see that our growth remains consistently strong. The only place we see any reduction in growth is pages per session. A reduction in this number can however indicate a greater familiarity with the site, as users have to visit fewer pages to find what they are looking for.

First image – Graph

Second image: Chart

Mobile Use

The majority of our users (85.89% in 2014; 87.07% in 2013) access the Academic Commons via desktop or laptop computers. 9.6% of users accessed the Commons via mobile device in 2014 (compared with 8.17% in 2014). Tablets made up 4.52% of sessions in 2014 and 4.75% in 2013.

Of our mobile and tablet users, the majority (41.9%) use the Apple iPhone to access the site, with the Apple iPad (27.03%) close behind. The next highest ranked devices are the Barnes and Noble Nook tablet at 1.10% and the Samsung Galaxy S III at .80%.

Social Media Metrics

Twitter Followers:

cunycommons(CUNY Academic Commons): 2,600 -> 3,373 – up 23% from last year

cbox(Commons-in-a-box): 543 -> 615 – up 12% from last year

Facebook Fans:

193 -> 224 – up 14% from last year

Google+ Followers:

105 -> 119 – up 12% from last year

Free Software Contributions

The Commons development team continues to focus on building tools that are useful not only to users of the CUNY Academic Commons, but to a broader audience of sites built on similar free software foundations. WordPress plugins authored by the CUNY Academic Commons have been downloaded nearly 400,000 times to date, and are in use on thousands of active sites. Chief among these plugins is Commons In A Box, the community framework based on the CUNY Academic Commons, which powers over 700 Commons-like networks. Commons In A Box continues to be actively developed by the CUNY Academic Commons team, with a number of minor releases during the 2014-15 academic year, and work begun on the next major release, version 1.1.

Members of the Commons team are increasingly active and prominent in the larger communities surrounding the WordPress and BuddyPress communities. In 2014, Commons lead developer Boone Gorges became a member of the WordPress core team – the group of 15-20 individuals who maintain the WordPress software that powers over 20% of all web sites. Recent improvements in WordPress – specifically, some of the metadata and taxonomy query improvements featured in WordPress 4.1 – grew in part out of work done on the DiRT project and other Commons initiatives. Gorges, along with Commons team member Raymond Hoh, continue to be intimately involved with the development of the BuddyPress platform (which powers the Commons, in addition to tens of thousands of similar networks); a number of new features in recent releases have their origins in features built for the Commons – such as the powerful activity queries originally developed for My Commons.