The WPDiscuz plugin super-charges the way comments work on your WordPress site,. It enhances your users’ discussion experience and keeps them engaged by offering multiple ways to embed images, videos, social icons, and text. There are three colorful layouts to choose from:

The comment textbox comes with a toolbar for easily adding rich text and images. Roll over the icons to see what they do:


There are numerous powerful options and settings to explore that control the discussion environment:

On the Comment Content and Media Settings page, you can enable shortcodes and use them in your comment so you can, for example, embed a video.

The Easy Appointments plugin provides a way to embed forms and calendars within a WordPress site. The plugin uses three preset fields: Location, Service, and Worker. The labels for these can be easily changed. For example, Location could be changed to Office, Service could be changed to Meeting Type, and Worker could be changed to Professor.

The trickiest part of this plugin is set up what are called Connections. A connection pulls together the dates and time slots that are available for the particular Location/Service/Worker. In the form below, you specify what days of the week appointments are possible, the beginning and ending times, and the number of slots available within this time range.



To set up an appointment on your site, ,create a page and add a shortcode to generate the following form:

To avoid spam, you probably want to make the form only available to members of the Commons, or else password protected.

Another shortcode can display a calendar of appointments:


If you have posts or pages that are long, you might want to offer your readers a way to go up to the top of the article. Yes, if you know HTML, this can be done with an anchor tag. But the Simple Scroll To Top plugin makes such a function a breeze.

Once you activate the plugin, go to the Settings page. Here you can customize where the button will be shown and what it will look like. There are 10 symbols and 4 backgrounds. They are all from the FontAwesome library, so there are 40 variations for your scroll to top button. You control the size and color and on which pages it should appear. The button only appears when your reader is scrolling down. This is extremely useful if your reader is using a tablet or mobile device, where scrollbars are less than effective.

Here is the setting page:



Each WordPress post or page has exactly one “Featured Image.” Depending on the template used by your theme, this image may appear at the top of your post, on the side, or not at all. On a page that aggregates your posts or pages (perhaps by category or tag), the featured image adds interest to the listing. If missing, it throws off the appearance of the page.

That is where the Default Feature Image plugin can be useful. If a page or post does not have a featured image, a default image will be assigned.

The default image is set up in the Media Settings on the WordPress dashboard:


Shortcodes Ultimate is a Swiss Army knife type of plugin. It can do many things – it “is a comprehensive collection of various visual and functional elements, which you can use in the post editor, text widgets or even in template files. Using Shortcodes Ultimate you can easily create tabs, buttons, boxes, sliders and carousels, responsive videos and much, much more.”

It works with both the Block Editor and the Classic editor. You can embed posts into other posts, create “spoilers” (i.e. view/hide content), retrieve parts of posts or pages via category or tag – the list goes on.

In the Block Editor, the plugin is accessible via the open and close brackets icon-  “[ ]” after you select the shortcode block:



In the Classic Editor, it is an option on the tool bar.


After clicking the icon, you will see the entire collection. There is a convenient search bar to help locate what you need, as well as a “Filter by Type” option. The shortcodes marked in red are only available for the premium version of the plugin


The following video will help you get started with this plugin:


The EmbedPress plugin claims to be able to embed content from over 100 sources, including Google, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, and a host of others. It will embed PPTsm PDFs, Docx, and many other types of files.

Once you’ve activated the plugin, you will see “EmbedPress” option on your dashboard. Here you can simply paste in the URL of your content and hit generate. If you are able to embed it, you will see the shortcode is automatically created. just paste it into your post or block.


EmbedPress also integrates nicely with the Block Editor. Select the EmbedPress block, paste in the url, and hit embed:If EmbedPress

If EmbedPress doesn’t work for your content, check out Embedding Content From Other Sites for alternatives.

There is a big change in the way widgets are handled with the release of WordPress 5.8.

Previously, Commons members added widgets to “widget areas” (sidebars, footers, etc.) by going to Appearance>>Widgets or to Customize>>Widgets. There they found an array of widgets, some provided by WordPress, some provided by the theme, and some provided by plugins. Members could simply assign these widgets to each widget area or edit the way those widgets are displayed.

That functionality is now gone with WordPress 5.8, but it can be restored by activating the “Classic Widgets” plugin. This plugin will restore the old-school way of using widgets. Simply activate the plugin and you are good to go.

In efforts to make all content display as blocks, WordPress introduced Block Widgets, which are still controlled by going to Appearance>>Widgets or to Customize>>Widgets. You cannot create Block Widgets if you have activated the Classic Widget plugin. The interface is quite different – instead of picking widgets from a list and deciding where they display, members will need to use blocks. Click the plus sign in the desired widget area:


You are not limited in using just blocks that are categorized as “Widgets.” You can use any block that you want. There is also a block called “Legacy Block” – you can choose from a drop down which widget you want to display. Legacy widgets have optional heading fields. For all other blocks that you add, you will need to add a heading block if you want a heading above your block widget.



Often, site admins want to show social buttons on their sites so that readers can easily share content. There are a number of options available on the Commons to do this.

  • Check if your theme has this functionality built in.
    Since social buttons are so widely used, many themes have this functionality built-in. Before you start looking for plugins, check out your theme. You may or may not like the way the buttons are displayed, but there may be options to change their look. There are two places to look:

    • Widgets – your theme might come with a widget that can be configured to show the buttons you want. These would typically be displayed in a sidebar or a footer.
    • Menus – your theme might have a social menu built in. Our default theme, Twenty-Twenty has an optional “social” menu designed to display social buttons in the footer. You can display it in any menu location.
  • DYI – create a social menu and use the navigation widget to display it in a sidebar or footer. This requires a little more work. You will probably want to use icons rather than text.
  • Use a plugin
    • Atomic Blocks – this library of useful blocks has a block called “Sharing Icons“.
    • WP Social Sharing – This is an older plugin, but it is still effective. Best for those who use the classic editor. Buttons appear either on top or bottom of the post.
    • JetPack – Among its multiple uses, this plugin allows you to add social sharing buttons to pages and/or posts. Find this functionality under the “Sharing” tab.
      Learn More About JetPack

      The Jetpack plugin is actually a bundle of plugins that have been developed for

      Please don’t be fooled! All the plugins are free to use. Many times along the installation process, you will be encouraged to pick a premium plan and pay money to for features that will not be available on the Commons. Make sure to choose the free version of this tool when activating Jetpack.

      Please note that you will need to create a account to use JetPack. You do not need to have a site. Just register here, get your id/password, and you are ready to activate Jetpack.

      After installing the Jetpack plugin on your site in the Plugins area, Jetpack will be added to the Dashboard menu (screenshot, right). Visit this Jetpack area in the Dashboard and go through the process to activate Jetpack.



      When activating JetPack, you will see the various paid options but you do not need to pay for this tool. Scroll down all the way and click on “Start for Free” (image below).



      If you have a account and are logged in, once you click “Start for Free” you will activate Jetpack and re-routed back to your Commons Site.

      If you need to create an account, click on the option highlighted above.

      Once you click “Approve,” you should see the following:


      Then you will see the following section added to your Dashboard. Click on Settings to get started with JetPack.


      Highlighted below are the Settings for the various plugins in the JetPack bundle. Click on each tab to explore the possibilities.

      JetPack provides a nice stats plugin that you can use to track your readers.  It also provides Latex support for mathematical notation, and a bunch of other plugins, many of which are similar to other plugins on the Commons. Many members use JetPack’s “Subscription” plugin to allow people to subscribe to their sites and receive email notifications when a post is published. See more about Subscriptions.


      In Jetpack’s “Sharing” menu, you can  add new widgets to your site  to pull in Twitter an other social media feeds.

    • Share This Image – if you want to only share an image and not the text of your post or page, this plugin is for you.
    • Social Stickers – this is a “Follow Us” widget that is configured to take viewers to your social networks. Buttons appear if you provide the link to your site on Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo, etc. 
      Learn More About Social Stickers

      Interested in showcasing your social media networks on your site? We recommend using “Social Stickers,” a simple plugin that allows you to show which social networks you use. There are over 50 social networks to choose from, including: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and YouTube. You can also select from one of five themes, which change the visual style of the social network icons.

      Follow these steps to display social networks on your CUNY Academic Commons WordPress site:

      1. Click on the “Plugins” menu in your WordPress dashboard, search for “Social Stickers” in the directory, then click “Activate” under the Social Stickers stickers2. Customize the settings in Settings>Social Stickers (*Please note – you will need to enter your username(s) before you can pick your theme).sticer1
      2. Add the widget to one of your sidebars or footers in Appearance>Widgetswi

      Your social networks should now display on your site and look something like this:



Commentpress lets readers comment on each paragraph of a document or respond in-line to other comments. Developed by the Institute for the Future of the Book, it is a terrific way for writers to solicit and track critiques of their work, from either a controlled or open group of readers:

Annotate, gloss, workshop, debate: with Commentpress you can do all of these things on a finer-grained level, turning a document into a conversation. It can be applied to a fixed document (paper/essay/book etc.) or to a running blog.

The documentation for CommentPress  (written using Commentpress) shows how documents can be structured (title page, table of contents, pages, posts, numbering, etc.) and is a great resource once you’ve got the tool up and running.

Getting Started with CommentPress

CommentPress is a WordPress plugin. To get started, activate CommentPress Core on the Commons. Once activated, your theme will automatically switch to the CommentPress Modern theme. We recommend using this theme.  (Your other choices are the Default CommentPress theme and the Flat CommentPress theme.)

CommentPress will only work with themes created by CommentPress.

If you deactivate CommentPress Core, your theme will switch back to the Commons default theme (currently, Twenty-Twelve).

To configure CommentPress, go to Settings>>Commentpress. Be sure to check the box to “Create All Special Pages.” All the other default settings are fine to begin with. You can always come back to the setting page to fine tune your site. By default, CommentPress uses pages as chapters for its Table of Contents.

Readers may comment on an entire page or post, or on a specific paragraph within the page or post. There is no approval process for comments, but members must supply their name and email address (and optionally, their website’s URL) to comment. To avoid spam, make sure to install and configure Akismet or some other spam filter. To control the pool of responders, you might want to set up your site as private, and invite the readers you want to join.

A CommentPress Example

by Mitchell Stephens, Professor of Journalism, New York University

“This paper is designed to be a conversation. I am presenting a collection of some of the more controversial ideas from the early chapters of my book on the history of disbelief. The ideas are organized loosely around a single theme: the Roman leader Pompey’s forced entry into the most sacred place of the Jewish temple. At issue are the origins and prevalence of doubt, even at the heart of religion.

The paper is also an experiment. The Institute for the Future of the Book has devised a new format, through which readers can engage with me and with each other, directly alongside the text. This site is a rough prototype. Each of the paper’s twelve sections has a dynamic margin to the right of the text. There, you can post responses to individual paragraphs, and also annotate the text with links and references to related materials. … “

The Commons aims to support various grading methods and therefore does not offer a native grade book. However, the Commons does offer several tools for formative assessment to provide private feedback and low-stakes “grades” to students. Data about student work and instructor feedback can be exported and entered into an excel sheet or external grade book.

By offering tools for formative assessment instead of a full grade book, the Commons hopes to support instructors who would like to use a grade book but also foster spaces for alternative grading and assessment possibilities. Some instructors use the Commons to teach their course and continue to maintain the grade book in Blackboard. Other instructors on the Commons provide students with ongoing, time-manageable feedback through the Commons (WP-Grade Comments) and offer grade updates at select points throughout the semester (via email, commons messages, longer written feedback, or office hours). Other instructors on the Commons use student-centered grading techniques like contract grading or project-based assessment to give students more control in determining their engagement in the course.

The Commons team hopes the tools provided (described below) will support instructors who use the Commons for their courses. If you have a question or suggestion for grading on the Commons, please reach out to the Commons Community Team through the HELP button above.


Forum Participation Tallying

In a group, the “forum” allows group members to engage in a threaded discussion. Instructors often use this space to host asynchronous conversations asking students to post reading responses or reflections to share with one another, or to collect resources or turn in assignments for peer review.

Previously, there was no easy way to see how many times a student posted or engaged in the forum. In the Fall of 2020, the Commons added a  button in the group forum page that allows group admins to download a CSV file of forum participation. The CSV download button will create and download a spreadsheet containing each topic and reply create in the Group forum. Data includes each post topic, reply content, username, topic/reply URL, and date/time.

By downloading this CSV document and opening it in excel, an instructor could easily see each student’s participant in the forum, and read each students’ forum posts in one place. Downloading this document to your local computer also makes grading or tallying possible offline.


Click here for more documentation on group forums.


Professors can use two plugins to provide feedback on Commons sites. Both plugins described below work with Posts on  sites. So, students will need to turn in their work via posts or comments on the course website in order to use the following feedback tools.

To install plugins on your course site, go to Dashboard > Plugins. You must be an admin on the site to install plugins.

Below you will find an overview and directions of two plugins that help with grading on the Commons. For examples and ideas for how you might use these plugins in practice, see this page: Providing Student Feedback using Commons Tools.

WP Grade Comments

Typically comments on site posts are public and visible to anyone who can see the site. For example, students may leave a comment on each other’s work to foster online discussion before a class meeting.

WP Grade Comments allows the professor to leave a private comment and written feedback on students’ posts. The plugin also allows the professor to assign a “grade” to the post. These grades are not aggregated into blackboard or CUNYfirst and  are best used for formative, low-stakes feedback. Private comments and grades are only visible to site administrators (professors)  and the post authors (student).

A sample reading response post is below. The post is on a Commons site with the WP Grade Comments plugin installed. You will see (in the green boxes), where the plugin adds the options for creating a private comment and adding a grade to the post to provide feedback.



Posts, grades and private and public comments are aggregated by user with the Reckoning plugin, described below.

Reckoning User Summary

You can track and tally students’ work on a Commons site using the Reckoning plugin. Reckoning provides a User Summary for each user on the site. If students are authors on the Commons site and create posts or comments for their work as part of the course, this information will tallied by the Reckoning plugin.

To install plugins on your course site, go to Dashboard > Plugins. Once Reckoning is installed on your site, a “User Summary” page will be added to the Users area of the dashboard. To visit the User Summary on the site go to Dashboard > Users > User Summary.

There are two views in the User Summary: the Overview and Individual User Content. The User Summary page will display a list of all site users (students) and their posts and comments on the site. If  click the “Student Name” you can view the full content of each post and all comments created by a individual user.

The Reckoning plugin creates the User Summary page seen below, and you will see that the User Summary incorporates information from  the WP Grade Comments plugin, as described above. So if the professor assigns a grade, it will be pulled into the user summary. Private comments are indicated as such in the comments section.

To change a grade on a post, go back to the original post and add a new grade. This newest grade will replace the current grade that is visible in the Reckoning User Summary.

Overview View: A list of all users’ posts and comments


Individual View: Single user’s posts and comments, with content


Exporting Reckoning User Summary and WP Grade Data

If you would like to export User Summary data from Reckoning to use in an excel sheet or other grading tool, click the export button at the top of the User Summary page.

This export includes all information in the Overview page (seen above) – author username, grade, post title, comment title, Private comment Y/N,  date, and category.

The data export file does not include post and comment content . Individual user post and comment content is visible on the site but is not exported in the CSV data. The export data is most useful for tallying purposes. Use the Excel Filter tool to sort by Username to view a specific student’s summary.