The Commons does not have a grade book feature. However, the Commons does offer several tools for formative assessment throughout the semester. If desired, data from these tools 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 aims to support various grading methods and therefore does not offer a native grade book. The Commons 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.

The Commons has several tools that to support the instructors in grading and tallying student engagement on the course site  or group. These tools are described in more detail below.


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.


There are several options for giving private feedback or  tallying user participation on Commons sites.

WP Grade Comments

WP Grade Comments adds a private comment option to all posts. With this plugin installed, instructors can leave a private comment / feedback on a student’s post. Private comments are only visible to the comment and post authors (i.e. instructors and student post author).

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 and information about posting a private comment for feedback.

To install the WP Grade Comments plugin go to Dashboard > Plugins. You must be an admin on a site to install plugins.




Reckoning provides a user summary for easy reading and tallying students posts and comments. You can track and tally student work on a Commons site using the Reckoning plugin. Students must be users (authors) on the site and create posts or comments  for their work to be tallied by the Reckoning plugin.

To install the Reckoning Plugin  head to Dashboard >Plugins. Once installed, a “User Summary” page will be added to the Users area of the dashboard. There are two views in the User Summary: the Overview, and Individual User Content. The Overview page contains a list of all users and all posts and comments made by each user. An Individual User Content page contains a more in-depth look at a single user, displaying all the posts and comment content submitted by the user.

Go to Users>User Summary in the dashboard (on the left in the image below) to view student users’ work on the site. The User Summary page will display a list of all site users (students) and their posts and comments on the Site. You can click the “Student Name” to view all content of posts and comments created by a particular user on the site.

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,  post title, comment title, date, and category.

The data export file does not include post and comment content . Individual user post and comment content is visible in the individual user view but is not exported inn the CSV data. If you would like to export all content, please submit a ticket through the Commons help desk.



Groups Forum Participation Tallying   Sites  Install the Reckoning Plugin to add a “User Summary” to the Users area of the dashboard. The User Summary page will display all site users (students) and list the posts and comments they have… Read More

The quickest and easiest way to get a course up and running on the CUNY Academic Commons is to use a Commons group. Learn more about instructional continuity at CUNY here: cuny.is/continuity

For more information and quick guides for teaching online, you can also visit GC Online.

Teaching with a group allows instructors to share course documents in the group library, host threaded discussions in the group forum, and send emails to all group members.

Group can be hidden, private to group members, or publicly visible and open to all members of the Commons. If the Group is “Private”, all documents, forum posts, and other group functions are not visible or accessible if users are not logged into the Commons.

When viewing a Commons Group, all group activity will appear on the main “Home” page.  This activity feed will aggregate group forum posts, doc editing stats, files uploaded, and member information. The gray menu on the left facilitates navigation to the various group areas.

This page offers a brief  overview of a group. Check out additional Commons help documentation for more information on teaching with a group and groups overview, and  comprehensive directions for managing a group.


Group Areas & Functions

  • Home: group landing page and activity feed
  • Forum: threaded discussions (entries sent to group members’ via email)
  • Events: calendar to display group events (can be added by any group member)
  • Files: upload Word docs, PDFs, etc to make available to group members
  • Docs: create a ‘doc’ to share with the group; docs can be edited by any group member but only one member can work in doc at a time (each doc update sent to members’ email)
  • Members: list of members in group
  • Send Invites: invite new Commons user to group via username
  • Email Options: each group member can customize email options
  • Manage: group settings area; change member roles, accept group join requests, edit privacy settings, connect to site, and more


Steps for Setting up a Group

  1. Register/log in to the Commons.
  2. Go to Groups tab and click “Create a Group”.
  3. In the creation portal select Group and fill in necessary information.
  4. Navigate to your new Group. Add syllabus and course readings to files area.
  5. Invite members (students) to join the Commons and the group.
    1. Inviting Students to the Commons PDF Quick Guide
    2. Joining a Group PDF Quick Guide
  6. Create a forum thread to welcome students, provide course information, or start an online discussion.


Steps for students to join your Commons Group

To join your group, students must sign-up and register for the Commons using a CUNY email. Then, they can join or request membership to your group.

For Students joining the Commons:

  1. Head to the CUNY Academic Commons: https://commons.gc.cuny.edu/
  2. Click “Register” in the top right corner.
  3. Complete registration by checking your CUNY Email to activate your account.
  4. Log into the Commons.
  5. Go to the groups tab and use the Group search bar to find your group.
  6. Join or request membership.


Commons Quick Guides (PDFs)

Creative Commons Licensing


Creative Commons allows creators to openly license digital artifacts to be shared online. Various license options allow you to retain some rights while also allowing others to use and remix your work.


“Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a globally-accessible public commons of knowledge and culture. We make it easier for people to share their creative and academic work, as well as to access and build upon the work of others.”


License explanations are here and a short guide to terminology below:

  • Attribution (BY): Anyone who shares/uses/remixes your work must give you credit. This is an aspect of every license.
  • Share Alike (SA): Anyone who shares/uses/remixes your work must share the work under the same open license.
  • No Derivs (ND): Anyone who shares/uses your work cannot change your work (no remixing)
  • Non-Commercial (NC): Anyone who shares/uses/remixes your work cannot use or make a version for profit.

There are several license types. At the bottom of the linked page, click “Use this license” for license images you can put on your digital artifacts.


  • CC-O is a completely open/public license. See link for when/why you might use

“Technologies of Reading,” and “Music Since 1945” are two exemplary courses that were taught on the Commons and demonstrate open digital pedagogy in action.

In “Technologies of Reading”, Professor Silva (York College) introduced students to the field of Digital Humanities (DH). Students created weekly blog posts to evaluate the readings, tools, or websites assigned that week. Blogging functioned as a scaffolding mechanism to prepare students for larger course projects.

Over the course of the semester students completed three major digital projects using various tools: students used Google maps to plot locations in an Isabella Whitney poem, created a Voyant visualization of patterns in Renaissance literature, and worked in groups to develop a digital edition WordPress website that addressed and explored concepts presented in English poetry.

To read more about Professor Silva’s course, check out her post, “Teaching Technologies of Reading on the Commons”.

Screenshot of "Technologies of Reading" Course

In Professor Tilley’s course “Music Since 1945” (Lehman College), students contributed to a “collaborative blog” to report back on music events they attended throughout the city. Professor Tilley used the “Events Calendar” WordPress plugin to provide up-to-date information about musical events going on throughout the city as a way to suggest options for student contributions to the Collaborative Blog.

On the same course site, students composed “private” blog posts to maintain a personal Listening Journal that was visible only to the student author and the professor. Each week various musical pieces were assigned; before class, students reflected in their journal and Professor Tilley responded to each entry. By engaging students in both public and private writing activities, this course site provided students with multiple avenues to engage with, digest, and explore course content and beyond.

To learn more about this course, see Professor Tilley’s post, “A Music Blog on the Commons”.

Screenshot of "Music Since 1945" Course

These courses are just two examples of the possibilities for teaching with the CUNY Academic Commons. To explore other open courses on the CUNY Academic Commons, visit the “Courses” tab.

In order to post, you must have a Commons account and be an Author on the site where you will be posting. You must be logged in to post.

Log in to the Commons and go to site where you will be posting. You can find the site by clicking “Sites” in the Main Menu and then clicking “My Sites”.

Once you are on the site, you can create posts in one of  two ways.

Option 1:  When you get to the site, locate the black admin bar at the top of the page. Click “+New”.



Option 2: In the dashboard of the site where you will be posting, visit the “Posts” area and click the “Add New” button on the top left.



There are two Editor layouts. To post in the Block Editor (below), add a title and post content (green boxes below). Make sure not to write in the “Simple CSS” area (red box) because this will not be visible to the post reader. Once your post is complete, click Publish (blue box). If you’d like to switch to the classic editor click the three dots (yellow box) and select classic editor.


In the Classic Editor, add a post title and content. If needed, select the post “category” from the Categories section of the right sidebar.


Once your have written your post, click “PUBLISH” on the right and the post will go live.

You’re done!

The Commons, and the underlying WordPress framework that runs the platform, adheres to  W3C accessibility standards. The Commons team completes regular audits to ensure that  the platform is in line with the best practices laid out in W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. This means that all Commons’ pages, groups, and directories comply with these standards.

However, administrators of sites and groups are responsible for the accessibility of their sites and groups. Since the administrator of a site can choose a specific theme, add content, and edit the site design, layout, and colors, site administrators need to make sure they are creating sites that are accessible to all users. Group admins need to make sure that content uploaded to the group forum and library are accessible.

How you design your site, add content, and choose course materials will determine how accessible your course will be. Sites created with the Teaching Template come with the WP Accessibility checker installed so common issues may be flagged if they occur. However, WP accessibility can not check or catch all errors so it is ideal to follow Universal Design Practices to make sure you build a course that all students can participate in from the start. See here for more information about Universal Design for Learning.

*There is always more to know about making learning accessible to all students and we welcome your feedback on this page. If you notice any errors or would like to suggest additional information to be added, please reach out to us at support@cunycommons.zendesk.com*

The list below provides a few tips to make your course accessible. This list is not comprehensive. You should consider using the WAVE tool  to assess your site’s accessibility before teaching. See here for more information on using the WAVE Tool on the Commons.

Content Accessibility

The Commons host many sites and cannot possibly screen them all for accessible content. So, as the site creator, you are responsible for making sure the content you add to your sites and groups is accessible.

Course Materials

  • Make sure PDFs have been scanned for Optical Character Recognition (OCR). This means that the text in the PDF is searchable and  legible to screen readers and other vision assistance devices. PDFs not scanned this way are typically Jpeg images, or just a picture of the text, which cannot be search or read by a computer. Scanners often have the option to scan with OCR and tehre are online resource to turn non-OCR PDFs into OCRed PDFs. (Adobe offers this option in the “Tools” section).
  • If you are assigning audio or video course materials, check to make sure that videos have closed captioning and audio assignments come with a transcript.


  • Images that are explanatory or that add information to a text should have “alt tags”. Alt tags are short pieces of information that describe what the image depicts. You can add alt tags to images you upload to your site by viewing and editing the image in the site’s media library. Images that are decorative and/or do not provide additional information do not require alt tags.


  • Link text should contain ambiguous words such as “click here” or “more” because these words do not describe the linked information. Link text should be descriptive and provide information about where the link goes. For example, see here for more information about Universal Design for Learning. Screen readers and text to voice devices can choose to navigate more quickly through pages by only reading links. If the link text is unclear, readers will be unable to determine what information is contained in the link.
  • Best practices indicate that you should set up links to open in the same window. Indicating that a link should open in a new tab can create problems for students using a device to navigate through the site. Phones may block or hide the new tab and visually impaired students may not be able to tell that a new tab has been opened.
    • Sites that use the Teaching Template and/or install the WP Accessibility plugin will not open links in a new tab (even if specified to do so). To turn this off, in the Dashboard of the site under Settings>WP Accessibility, you can de-select “Remove target attribute from link”.

Site Text

  • If you are creating a page with multiple sections, be sure to use the correct sizing on headers. Headers should always start with Heading 1 and proceed in order (H2, H3) throughout the sub-sections of the page. On this page, there is regular paragraph content and then the first section uses H1 font.
  • Color coding should not be used to convey information. For example, do not indicate that “red assignments are due on Tuesday and green assignments are due on Thursday”.

Site Infrastructure Accessibility

Beyond content, site creators and administrators can make decisions while setting up the site can to ensure their site is navigable for everyone.

Drop Down Menus

  • Drop Down Menus can be difficult for users with mobility or visual impairments to navigate. We suggest not using drop down menus, or at least using them minimally. We recommend no more than 2 sub-items in a drop down menu.

Site Design for Smart Devices

  • Many students will be accessing Commons sites from their smartphone or another device. It is important to choose a theme and design your site in a way that is legible and accessible on a smartphone. Most  themes on the Commons are “responsive”, meaning the theme will adjust to the size of the device screen. However, you also want to make sure that you do not have too many menu items or drop down menus, since these can cause issues when viewed from a smartphone. It is always best to test your site from a smartphone to determine what many students will see.

Information Architecture

  • Students will navigate through your site in various ways. Create multiple pathways through your site. Along with creating a clear main menu, inter-link pages on your site ( for example, linking the syllabus page to the course schedule page), will give students multiple pathways for finding information on your site. Do not create dead ends or use blank pages in your menu as a place holder for drop down pages that link to actual site information. If you decide to use drop down menus, creating multiple pathways to interior pages allows students who cannot use a drop down menu to reach the drop down page content.