Groups and their Uses on the Commons

Groups on the Commons come in many flavors and members join them for a variety of reasons. Here are just some (many of which overlap):

  • create help resources/guides/forums
  • collaborate with peers
  • bounce around ideas
  • publicize/announce events
  • upload files – minutes, forms, documentation
  • collaborate on documents
  • manage committees, programs, departments, graduate classes
  • plan initiatives
  • conduct research

Public, Private, or Hidden

Groups can be public, private or hidden.

  • Public Groups – With a public group everything the group creates is visible on the Commons: the group page, member list, annoucements, and forum posts. No permission is required to join a public group. Public groups can also enable group blogs and set different roles for members.
  • Private Groups- In a private group certain elements of the group are not visible to those who are not members. Only members can see the member list, announcements, and forum posts. The group does appear in the list on the Commons Groups page, but non-members can only view a simplified version of the group page. You must request membership to join a private group.
  • Hidden Groups- A hidden group is invisible on the Commons to everyone except for group members. The group page, member list, wire, and forum posts are all hidden from the public.

For more information, see the Help page “How Groups can Use the Commons.”

Initial Setup – for Group Admins

Admins are the primary organizers of a group, and are responsible for setting it up and getting members to join. For more information, see “How to Create, Join and Maintain Groups.” Listed below are some suggestions that might help you get your group up and running.

  • Join the Group for Group Admins, a meta-group for group administrators and moderators to meet and discuss group management, share tips on different tools, and stay up to date with the Commons team on current and future changes on the site.
  • Find an avatar for your group.
  • Write a succinct statement of purpose.
  • Decide whether your group will be public, private or hidden. Click here to understand the implications.
  • Swamped? Delegate… Add additional admins to your group. Or add some group moderators. Admins will have the same permissions as you. Group moderators will be able to do a subset of the things you are allowed to do, including the ability to send announcements to the rest of the group. Click here for more information about group permission levels.
  • Understand your tool options. Groups automatically come with forums, files, and announcements, but admins can optionally turn on BP Docs, create a Group Blog, or include feeds from external blogs in the group activity stream. These options provide additional ways for members to interact.
  • If you decide to have a group blog, determine its visibility. For example, a private group could have a public blog. Click here for more information on how to adjust blog privacy levels.
  • If you decide to have a group blog, determine what permission members should have. If they are assigned to be contributors, they can write posts, but these posts will only be published upon your approval. If they assigned editors or authors, your approval is not needed. Consider including some explanation on the blog, so members understand what they can do. You might want to invite members to post on certain topics. Click here for more information on adding new users to a blog.
  • If appropriate, consider creating a Twitter account for your group. If you have a group blog, consider using a plugin such as Twitter Tools to automatically tweet group blog posts.
  • Think about ways to attract members. Do you want to invite people to join? You might want to check out who belongs to a related group, or who is on the same campus, etc.

Making Groups Work for You

Here are some ideas about how to use available tools to communicate with other members of the group, and how to customize a group to mesh with your work style.

Collaborative Tools
  • Group Forums – probably the most used and easiest to understand. Any member can start a forum thread. On public groups, non-group members may comment on a thread. Files and images may be attached to either the thread, or the comment.
  • Files – a convenient way to upload files so that the rest of the group can access them. This is a great ways to archive minutes from meetings, forms, and other important documents. For more information, see the Help page How to Upload Files to Your Group.
  • Invite others – know someone who would be interested in your group and is a member of the Commons? It’s easy to invite that person to join.
  • BP Docs (if activated) – Think of Docs at your group’s private wiki. You control who can edit and who can view documents that are a work in progress.
  • Group Blog (if activated) – Group blogs are a great way to extend group functionality and share what your group is doing.
  • External Blogs (if activated) – Are there external blogs that are of interest to your group? If so, you can include their RSS feeds in your group’s activity stream. Each time a post is published, you will get notified (depending upon your notification settings).
  • Social Paper – Post papers and receive peer feedback paragraph by paragraph or as a whole, this is a great way to get peer-to-peer feedback and discussion.
  • Group Event Calendar – A convenient way to establish milestones, schedule activities and due dates
  • Group Quick Links – make it easy for students to remember how to get to the class group by using a short and easy to remember quick link (for example:
Managing Email Notifications

You can customize the way you want to be notified of group activity. You can get an email immediately, or you can get daily or weekly digests of activity. And you can configure these notifications according to type. This is a very powerful feature for groups. For more information, see Receiving Notifications.

Getting Your Voice Heard

So with all the tools available, there’s probably no one “best way” to get your point across, but here are some things to consider when you stack related functionality up against each other in search of the magic bullet.

  • Forum posts vs. Group Blog posts. Forum posts are perhaps better at soliciting member feedback. Posts on blogs have more embedded functionality, and you can style and revise them better.
  • Upload Files vs. BP Docs. Files are static. BP Docs are collaborative, living documents that change. Both are extremely useful, but their functionality doesn’t really overlap.

Summary of Resources


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