Best Practices for Teaching on the Commons

The Commons has been developed to support instructors teaching at CUNY. Many instructors use OER and employ open digital pedagogy strategies in their teaching. Common practices for teaching on the Commons include…

Building in weekly deliverables

Instructors who teach on the Commons often invite students to join their site or group. This allows students to participate and create content on the Commons. To integrate the Commons seamlessly into the course, instructors often have students “turn in an assignment” or complete work on the Commons fairly regularly so that students engage with and reflect on course content (through the Commons) outside the classroom.

Some examples of weekly assignments or deliverables include:

  • Responding to reading prompt posted by the professor before attending the class discussion
  • Creating a blog post to respond to a reading or share media (images, video) related to course content
  • Adding comments to a discussion thread on a course-related video
  • Annotating a reading as group/class using the Hypothesis plugin
  • Submitting blog posts to build towards a larger assignment. Example below.

Scaffolding assignments

The weekly deliverables can build towards a larger project due at the end of the semester. For example, scaffolding weekly deliverables culminating towards a Multimedia Final Essay.

  • Final Multimedia Essay
    • Post #1:Identification of topic of interest (course related)
    • Post#2: Article Summary related to topic
    • Post #3: Media (images, video) about topic, with sources listed
    • Post #4: Final project proposal on topic of interest
    • Post #5: Annotated Bibliography with Media
    • Post #6 (Private): Draft of Multimedia Essay
    • Post #7: Multimedia Essay posted on course site

Scaffolding does not always have to be assignment related. Instructors  can also scaffold students digital skills in tandem with engagement with course content over the course of the semester. See below.

  • Developing digital skills through various assignments
    • Post #1: Create a post to introduce yourself to the class [posting skills]
    • Post #2: Create a post with a video and three images that relate to or invoke ideas from the readings. Explain your choices. [media sourcing and embedding skills]
      • Comment on another students’ media that you felt connected best with the readings, say why. [online discussion skills, looking across sources to prep for post 3]
    • Post #3: Multimedia Reading Response – Prompt that tasks students with responding to a series of readings with multimedia essay.

Fostering digital skills

The Commons is built on a customized version of WordPress. WordPress is a popular web framework used by over 30% of all websites on the open internet. It’s possible that students will encounter WordPress again at a future job or when building their own website. Teaching on the Commons allows students to develop   transferable knowledge and skills for using WordPress.

The Commons also provides an opportunity for students to develop other transferable skills through creative assignments. Students who have taken courses on the Commons have developed skills such as mutli-modal composition, writing for a public audience, social annotation/note-taking, creating custom Google Maps, using audio/video software, creating timelines, and more.

Making use of visibility options

The Commons offers various privacy settings and professors often take advantage of these settings. Professors sometimes password-protect the pages with their readings so only students can access.  Other professors ask students to complete a private listening journal each week using private posts, while also submitting public writing assignments to share with peers on the same site.  Other professors use a group for private class discussion paired with a public site for students to share their final paper publicly. There are many ways instructors can leverage these various levels of privacy.

Designing accessible courses

The Commons is built to meet W3C accessibility standards. However, how your build your course on the Commons and the content you add also determines how accessible you course will be for students. Read more about accessibility on the Commons here.

Encouraging multi-modal engagement

The Commons can support, host, and link to images, videos, audio, and other forms of media. Instructors using the Commons increasingly incorporate media into a their courses and assignments. For example, an instructor will ask students to post a series of images or a video related to a course reading. These images and videos can be used to jump start in-class discussion.

Integrating digital tools

Related to above, many instructors use digital tools to develop more creative assignments and enhance student engagement in their course. Popular tools include:

  • (web extension and Commons Plugin) for social annotation
  • Timeline JS for timeline building, chronological tracking of events, topics
  • Storymaps JS for narrative mapping, geographic writing about events, topics
  • Manifold for reading, social annotation, publishing final essays

Instructors have also

  • required students to build their own Commons site as a final project
  • asked students to attend an event or museum in NYC and report back through a blog post or writing assignment
  • asked students to use Twitter to link an everyday experience to course content

 For more details on many of these practices, check out these featured courses or browse the Commons Courses tab.