The Commons’ powerful email notification system lets members of a group know when other members post content. Used in conjunction with a group blog, it lets you set up a nice place to share content and get feedback. Since the model presented below involves group blogs, here’s a quick look at what they are.

Group Blogs

When you create a group on the Commons, you can optionally attach a blog to it. This “group blog” can be brand new, or it can be an existing site on the Commons that you have admin rights to. Just as a group can be public, private, or hidden, a group blog’s visibility can be configured to meet the needs of the group. Here are the options (found on your Group’s Admin page, under “Group Blogs”):

Likewise, group admins can control what rights group members should have on the group blog. Should they be allowed to post, edit, and publish articles? Should they be allowed to make changes to the layout of the site? These options can be controlled from the Group Admin screen, Under “Group Blog.” See the snapshot below:

For more information on how to do this, check out the Help posts “How to Create, Join and Maintain Groups” and “Groups and Group Blogs, and Bringing Content Together.”

Group blogs are not appropriate for every group, but for many, they can provide a platform for members to post ideas, embed media, announce events, and aggregate category and tag based content.

Activity Notifications

Besides the group blog, members of a group have many other tools to use – the Discussion Forum, BP Docs, Files, Announcements (see more about these here). Each time a member does something using any of these tools – write a post, respond to a forum discussion, upload a file, announce an event – that “activity” is recorded in the Group Activity stream, and an email notification is sent out to other group members.

This robust email notification system is configurable for each group. Members control how they want to “read” a group. (Settings are found on the Group Admin Page under “Email Notifications” or on your personal Profile Page – “Settings>>Notification”). See snapshot below:

Additionally, you can select what kind of activity you want to be notified about. On your Profile page, go to Settings>>Notification. (Many settings found here do not specifically apply to groups, but some important ones do. ) Here you can see all your groups listed and change their notifications levels. Also, the following lets you further qualify how you want to be notified:

The Group and Group Blog Model

So here’s how a group admin might use a group blog to make a space where members can create content, and read and comment on each other’s work:

  • The group admin creates a group and attaches group blog
  • When members join the group, they are automatically signed up as authors on the group blog
  • They write and publish posts
  • Each time a post is published, an email notification is sent out to the group
  • Members click on the link, read the post, and can comment

Members of course still use the discussion forum, and each time they post to the forum, a notification is sent out. For these they can reply by email, without even logging into the Commons. (See “Reply by Email.”) Members can use BP Docs to collaborate on projects, and similarly, when a major edit occurs, members are notified by email.

It’s a terrific pedagogical model, and one that is being used on the Commons to teach graduate courses: students join a group with their classmates. The group has a private blog attached to it, and they are automatically added as users to the blog. They do their assignments as blog posts. Whenever a student publishes a post, an excerpt automatically shows up on the group’s activity stream, and each group member is notified by email (depending upon their notification settings), that one of their peers has posted some content. If the content is a blog post, they can click on the link, read the rest of the post, and comment. If the content is a forum post, they can read it in its entirety, and reply by email, from the comfort of their inbox.

How Do We Do It?

The powerful and ultra-configurable email notification system that keeps Commons group members in touch is made possible by a BuddyPress plugin called Group Email Subscription that was developed by shambhalanetwork.org, the CUNY Academic Commons, and bluemandala.com

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