Frequently Asked Questions

Need help? Please explore the answers below or email the Commons team.
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Accounts & Profiles

What is the CUNY Academic Commons?

The CUNY Academic Commons is an open space where the CUNY community can find like-minded colleagues, build personal or professional websites, teach, learn, and collaborate in open classrooms. The Commons has over thirty thousand members, and each member can join or create sites, groups, or a group + site on the Commons Creation Portal. Members of the Commons are typically CUNY professors, grad students, undergrad students, alums, and staff. Many professors use the Commons as a platform for teaching and ask their students to join their site or group. Professors and students may publish research on the Commons.

The Commons was built by CUNY, for CUNY. It uses open source software which it shares to other institutions world-wide.

There is tremendous activity on the Commons. Before a member logs in, the Commons home page describes what you do on the Commons. It then surfaces the latest news as well as the number of members, groups, sites, and courses on the site. Notice that you can either register to become a new member here, or simply login to your account.

Here is a screenshot of the top half of the home page before logging in:


The Building Blocks of the Commons are Sites, Groups, and Members. Each has an underlying tool set designed to connect members, to create content, to teach and learn, to collaborate and publish research, or post assignments. Members have incremental control over their privacy and email notifications.

The bottom half of the home page is dynamic. We feature two new and exciting sites and groups and list the last four active public sites and groups. We also show the most recently active members.

Here is a screenshot of the bottom half of the home page:

The Commons home page changes dramatically when you login. It becomes your personalized home page.


How can I “personalize” the Commons?

You don’t need to. We’ve got your stuff all organized for you.

When you are logged into the Commons, you’ll find the Commons home page is personalized for you.

The Commons home page can be accessed from any where on the site by going to the top left hand corner and clicking on the “CUNY Academic Commons” hyperlink, or by going to “” or the short link ““.

Here you can access hyperlinks to all your stuff: your profile, messages, notifications, groups, and sites. There is also a convenient “Create A New Space” hyperlink that will take you to the Commons Creation Portal where you can create a group, a site, or a group + site.

If you have more than three groups or sites, click on the “Show All” and you will see all your groups or sites.

Further down, you will see the “Latest News” on the Commons, as well as a list of “Shortcuts.” The shortcuts are based on your role and your campus(es) which you provided when you registered.

Here is a screenshot of the top part of a personalized home page:

The home page also aggregates activity, both site-wide and on the campuses you are associated with. The first section shows the latest activity on the Commons. Further down, the home page features new and exciting groups and then groups across CUNY and then groups on your campus(es).

Sites are likewise surfaced, according to last active.

And finally, we see the last active members on the entire Commons, and on your campus(es).

Here is a screenshot of the lower portion of the personalized home page:



How do I change my email address?

To register to the Commons, you need a CUNY email address. Once you have finished registering, you can switch to a more convenient email address.

Please note: Commons members have two email addresses.

Your Notification Email Address (i.e. your “official” email address)

This is the address you use to reset your password and to receive Commons notifications. To change this,  go to the top black navigation bar, hover over your avatar in the top right corner and select: My Settings>> Security. To change your email, re-write your preferred email in the ‘Email Address’ field, then scroll down and select “Save Changes.”

Your Profile Email Address

By default, this is not displayed. To add or change the email displayed on your Commons Profile, go to the top black navigation bar, hover over your avatar in the top right corner and select: My Profile>> Edit. Re-write your preferred email in the ‘Email Address’ field, then scroll down and select “Save Changes.”

I forgot my password, how can I reset it?

To reset your password, go to and enter username or email address. Click “get new password.”

You will receive an email with  a link to a page where you can reset your password.

What are mentions and how are they used?

The @mention system links others to the hyperlinked profile of the individual while notifying the individual of the mention via email. If you are trying to reach out to specific group members, simply put the @ symbol in front of their username and it will send a notification to their email address and show up in their @mention activity stream. To learn more about the @mention system read this blog post.

How do I upload a photo of myself to appear on my profile and other areas?

After logging into the Commons, go to the top black navigation bar and hover over your existing (or default) photo.  Go to My Profile»Change Profile Photo.  Here you will find detailed instructions on how to upload an image. You can also create a gravatar, which will enable you to use that same image across many different types of websites.

What are “notifications”?

The Notification link (on the top right bar of the Commons, just to the left of your avatar) indicates if you have a new message, friend request, or invitation to join a group.  Zero indicates that you have no notifications.

How can I change my password?

After logging into the Commons, go to the top black navigation bar and hover over your avatar.  Go to: My Settings» General. Enter your current password and  your new password, then scroll down and select “Save Changes.”

How do I change my display profile name?

After logging into the Commons, go to the top black navigation bar and select: My Profile» Edit.  In the text box under “Full Name (required)” fill in your preferred name, then scroll down and select “Save Changes.”

How do I send a message?

To send an email to another member, you can either find them on the member list or you can hover over your avatar in the top right corner, click the “My Messages” link on the left, and click “Compose.”  Start typing the person’s first name in the addressee box and the program will give you a list of all the members whose names include the letters you’re typing.  Next to the addressee box is an empty box for copying other members. Do the same thing in this box that you just did for the addressee. Each time, you do this, a new box will appear for another person to whom you might want to send a copy of the message.

How can I change email notification settings?

Go to the top black navigation bar and hover over your avatar in the top right corner.  Click My Settings >> Email.  Here you can choose whether you want to receive an email notification for a variety of activities, including posts to the groups you belong to, posts by your friends, posts to blogs you subscribe to, or follow, and messages.

Can member profiles be made private? How can I prevent my profile from showing up in a google search?

Right now, there is not a way to make Profiles private, but we can look into developing that functionality. For now, users worried about privacy should avoid using their full names on their profiles (some combination of initials and first or last names might be good). Certain profile fields can be made visible to only yourself, to your friends on the Commons, logged in members of the Commons, or the default – to everyone.  To change profile field visibility, go to click on the “Change” hyperlink next to the text that reads:

“This field can be seen by: Everyone Change.”

Most, but not every field has this visibility setting.

How Do I Delete My Account?

To delete your account, go to the top black navigation bar and hover over your avatar in the upper right corner.  Click My Settings >> Delete Account, then follow the directions on the page.

Note that you must be logged in to do this. If you no longer remember your password, you can reset it: here – If you no longer have access to the email you used to register, please contact your campus IT to re-establish the email.

Groups on the Commons

What are the differences in permissions for the various group roles, i.e. Admins, Moderators, Members?

Administrators can do the following things that moderators cannot do:
1) Change group settings, eg turn group blog on or off, turn group forums on or off, change group status from public to private, etc
2) Post Annoucements
3) Change group avatar
4) Manage group members: ie kick/ban members, promote/demote members
5) Delete the group

Group moderators can do the following things that normal members cannot do:
1) Edit the Group Details, including the name of the group and group description
2) Edit, close, and delete forum topics/posts
3) Edit/delete group documents
4) Post Announcements

What’s the difference between public, private, and hidden groups?

All content in public groups (member listing, forum posts, activity stream posts) is available to be viewed by anyone, even viewers who aren’t logged into the site. Public groups are listed in the public directory of groups, and any member of the community can join the group without seeking approval from the group owners.

All content in private groups is hidden from the public and is viewable only by members of that group. Private groups are listed in the public directory of groups, but members of the community must request membership to the group and have that request approved before being able to view group content.

All content in hidden groups is hidden from the public and is viewable only by members of that group. Hidden groups are not listed in the public directory of groups. New members must be invited to join by existing group members.

I joined a hidden group and now can see it and all its members. Can everyone else?

No. When users create or become members of hidden groups, they will see them in the group listing on the homepage, but it will be visible only to members of the group, not to the general public or to members of the Commons who aren’t in the group.

Can I view a hidden group without being a member?

Hidden groups aren’t listed in the groups directory, however, those with access to the group URL can view the group name and description. Group content and member information can only be accessed by members of a hidden group.

How can groups create a group web site that automatically makes group members subscribers to the site?

We’ve enabled a pretty neat group blog function that makes it easy for group admins to attach a WordPress site to a group. Go to your group and click the “Admin” tab on the left-hand menu.  Click ”enable group blog.”  If you want to use an existing site, select ”Use one of my blogs.” Then select your web site. This will add all members of your group to your chosen site. You can also change the default permission level according to your needs.

How can I attach an existing Commons site to a Group?

To connect an existing site to a group, go to your group home page, and click “Admin” (yes, you need to be an administrator of the group to do this) > Click on Group Blog link > Check the box next to “enable group blog”. Type blog URL to connect the site to your group. That will add all members of your group to your chosen site.Currently, only one site can be attached to a group.

Why am I not receiving Group updates via email?

First, please check your notification settings to make sure that you have set your preferences correctly. Second, please check your account’s spam filter or spam folder, as we have received several reports of group activity stream posts being caught by spam filters. Commons emails are sent from the address “,” so you may need to add that address to your contacts or to your spam filter’s whitelist. If you are still having problems, please contact us.

How can I leave a group?

To unsubscribe from a group, go to the group’s page and click ”Leave Group.” The link is right under the group icon image. Click here for a screenshot showing the the process.

How do I reply to email notifications?

There are two ways to reply to email notifications. You can click on the link supplied in the notification, log into the Commons, and reply; OR you can Reply By Email, from the comfort of your inbox. For more information about Reply by Email, follow this link. You can use Reply by Email to reply to discussion threads on group forums, to personal messages and @mentions, and to group announcements.


How Do I Create A Post?

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!

How Do I Make My Site Visible To My Professor?

To adjust the privacy settings on your individual or group site go, on your WordPress dashboard to Settings >> Reading.

Select one of the five visibility options.

To make your site open to everyone on the web, choose “Allow search engines to index this site.”

On the other end of privacy, especially if your site is in development, you might choose “I would like my site visible only to its Admins.”

See more about site privacy settings.



What is the difference between a page and a post?

A post is a chronological, journal style entry that has a date and time. A page is a more static type of entry and has the feel of a traditional website. If your site is a “blog” you probably will want your homepage to display your most recent posts. If your site is more of a traditional web site, you might want to assign one of your pages as your homepage.

Is there a limit on how many sites I can create?

No.  You can create as many Web sites on the Commons as you want.

Where can I find help or guidelines for writing a posts on a site?

You can find “Best Practices” at WordPress’s Help at Writing Posts. Have a web site going already on the Commons? Check out Tweaking Your Site.

How can I password-protect my posts or make them private?

To make a particular post private, follow these steps when you are editing your post: 1.Navigate to the Publish module on the right side of the page. (The Publish module is used to set who can read your posts.)

Under the Visibility area you can choose to make your post either:

  • “Password protected” (in which case you will enter a password that you will then share with whomever you wish to view your post) or;
  • “Private” (which means that only blog Editors and Administrators will be able to view your post).

Select “OK” then “Publish”/”Update”. These changes will go into effect immediately, but can be updated anytime if you choose to change the visibility of your post.

What types of files can I upload to my posts and pages?

Here is the list of accepted file types (through the WordPress media uploader):

  • jpg
  • jpeg
  • png
  • gif
  • mp3
  • mov
  • avi
  • wmv
  • midi
  • mid
  • pdf
  • doc
  • docx

How do I add PDF Files to a post or page?

Go to Dashboard, then Plugins (on the left):

and search for PDF Embedder. Activate it:

Once installed, click Add Media while creating your post or page to insert the PDF


Upload your PDF into the Media Library

Click Insert into Post

In your post it will look like this

Click Publish and it will be like this when you view the post (or page)


How do I make my front page display a static page rather than my most recent posts?

On your WordPress Dashboard, go to Appearance>>Reading. Make sure you have a page set up to be your front page. Optionally, create a page that will display your posts. Select page(s) from drop down.

How do I delete my site?

If you want to delete a site on the Commons, you must be an admin of the site. On the WordPress Dashboard  go to Tools >> Delete Site:

Click on the checkbox: I’m sure I want to permanently delete my site , and I am aware I can never get it back …”

Then click on the  Delete My Site Permanently button. You should see the following:

Please note that the email will be sent to your current Commons email. If you need to change this email, follow these steps.

Open your email client to receive the confirmation email. It will look something like this:

Finally, click on the hyperlink to finalize the delete of your site. You should receive a confirmation:



What is a Plugin?

Plugins extend the functionality of WordPress. There are thousands of plugins of various qualities, but the Commons only makes a small subset of these available. If you need a plugin that is not available on the Commons, let us know and we can evaluate and install it if it meets our standards and does not closely replicate a plugin we already have.



Tips and Tweaks for WordPress Sites

Okay, you’ve created your site, and things are looking good. People are giving you the nod, but you’re wondering – did I get it all right? Did I miss some opportunities to connect up with my audience? How can I catapult my good site to a great site?

Join WordPress Help!

WordPress Help! is a public group on the Commons where you can post issues and find help from the Commons community.

Random Ideas To Improve Your Site

Twitter, Facebook, Google+, …

  • Set up social media accounts for your site. Configure so that your new content is automatically posted to them. (See Twitter Tools plugin, Facebook)
  • Add a “Follow us” section (maybe in the sidebar or footer) to display your site’s social presence. Each icon links to your home page on the respective social media site. Check out Subscription Options plugin for this or practice some HTML skills using the “Text” widget.
  • Be active on the social media sites you select. Re-direct interest back to your site by linking to cool content – events, posts, comments, etc.
  • Consider using the Twitter Mentions as Comments plugin to harvest tweets that mention your content, and post them as comments on your site.
  • Synchronize your brand – have a consistent logo on your site and your social media home pages.

RSS (outgoing)

  • If appropriate, ensure that you have a “Subscribe To RSS” icon or hyperlink. This lets users quickly add your RSS feed to their reader list.
  • Use Feedburner to “burn” your RSS feeds, get statistics, and track activity.
  • Check out Subscription Options or Subscribe2 plugins to manage your subscriptions.
  • Use Feedburner’s code snippet in your sidebar to give your readers a “Notify by Email” link, which they can use to receive new content when it is posted.

RSS (incoming)

Is there any dynamic content from other sites you would like to incorporate into your site? You can place RSS feeds in your sidebar, your pages, or into your blog stream.

  • Check out how you can add RSS feeds to your sidebars and pages.
  • Syndication – check out how the FeedWordPress plugin lets you add external RSS content directly into your blog post stream.

Be Sociable

Use the social “Sharing” plugin on JetPack to add social media icons to the bottom of your posts and/or pages. It is highly configurable, and makes it convenient for your readers to share your content to a wider audience.

Create Dynamic Headers

Most themes provide a fairly easy way to personalize their header image. But you might want your header image to be dynamic?

There are (at least) three approaches: (1) the header image changes each time you refresh the page (order may be random or preset); (2) the header image is specific to a certain page or post (a default image is displayed if no specific image is assigned); and (3), your home page has a “slider” that displays a rotating set of images that advertise and link to your content.

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Dynamic Header images – check out themes that can be configured to display a different image in the header each time you refresh the screen (usually can be set to ordered or random).
  2. Install the EasyRotator for WordPress plugin, and add any number of distinct sliders in your pages and posts.
  3. Specific Images for Pages and Posts – themes that do this will often use the “Featured Image” option in the dashboard – if this is not entered, a default image will be used.
  4. Sliders – some themes let you create and design slides. Other themes select posts that are specifically categorized to appear in the slider, and provide a way to attach an image. Most provide settings for size, duration, image fade or slide, etc. You can also use plugins that provide slider functionality.

Other Ideas for Dynamic Images

  • Looking to display rotating images in a page or a post (slideshows, galleries, etc.)? Check out the plugin called “Post video players slideshow and photo galleries” that uses a service called Cincopa.
  • The Tagline rotator plugin is available on the Commons to let you vary your header tagline each time a user refreshes the screen.

Comment Management

  • Know how to recognize (and get rid of) spam.
  • Install and configure Askimet. CUNY has a license. Read more here


Start a group on the Commons and attach your blog to it. Gives you an added dimension of group forums, Docs, etc. Create content in both pages and posts. The Commons has built in functionality that notifies members when someone posts to the group blog (or to the group forum or creates a Doc or an announcement). Members can configure how they want to be notified. For more on this see: Staying in Touch with your Group.

Pages & Posts

  • Put static content in pages, timely content in posts.
  • Figure out your site: is it a blog, a website, or a website with a blog? If it serves a dual purpose, think about ways to both separate and integrate “Site” and “Blog” content.
  • Use categories and tags to organize content and make it easily retrievable.
  • Use WordPress’ built in Menu to organize your site’s navigation. You can find this in the dashboard under Appearance>>Menu.


  • Add users to your blog. Manage their permission levels. Invite guest bloggers to post interviews, thoughts, reviews…

Book Jackets and Metadata Links

  • Use the OpenBook plugin to embed book jackets from Open Library, and their metadata. Good if you’re reviewing a book, including it in a syllabus, or just want to talk about its author.

Analyze Your Audience

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Are you doing enough to ensure your content is found by search engines? See a great post recently published in the Emerging Tech in Libraries site on the Commons called Gentle SEO Reminders that covers some of the basics. Install the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin.

Consider using Responsive Themes

We now have responsive themes on the Commons. (To find our responsive themes, go to “Appearances >> Themes” on your blog dashboard and search our installed themes for “responsive.”) Responsive themes make your content look great on different size devices. A majority of themes now available on the Commons are responsive. We recently did a big cleanup to modernize our selection.

Popular Plugins Available on the Commons

  • Wiki Inc – add wiki content into your posts or pages
  • FeedWordPress – get syndicated content (RSS feeds) from external sources and integrate it into your blog stream
  • Page Links To – a convenient plugin to redirect pages and posts to different URL.
  • Twitter Tools – great tool to use for establishing a Twitter presence on your site, or simply embedding a specific Twitter feed.
  • OpenBook – Writing about a book or an author? Creating an online syllabus? Embed the book jacket and publishing metadata from Open Library.
  • Google Maps Embed – quick way to add a map to your post or page. Great for showing your readers where an event or meeting will take place.
  • Leaflet Maps Marker – a neat mapping plugin that lets you easily pin, annotate, organize, and share locations using maps from Google, Bing, and OpenStreetMap. An alternative to Google Maps Embed.
  • Subscription Options – Adds subscription option icons for RSS, Email, Twitter and Facebook page.
  • Subscribe2 – helps manage the way you communicate with your subscribers
  • Simpler IPaper – Neat plugin that lets you embed documents, spreadsheets, PDFs, etc. into your posts and pages
  • JetPack’s Embed Shortcodes – an alternative to Simplier IPaper that makes Scribd documents readable on IPads – no Adobe Flash needed. Many other shortcodes available.
  • WP-RSS-Import – Want to include an RSS feed in the text of one of your posts or pages? This highly configurable plugin lets you decide how much (if any) of the feed content to excerpt. Shortcodes make it easy to use.
  • Super RSS Reader – a widget to display RSS and Twitter feeds. Has an optional news ticker animation that can display several pages of feeds, with configurable refresh rates.
  • Category Posts – This plugin creates a useful sidebar widget that displays the posts in one category. Lots of configuration options, including excerpt length, thumbnail size, etc.
  • List Category Posts – If you like the Category Posts plugin (above), you’ll love this one. It allows you to add content from your categories into a page or post, as well as into a sidebar. Easy to use shortcodes let you determine what you want to extract from your list of category posts.
  • Google Analytics – Find detailed statistics about who is accessing your site. This is a site-side plugin, running for all blogs on the Commons. Follow instructions in the link to have your stats emailed to you. For Advanced Users, see this page.
  • JetPack Stats, Google Analytics, StatPress Visitors – These plugins provide powerful ways to collect and display statistics
  • News Announcement Scroll – If appropriate, highlight news on your site with a vertical scroll, either in your sidebar, or in pages or posts,
  • Timelines – Does your site deal with historical data? Learn how to use interactive Timelines via Google docs.
  • Google Calendar Events – Display events from various Google calendars as a list or in a calendar grid. Easy to use and highly configurable way to display an event calendar on your site.
  • Google Docs Embed – If you have Google docs, presentations, spreadsheets or forms, you can embed them into pages and posts. Your site’s content will dynamically relect changes made in Google Docs.
  • Anthologize – This plugin lets you craft an anthology of your posts, complete with a title page, table of contents, and chapters. You can even grab other posts via RSS feed. The final product can be exported to your computer as a pdf, or four other digital formats. Great for bundling up resources for classes.
  • Events Manager – This plugin lets you display and manage upcoming events (seminars, lectures, conferences, etc.). Widgets and shortcodes let you create interactive calendars of events or bulletted event listings. You can even let you readers make online reservations for events you are organizing.
  • Q&A – This plugin creates an easily manageable FAQ section for your site. If you need a Question and Answer dialog, this plugin is for you.
  • Regenerate Thumbnails – will save you a massive amount of time if you want to change the dimensions of your thumbnail images.
  • Pinterest Pinboard Widget – adds Pinterest content to your sidebars from any account you choose to pull from.
  • WP Google Fonts – add more fonts to your site.
  • Twitter Mentions As Comments – harvest tweets that mention your posts and display them as comments.
  • Constant Contact – integrates with your (proprietary) Constant Contact account to provide email marketing, online event management, social campaign management, etc. (Similar to Events Manager)
  • Edit Flow – if you’re using your site to publish a journal, newsletter, periodical or research results, this plugin provides a framework to collaborate with team members.
  • WordPress SEO by Yoast – this plugin adds configurable meta tags to your content to optimize search engine hits.
  • EasyRotator for WordPress – this plugin lets you create any number of sliders and put them on individual posts, pages, or in a widgetized area. Many templates let you customize appearance. A stellar plugin!
  • NextPage Buttons – divide your content into pages so readers do not need to scroll down and lose site of your sidebar widgets
  • Page Excerpt – Create summaries for your pages. Works great with List Pages Shortcode.
  • List Pages Shortcode – Got a lot of pages? This plugin is great for managing content. You can add customized lists of your pages and optionally, excerpts.
  • WP Post to PDF – creates an icon on your posts and pages which, when clicked, downloads your content to a pdf.
  • Column Shortcodes – provides an easy way to divide your content into columns and create interesting layouts.
  • ChartBoot for WordPress – provides an easy way to add charts to your site, using data from your spreadsheets. Great way to supplement and quantify research.