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Creating Program Websites on the CUNY Academic Commons

The CUNY Academic Commons is one of several options students, faculty and administrators have for creating fully customized websites to represent their program on the web. Often the Commons offers more flexibility and control than the official Graduate Center website platform and so may be a good choice for some programs which wish to host additional content such as resources for students or information on upcoming events.

The guide below details questions to consider when planning and building a Commons site for a program at the Graduate Center, CUNY.

Table of Contents

  1. Identify the Site’s Stakeholders
  2. Initial Planning
  3. Choosing a WordPress Theme
  4. Organizing your Site: Post Categories
  5. Choosing Plugins
  6. Choosing Widgits
  7. Integrating Social Meida
  8. Trouble Shooting with Redmine

Identify the Site’s Stakeholders

Before beginning to plan a program website, it’s crucial that the appropriate stake holders be identified. Check with your program’s Executive Officer (EO) to identify students, administrators or faculty who should be involved in the process. These stakeholders will give input not only on the design of the site  but will help determine realistic ways to maintain the site as well.

Initial Planning

When making a Commons website for a specific program, it is important to start by mapping out your intended purpose or intent for the site, as well as some of the core functionality that are your “non-negotiables”. This will help guide many of your initial decisions in choosing a theme, etc., and hopefully prevent you from going through multiple theme changes, which may involve extensive work in re-building menus and other structural elements. It will also help you to explain the core social and technological functions your site will provide to users and/or administration that wonder “what the point of the website” is. The following list is a series of questions or points to consider as you begin planning:

  1. What is general service or function you wish the website to provide to the users?
  2. What will set the Commons site apart from the official Kentico Program websites? What will the Commons site offer to users that the Kentico website does not? And how can you create a flow of traffic between the two websites, so they work in harmony with one another instead of competing?
  3. What is your desired ratio of user generated content versus administrator generated content? If you desire a website where it is easy for users to create posts and interact with one another on the site, then you need to find a theme conducive to that and easy for users to learn (ie. NOT Oxygen).
  4. Think about your basic menu structure – do you want more than one menu, and if so, do you have a preference for horizontal versus vertical menus? Not every theme allows for endless amounts of menus, and many have menue limitations based on their layout (ie. it is impossible to have a vertical menu on the left side, or something to that effect).
  5. Do you want a calendar on the website, and what kind of features do you want the calendar to have? Do you want it to connect to Google calendar? Do you want the ability to have people reserve tickets and/or sign up for events through the calendar? Once you have a few themes in mind, check to see how they interact with the calendar plugins, as some themes have funny layout quirks that conflict with the calendar layout, and others have PHP libraries that conflict with the the theme library and can cause problems. It is best to discover these conflicts before you input a batch of events!
  6. Looks matter – and sometimes a desired aesthetic feature is much easier to implement in one theme over another. Do you want a front page slider? Do you want a specific layout structure? Do you want a specific color scheme? And can you achieve these desired aesthetic features in your chosen theme?
  7. What do you want people to see as your “Home” page? What kind of information do you want displayed? If you want recent posts displayed, make sure the theme allows for that on the front page.
  8. How much image manipulation are you willing to do in order to achieve a certain look? Some themes are more high maintenance in this area than others.

Choosing a WordPress Theme

Twenty Eleven

Twenty Eleven is the “classic” wordpress blog theme; its fairly standard blog-style, but still clean and elegant, front page has been one of the default themes on wordpress for many years now. For pages that do not need a built in picture slider, but instead prefer a static header image that embeds nicely into the top of the page (below the title and above the main menu items), Twenty Eleven is a user-friendly option.

Pros

Simple and easy to use.  With the custom menu, custom header, and custom background you can very quickly create a nice looking site with minimum hassle or surprises.  There is a widget sidebar menu, as well as 3 widget footer menus and a “showcase sidebar menu” that allows you to put both static and dynamic content on your front page.  Twenty Eleven works well with events manager plugin, jetpack plugins like twitter timeline and facebook likebox, and also combines well with the cincopa gallery plugin to embed picture slideshows into posts and sidebars.

Cons

As unique as you make the site with a custom picture in the header and brilliant color scheme, this theme will always have the classic blog feel.  With no built in picture slider, you must look elsewhere (such as the cincopa gallery plugin) to have rotating pictures on your site.

Organizing Your Site: Post Categories

You can create categories for posts, and this can help you funnel, divide and organize posts. When constructing menus, you can link a post category directly to a menu title. Since posts can belong to more than one category, this will allow you to automatically send a post to more than one place on your website.

Choosing Plugins

The Commons has a plethora of plugins available for you to use, and these plugins are your secret weapon in executing impressive and useful functionality on your website even if you are not a coding genius. The people who have created the plugin have done the coding for you – and it is your job to plug everything in correctly. The following table lists some of the favorite, most useful, and most powerful plugins available to you that the Social Media Fellows have found to be our “core” plugins. The chart lays out the main use of these plugins, as well as any pros or cons we discovered when using them.

Plugin: Function: Pros: Cons:

Events Manager

A calendar and events plugin Has great flexibility, allowing events to be categorized and colour coded. It also allows for ticketing and reservations to be set up for an event. Multiple calendars can also be created. it plays well with many themes. It is not integrate with google calendar. You cannot create hovering descriptions of events.

Jetpack by WordPress

A very powerful plugin that gives you a lot of different functionality. It allows you to add images to side bars, imbed social media feeds and track clicks/shares, allows you to have blog subscribers, administrative push notifications, and provides mobile optimization, among many other things. There are so many things you can do with Jetpack, it really is worth installing and playing with. We have not found any cons or conflicts with the plugin.

WordPress SEO

The first true all-in-one SEO solution for WordPress, including on-page content analysis, XML sitemaps and much more. Opens up all kinds of possibilities to boost your search engine rankings, and modify meta data to specifically build and optimize your XML site map.

Contact Form 7

Allows you to create forms that users can fill out without being signed in or registered users of the Commons Can be used as a contact form, an information submission form, or any page where you want people to fill in a field and submit the info to the administrator. Click HERE for an example.

Really Simple CAPTCHA

Allows you to insert a Captcha into a contact form This helps prevent spamming in the contact forms People tend to hate Captcha’s….but then again, they hate email spam more!

Email Address Encoder

Encodes email addresses to help prevent spamming This also helps prevent trolls from picking up email addresses listed on your page, ultimately helping to avoid posted email addresses from getting spammed.

Page Links To

Allows you to create a post or page that links directly to a completely different URL. This plugin can be helpful in making certain things link to external websites. (For example, if you want a slider image and post to link to an external website)

Add Link Widget

Allows you to Add a sidebar widget to submit links to blogroll

Choosing Widgets

Activating plugins will often activate new widget possibilities. Widgets allow you greater control over exactly how things are organized in the different geographical areas of the page. They also are the main way you can link up or embed external things into your site (such as a twitter feed.) Below is a chart of useful widgets to look out for:

Widget: Function: Notes:

Image (Jetpack)

This widget will allow you to place an image in a specific area, and link that image to a URL.

Twitter Timeline (Jetpack)

This widget allows you to embed a Twitter feed into your page.

Events: Events

This widget is associated with Events Manager, and allows you to embed a list of upcoming events in a sidebar of the main page. You can use CSS to adjust the way in which the dates and times are displayed.

Integrating Social Media

Once you have installed the Jetpack plugin, you can link your twitter feed and other various social media platforms to your Commons site (such as integrating a twitter feed into a side bar). You can also add buttons to the bottom of posts and pages that allow people to easily share the page or post on their own social media accounts.

Troubleshooting with Redmine

Redmine, http://redmine.gc.cuny.edu/projects/cunyac, is a support system for problems and questions about the Commons, a place to submit requests for new features, and a resource for resolving issues on your own.

You can use Remine if you are experiencing problems with a theme, bug, feature, or any element of the Commons site or if you would like to suggest adding access to a theme, plugin, etc.

To use Redmine, go here: http://redmine.gc.cuny.edu/projects/cunyac. Search the topics (under Issues) by looking through threads about specific issues, or create a ticket to address a specific problem you are having. Look under documents for some common definitions used on Redmine.

Create an account by going to Register in the top right side. Once you get the confirmation email, click the link to confirm your account and login for the first time.

Under My Page, you will see two categories: Issues assigned to me & Reported Issues. At http://redmine.gc.cuny.edu/documents/101 you can find summaries of “ticket” types and examples of problems people submit tickets for at Redmine.

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