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  • jarbenne 6:26 pm on August 20, 2014
    Tags: groups   

    Groups and Blogs and Groupblogs and Courses (oh my) 

    Since the inception of the Commons, teachers have had the ability to create Groups. This additional capability had to be manually added to teacher usernames, so not everyone had it. We tried to keep up, but there were numerous teachers who probably didn’t have the ability to create groups.

    A Group on the Commons was comprised of an Activity feed (very much like the larger feed you can find under the Community link on the main page at this URL: and a Discussion Forum. You could make the Group Public (which really meant available to all members of HWDSB), Private, or Hidden, and students could request membership to groups, or join automatically, depending on that setting.

    This functionality pre-dated the availability of The HUB as a means of creating a private collaboration space for students, so in the early days of the Commons, teachers looking to migrate out of First Class took the opportunity to create Groups. Now we have The HUB, and it syncs automatically with the Student Information System so students don’t have to request membership, and teachers don’t have to manage users. The HUB has discussion forum capability too, and allows for richer tracking of student involvement within the discussion forum with analytics and user logs, along with a host of other features that make it a better space to collaborate privately with the other students in your class. We are also working with software vendors to make The HUB a single-sign-on solution for other tools. This is already the case with Voicethread, Gizmos, and tv.HWDSB.

    The activity feed in the group is another more social means of interacting with others, but without a group, this functionality can be found by using one of the many P2-style themes available in the Theme repository on the Commons (more on that later) on a Groupblog….


    This is where things got more confusing. Within the admin menu of a group, you could enable a “Groupblog”. This was a blog that had its membership tied to the group, so students who were members of the group, were automatically added to the blog as an Author or Contributor. In the past, we used this as a bridge to allow students to quickly join a blog (the ecoschools blog, and the Bulldogs literacy blog are good examples of this) — the group functionality (discussion forum and activity feed) was never used, and once students were on the blog, they didn’t visit the group again.

    Now we’ve eliminated the need for this step with the new Request Membership widget, that can be added directly to your site. Here’s a run-down of what that plugin does:

    Having a Group, and a Groupblog, also created a too-many-spaces issue:

    • Should I post on the main activity feed of the Commons?
    • Should I post to the more private activity feed of the Group?
    • Should I post in the Discussion Forum?
    • Should I post on the groupblog?

    As someone who works with teachers on creating a digital wing for their classrooms, the question of whether they should use a Group, a Blog, or a Course in The HUB comes up all the time. Again: TOO MANY SPACES.

    Due to all of these issues, we have turned off the ability to create Groups on the Commons while we re-define how they should be used. For teachers who embraced the Group functionality, I truly believe that all the functionality can be had with a blog, and then some. Check out for an example of a P2-style (that’s the type of theme that lets you post right from the front of the blog, removing the complicated nature of the Dashboard from students looking to post. Check out: P2, Responsive P2, or Mercury for P2 theme examples in the Appearance menu of your blog). On that site I’ve also enabled a Discussion forum, and a Badging functionality to give you an idea of the different options available on a blog. If you have a group, and want to migrate, reach out to the 21CL team for assistance. If you have a group, and you no longer use it (some haven’t been active for a couple of years) please help us out and delete the group. If you are looking to archive some of the content, we can help with that too.

    The Case for Blogs

    Blogs have greater privacy flexibility. Groups could not be made public, but a blog can be seen by outside collaborators. That’s the true power of the Commons, and what separates it from The HUB. A blog, whether that’s individual student blogs, or one Groupblog, can allow collaboration to happen not only with the other members of the class, but with other classrooms across the school, within the board, and around the world. That said, if you want a blog that is private just to the members of your class, that’s always an option too: you can always open up the blog once you’ve successfully covered the digital citizenship skills you feel are necessary before availing your students to a public soapbox.

    All of this is part of the evolution of the digital tools and resources available to create a digital wing of your classroom. As The HUB evolves to fit the collaboration needs of the students within the classroom, the Commons will continue to fill the more public stage required to access an authentic audience, to connect classrooms across the board together in collaborative projects, and to create windows into the classrooms at HWDSB so that parents and community can share in the awesome things happening in classrooms across the board. We know that implementing blended learning can be a daunting task, and too many tools can create confusion. I heard once that technology is all about finding the proper sized wrench to pound in a screw. Remember that the 21CL team is always available to help chose the right tools for the task, which in the end is how all good lesson design should evolve: what are you trying to do? What tool would best accomplish that task?

    Regardless of the tool you use, make this year the year you add a digital wing to your classroom. The advantages for students is far-reaching.

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  • jarbenne 2:40 pm on April 24, 2014  

    WordPress 3.9 

    We’ve updated the Commons to the latest and greatest version of WordPress. You can check out this link to see the new changes, or check out the video.

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  • jarbenne 2:15 pm on April 22, 2014  

    New Profile URL Schema 

    Previously, in order to visit another users profile manually (by typing in the URL in the browser) you needed to add the sub-directory “/members” to the URL. You can still do that, but now just adding the username at the end of the Commons URL also works ie: rather than

    Cool eh?

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  • jarbenne 11:50 am on April 18, 2014  

    Flagging Content 

    Just a few notes about flagging content:

    When you flag content, only you and the community administrators see that it has been flagged. If content is flagged twice by two separate users, an email is sent to the user (and the community admin) notifying them that something they posted on the Commons has been flagged by other members of the community.

    Please teach your students how this flagging functionality works, and explain how it can be used to ensure the Commons is a safe and caring environment for learning. You may want to also ensure that they understand that the homework you assign on your class blog probably doesn’t merit a flag ;) As one of the moderators on the site, one of the frustrating elements of this functionality is the abundance of flagging that happens on appropriate content, making the process of sifting through the reports that much more difficult.

    One of the key functions of the Commons is to provide a space where students can learn about how to manage their digital footprint in social networking spaces. As members of the “village” helping to raise the child, it is important that we remember that beyond flagging, we all have a role to mentor each other and suggest ways to contribute appropriately when we happen upon individuals still grappling with how best to contribute using the indelible ink of the internet. The directives of the 21st Century Learning and Technology Policy and its associated directives set out Standards of Behaviour for Privacy, Ownership & Authorship, and Identity, Credibility & Positive Participation that you may find helpful when having these conversations. The resources provided by CommonSenseMedia provide lesson plans for every grade level, that align with our policy (both were created based on The Good Play Project: Our Space Resource).

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  • jarbenne 7:34 pm on April 17, 2014  

    Updates and New Themes 

    Nothing like a long weekend to trigger the upgrade bug. I’ve updated the site to BuddyPress version 2.0 which should result in some much faster results when navigating the activity feed. Those nerdy enough to know what all this means can read more here:

    I’ve also added two new themes: Fictive (see post from here: and Responsive P2. Responsive P2 should be used as a replacement for any sites using P2 and experiencing difficulty navigating their site on smaller screens. This should solve the problem. Shrink your browser from the anchor in the bottom right corner on this site to see what I mean.

    As always, please report any hiccups here on the blog. Enjoy the long weekend. Go play outside. Blog about it later.

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  • jarbenne 5:24 pm on April 15, 2014

    Velocity Page 

    Editing pages on the Commons just got a whole lot easier. VelocityPage is now active across the network, giving you the ability to edit your page from the front, in a drag and drop fashion.

    Check out the two intro videos here, then go and build something beautiful:


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  • jarbenne 3:14 pm on March 28, 2014  

    Update to the Events Calendar 

    I’ve just pushed an update to the Events Calendar plugin. You’re calendars should now be “responsive”, which means it should work better on smaller screens (think: smartphone).

    Please let me know if you run into any issues.

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  • jarbenne 5:37 pm on March 25, 2014  

    Stumbling Around the Commons 

    Looking for a way to explore some of the various voices out on the HWDSB Commons. Look up in the top right hand corner for the new “Random Blog” button. Spin the wheel and see where you land. If you find a blog post, be sure to add a comment.

    Those folks who follow this blog and run their own “Commons”, we open-source all of our code over on GitHub. You can create you own Random Sites functionality on your multisite by checking it out here:

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  • jarbenne 3:55 pm on January 29, 2014
    Tags: ,   

    Statistics Update 

    One month ago the analytics service we had been using on the Commons pushed out an update that broke our stats gathering functionality. We have spent a good deal of time this month trying to sort out where the issue lies, and how we can get things back up and running. I’m making an executive decision now to throw in the towel and shift to Google Analytics as our statistics provider.

    You don’t need to do anything. Under the Dashboard menu you will notice a new Statistics link that is running Google Analytics in the background. Google is the gold standard in web analytics, so we are confident that this shouldn’t be an issue in the future. The downside is that you are now starting from scratch, so you will be able to compare your daily stats, but won’t be able to see the growth of your web presence over the past year.

    Thank you for understanding this change.

    Those of you relying on Jetpack for statistics provided by will not be affected by this change.

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  • jarbenne 7:22 pm on January 13, 2014  

    Trouble with Analytics 

    Looks like we have been having some issues tracking the traffic on the Commons since around January the First. We are actively chasing down the issue and should be back up and running shortly.

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    • yimran0639 6:41 am on January 14, 2014

      Okay. Mr.Bennet I am still having the problem with the: This is somewhat embarrasing we could not find what you are looking for. It comes up when I click View Conversation. Remember I told you about on mrjarbenne? Now also when I comment on something, then it comes on my notifications I click and it says: You are not applicable to this conversation. Luckily I find away but it is so annoying!!!
      Thanks for the help! Reply soon!

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    • jarbenne 7:24 pm on January 17, 2014

      Thanks for the report. I am looking into this @yimran0639

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