Commons In A Box (CBOX) is a free open source software project that enables organizations around the world to create vibrant online community spaces. Built using the WordPress publishing platform, with BuddyPress for social networking, CBOX is available in two packages: CBOX Classic, which is modeled on the CUNY Academic Commons and is designed for communities of all kinds, and CBOX OpenLab, which is specifically designed for teaching and learning.
Visit Home for more information about the project.
CBOX OpenLab is a newly-released Commons In A Box (CBOX) package specifically designed for teaching, learning, and collaboration, using features and functionality from The OpenLab at City Tech, and incorporating software developed by digital humanities practitioners. It provides a powerful and flexible open alternative to costly proprietary educational platforms, allowing faculty members, departments, and entire institutions to create commons spaces for open learning.
See the Overview for more information about CBOX OpenLab.
CBOX OpenLab is designed to support collaboration and communication among students, faculty, and staff. This can be at any scale, from an individual faculty member working with students, to an entire institution.
As you can see from City Tech’s OpenLab, while CBOX OpenLab’s primary focus is on teaching and learning, it can be used in many other ways: for building open educational resources, managing departmental and college-wide initiatives, coordinating student internships, creating professional portfolios, supporting faculty interest groups and student clubs, and much more.
Take a look at our tour to find out more about CBOX OpenLab’s features and functionality, and see how you might use them.
CBOX OpenLab is a powerful, flexible, free software platform specifically designed for teaching, learning, and collaboration. Unlike closed, proprietary educational systems that allow their users only limited control, CBOX OpenLab empowers members to create and customize vibrant, attractive spaces where students, faculty, and staff can share their work with one another and the world.
Openness brings important benefits to the learning process: students begin to write not just for their own teachers, but also for a wider public, and can share their work with friends, family, and potential employers; faculty can create best practices and open educational resources; staff can gain insight into the classroom and coordinate initiatives; members of all kinds can work together across institutional boundaries; colleges can make their work visible to potential students, external partners, alumni, and the world.
While CBOX OpenLab emphasizes openness, it also provides robust features that protect member privacy (see question below) and, unlike commercial social media platforms, does not seek to monetize user data.
From a technical perspective, CBOX OpenLab simplifies the complex task of creating and maintaining an education-focused WordPress and BuddyPress installation. By adopting open source software, CBOX OpenLab users benefit from the contributions of others in the WordPress community, and can collaborate with other projects around the world, sharing ideas and innovations, and reducing the cost of implementing new features and functionality.
CBOX OpenLab is brand new! It is based on software developed for City Tech’s OpenLab, which has been used by more than 26,000 students, faculty, and staff since its launch in Fall 2011. Visit the OpenLab to see it in action and learn more about the project.
As people start using CBOX OpenLab we will update the showcase to share their work. Contact Project Director Matthew K. Gold (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Associate Project Director Charlie Edwards (email@example.com) if you would like us to highlight your project there.
While CBOX OpenLab is easy to install and configure, familiarity with WordPress, including WordPress Multisite will be needed. Your team should include someone who is comfortable administering a WordPress Multisite installation; evaluating, installing, configuring, and upgrading plugins and themes; and addressing issues and software bugs raised by members.
CBOX OpenLab requires a WordPress Multisite installation, which will need to be hosted on a server (WordPress.com cannot be used); a systems administrator will need to manage the server, set up and monitor backups, and resolve technical issues. Your IT department or an external hosting company may be able to provide these services. See the Technical Guide for more information on server requirements and recommendations.
You will also need to provide support to members who have questions about using the site. Ideally, support personnel will not only be familiar with WordPress and CBOX OpenLab functionality, but will also have expertise in digital pedagogy, and be able to provide training and guidance for students, faculty, and staff using the platform.
And of course you will need to manage the project, provide leadership for digital pedagogy and community-building, and direct the technical aspects. For smaller projects, one person may be able to take on these functions; for larger initiatives, additional management team members may be required, along with administrative support.
CBOX OpenLab is designed to be very customizable, minimizing the need for software development – see Customizing CBOX OpenLab for details. However, if you wish to make additional customizations, you will need assistance from a developer specializing in WordPress or BuddyPress; user experience and design expertise may also be needed. Our Developer Support Forum is a good place to find help. Want to customize CBOX OpenLab? Let us know – we may be able to partner so that your work can benefit other CBOX OpenLab users.
However, depending on how many people will be using the proposed CBOX OpenLab site, and your institutional context, there may be additional project costs. For instance, if your institution cannot provide hosting or systems administration support for your site, you may need to explore external hosting and site management options (see the Technical Guide for more information). You may also need to recruit personnel with the expertise described above, if they are not already available in-house.
We provide ongoing maintenance and support for the CBOX OpenLab software via our Support Forum – if you have a question or suggestion, or find a bug, please contact us there. Regular software updates are provided throughout the year. We are also happy to consult with you if your organization is considering adopting CBOX OpenLab.
CBOX Classic is designed for use by communities of all kinds, while CBOX OpenLab is specifically designed to support communities at educational institutions. This results in some important differences in the underlying architecture of the two packages, such as:
- CBOX OpenLab introduces the concept of Group Types. CBOX OpenLab comes with a set of default Group Types (Course, Project, Club, and Portfolio) that we believe will be useful for educational communities, but these may be customized as needed by the site administrator.
- CBOX OpenLab introduces the use of Member Types. Again, CBOX OpenLab comes with a set of default Member Types (Students, Faculty, Staff, Alumni) that can be customized as needed.
- CBOX OpenLab includes the ability to define Academic Units (Schools, Departments, and so on) as applicable for the institution.
- CBOX OpenLab includes directories for each Group Type. In order for these directories to function correctly, each individual site in the community must be associated with a group (groups and sites can exist independently in CBOX Classic).
- CBOX OpenLab requires the use of the CBOX OpenLab theme and WordPress Multisite; CBOX Classic can be used with CBOX Classic theme or without it, and WordPress Multisite is optional.
The goal of these features is to enable the administrator to set up a site that is organized in a way that reflects the needs of a particular educational community, and is thus easier for site members to understand and navigate.
In addition, CBOX OpenLab integrates tools (plugins) created by digital humanities practitioners, including Braille, Anthologize, and PressForward, along with features designed for faculty and students, such as the ability to grade and leave private comments on individual site posts (WP Grade Comments). See the Plugins section of our documentation for more details.
For more information about the functionality of CBOX OpenLab, please read our documentation.
CBOX OpenLab is a comprehensive package that will have a significant impact on the appearance and functionality of an existing site; it is best implemented on a new WordPress Multisite installation. However, if you wish to add CBOX OpenLab to an already-existing WordPress, WordPress Multisite, BuddyPress, or CBOX Classic installation, this can be done; please consult the Installation section of our Technical Guide for more information.
You can find information about system and software requirements in our Technical Guide.
While CBOX OpenLab is designed to encourage openness and sharing, it also provides robust privacy settings that enable members to control what they share and with whom:
- Members can choose how they identify themselves publicly via their username and display name, which may be pseudonymous (while the site requests an email address during sign-up, this is only made available to administrators). This ability for members to choose how they self-identify in public spaces is essential for privacy, security, and many other reasons.
- Members can choose how much or how little information about themselves they wish to share on their profile.
- Groups can be public, private, or hidden, and the sites associated with groups can have a range of privacy settings from fully public to completely inaccessible.
- The privacy settings for groups and their associated sites can be different – for instance, a class can hold private discussions via the group home page but share their work publicly via the site.
- Individual posts and pages on group sites can be public, password-protected, or private; site administrators can also enable the WP Grade Comments plugin, which enables grades and associated comments to be shared privately.
Guidance for managing spam in CBOX installations is provided in the Technical Guide . The Akismet plugin (https://wordpress.org/plugins/akismet/), which is included with WordPress, helps to protect individual member sites within your CBOX OpenLab community, and members can control the ability of others to post comments on their sites too.
It’s also helpful to provide guidance to members of your CBOX OpenLab community about appropriate uses of the platform. See the City Tech OpenLab’s Best Practices for an example of how you might do this.
Guidance on managing member registration for CBOX installations is provided in the Technical Guide. Additionally, CBOX OpenLab site administrators can control access by limiting member registrations to one or more email domains and/or through use of access codes – see the documentation for detailed instructions.
Single sign-on integration is also possible; see the Technical Guide for more information.
Our goal is to ensure that CBOX OpenLab is accessible for all users by complying with WCAG 2.0 accessibility standard level AAA. CBOX OpenLab includes features specifically designed to promote accessibility:
- Zoom: CBOX OpenLab functions well in an enlarged or “zoomed in” state. When zoom is maximized, CBOX OpenLab switches to a mobile layout. CBOX OpenLab can be zoomed in and out as needed without causing functionality issues from the transitions.
- Contrast: We seek to attain at least a contrast ratio of 7:1 for normal text and 4.5:1 for large text to correspond to the WCAG level AAA recommendation for foreground and background colors. CBOX OpenLab avoids using color as the sole method of conveying information.
- Moving areas and animations: CBOX OpenLab does not contain videos or animations that autoplay. There is a slider on the homepage, but it can be overridden using the “tab” key to view a static version.
- Skip Links: Users can hit the “tab” key on any page to skip to the admin bar to log in, check messages, or to skip to the main content on the page.
- Tab navigation: CBOX OpenLab follows the visual order of the page. The user can combine visual and keyboard navigation without jumping around the page unexpectedly.
- Keyboard navigation: Search and Admin Bar can be used with a keyboard navigation.
- Screen Reader Accessibility: The Homepage Slider can be advanced with the tab key so that the user does not have to listen to all of the slides to continue. Buttons are labeled to make sense when read aloud. Icons are hidden from screen readers so that the name of the icon is not read aloud. If the action of a button or link is not clear from its label, additional information is included for screen readers. Images are labeled clearly for screen readers. Hierarchy of headings on a page communicates information.
Commons In A Box is built using WordPress and other software created by the WordPress community, which is committed to being as inclusive and accessible as possible; see WordPress’s accessibility statement for more information.
Some features and functionality currently in development may not yet fully comply.
The WordPress block editor (also known as Gutenberg) is currently the default for CBOX OpenLab, and has been the default WordPress editor since version 5.0 was released in December 2018.
While the block editor’s accessibility continues to improve over time, there have been a number of concerns raised, including those discussed in the results of the WPCampus Accessibility Audit, released in May 2019.
We recognize that each CBOX OpenLab community may want to take a different approach to the implementation of the block editor. As such, CBOX OpenLab admins can install the Classic Editor plugin, which allows for a number of different options. These include the option to use the classic editor as the default but allow members to choose which editor to use on a per-site and per-post basis, or to make the block editor the default and allow members to choose their preferred editor on a per-site and per-post basis. CBOX OpenLab Admins can install the Classic Editor plugin in Dashboard > Network Admin > Plugins.
Find an accessibility issue? Please report it to us via the CBOX OpenLab Support Forum.
Note that it’s important to educate members of your CBOX OpenLab community about their responsibility to ensure that their work is accessible for others. See this help post on City Tech’s OpenLab for an example of how you might do this.
If you are an individual faculty member at a CUNY campus that does not already have an open platform for teaching and learning, you are very welcome to use the CUNY Academic Commons for your courses. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you need help or support with the CUNY Academic Commons.
If you know of others at your institution who are interested in launching an open digital platform using CBOX OpenLab, please contact Project Director Matthew K. Gold (email@example.com) and Associate Project Director Charlie Edwards (firstname.lastname@example.org). We will be delighted to talk with you about the best way to proceed.