CUNY Team Launches Open Digital Platform for Learning and Collaboration

Commons In A Box OpenLab: a commons for open learning

The Commons In A Box team, based at The Graduate Center, CUNY (GC), has partnered with the OpenLab at New York City College of Technology, CUNY (City Tech) to create Commons In A Box OpenLab (CBOX OpenLab), a free software platform for teaching, learning, and collaboration.

Today’s public release of CBOX OpenLab is the culmination of a two-year project, Learning in the Public Square: An Open Platform for Humanities Education, funded in 2016 by a $324,502 Digital Humanities Implementation Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ (NEH) Office of Digital Humanities.
Commons In A Box (CBOX) has been developed by the team behind the CUNY Academic Commons, an academic social network for the 25-campus CUNY system. Built using the WordPress publishing platform, with BuddyPress for social networking, it is designed to simplify the process of creating commons spaces where members can discuss issues, collaborate, and share their work. Funded initially by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, CBOX is being used by academic institutions, scholarly associations, and nonprofit organizations worldwide to foster community among their members.
City Tech’s OpenLab, which is based on the same open source technologies as CBOX, was originally created as part of a major project funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions (Title V) program. Since its launch in 2011, the OpenLab has been widely adopted at City Tech, serving almost 27,000 students, faculty, staff, and alumni to date. OpenLab members use it not only for teaching and learning but also to build open educational resources, coordinate and promote departmental and college-wide initiatives, help students navigate internships and create professional portfolios, support faculty interest groups and student clubs, and more.
Over the past two years, the project team has worked to add a new package to CBOX that is modeled on the OpenLab’s features and functionality, and incorporates software developed by digital humanities practitioners. The result, Commons In A Box OpenLab, provides a powerful and flexible open alternative to costly proprietary educational platforms, enabling faculty members, departments, and entire institutions to create commons spaces specifically designed for open learning.
As Project Director and Graduate Center Professor Matthew K. Gold (English) explains, learning in the open has important benefits for students: “They can begin to write not just for their own teachers, but also for a wider public, sharing their work with friends, family, potential employers, and fellow students.” The platform’s design aims to foster collaboration, hands-on experimentation, and creativity, as in a lab. Gold notes that “recent events have demonstrated how vital it is for us to have agency over the digital platforms we use in our daily lives. Educational institutions can lead the way, putting free, open-source software in the hands of our students, faculty, and staff and empowering them to create and customize vibrant, attractive spaces where they can share their work with one another and the world.”
Bonne August, City Tech’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, notes that Commons In A Box OpenLab aligns with key strategic initiatives at CUNY and beyond, including recent state-funded efforts to lower the cost of education for students by promoting the use of open educational resources. “In the past seven years, the OpenLab has become invaluable to us in so many aspects of life at City Tech, and we are just scratching the surface of its potential.” She continues, “What’s particularly exciting to me is the way it makes the life of the college visible to us and to others, opening a window into our vibrant, creative, and diverse community.”
Gold also points to the importance of making the work of education — and especially humanities education — visible beyond the classroom walls. Kathleen Fitzpatrick, director of digital Humanities and professor of English at Michigan State University, agrees. Fitzpatrick directs Humanities Commons, a CBOX-powered network serving more than 15,000 scholars and practitioners in the humanities. “CBOX OpenLab has the potential to engage a wide range of students in open learning, which is an important part of connecting the university to its publics.” Fitzpatrick adds, “Another exciting aspect of the project is the way it connects the digital humanities with the classroom by incorporating digital humanities software plug-ins and inviting others to contribute software to the project.”
Commons In A Box OpenLab will help institutions move towards public, open pedagogy that brings the work of higher education into more direct contact with larger publics. Pioneered at CUNY but now available for anyone interested in creating open environments for teaching and learning, CBOX OpenLab is poised to connect classrooms to each other and to the world.
For more information, please visit or contact Matthew K. Gold at

About The Graduate Center of The City University of New York
The Graduate Center of The City University of New York (CUNY) is a leader in public graduate education devoted to enhancing the public good through pioneering research, serious learning, and reasoned debate. The Graduate Center offers ambitious students more than 40 doctoral and master’s programs of the highest caliber, taught by top faculty from throughout CUNY — the nation’s largest public urban university. Through its nearly 40 centers, institutes, and initiatives, including its Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC), The Graduate Center influences public policy and discourse and shapes innovation. The Graduate Center’s extensive public programs make it a home for culture and conversation.

Submitted on: OCT 29, 2018

Category: Faculty Activities | General GC News