Part 4: Sites

Welcome to part 4! You’ve already covered profiles, networking, and CORE deposits, and this part introduces another great feature.

Our fourth challenge is all about MSU Commons sites. In order to accomplish this challenge, you will need to create your own site on MSU Commons. Since building a site is a pretty tall order, I’ve divided the full work of creating a site between this challenge and Challenge #5. For now, all you need to do is build the site and design its look. In the next challenge, you will add, or at least begin to add, the content.

So, for Challenge #4, you will need to:

  1. Decide what type of site you want to build.
  2. Create and claim your site’s domain.
  3. Design your new site’s appearance.

If you already have a MSU Commons site, you can still participate! You can either create a new site (there is no limit to how many you can make) or take the time to spruce up your extant MSU Commons site.

What type of site should you build?

There are many different possible types of MSU Commons sites. Similar sites can be found on Humanities Commons, where users have been really creative in their ability to design their sites to fit their present needs. Below, we’ve included a list of different types of Humanities Commons sites along with a few examples of each. This, however, is nowhere near an exhaustive list. Basically, if you can dream it, you can build it. In deciding which type of site would best suit you at this present moment, consider what you’d like the site to accomplish. Are you currently working on a task that a website would make easier? Do you have a project, document, or event that you’d like to share with a broader audience? Would your upcoming course benefit from the addition of a digital meeting-space?

Non-Exhaustive List of MSU Commons Site Genres


  • Blog A blog can provide a space for you to keep track of your reading, work out future article or book ideas, keep track of an idea or a subject of interest over time, reflect on your teaching, and so much more. The benefits of a blog not only rest in their function as a journal, but they can also provide visitors with a greater sense of your passions and interests as an academic and/or educator. Since MSU Commons sites are connected to your MSU Commons profile, your professional information will be tied directly to the thoughts you post on your blog.

Example Blogs:


  • Personal Site You might want to create a personal site if you have more information and media that you’d like to share, but that doesn’t fit on your MSU Commons profile page. Users have created personal sites that include links to their publications, video and audio files of interviews and podcasts on which they were featured, and PDFs of syllabi, among others. You will notice that many of the personal sites on this list and the blogs from the list above include a mix of features from both genres. This is a great way to ensure that your blog is a part of your professional image.

Example Personal Sites:


  • Digital Journal So far, we’ve only come across one digital journal (The Sheffield Gender History Journal) on MSU Commons, however, it seems really successful. This digital journal provides a space for graduate students and professors from the University of Sheffield to publish short articles for the public to access, as well as to build a sense of community across disciplines within their university.

Digital Journal Example:


  • Course Site If you’re teaching a course in the future, you may want to consider building a site for your course. Users who have created course sites on the Commons have used it as a space for the syllabus, worksheets, and readings to be located. Because anyone with a WordPress account can comment on MSU Commons sites, it is also easy to have students comment and respond to posts on your course site. To learn more about how the American literature course site listed below was used, check out the interview with the site’s creator.

Example Course Sites:


  • Event Site Are you chairing a panel or organizing a scholarly event in the future? You can make a site for that! MSU Commons sites not only can help you to advertise your upcoming event, but it also can help you to archive the event afterwards. Users have used these sites to post CFPs for conferences, to share abstracts for panels, and to archive conference papers. Users have also used Commons sites when hosting virtual and in-person workshops so that vital information, tools, and lessons can be posted for all workshop attendees and non-attendees to see, both during and after the workshop. This is a great way to make the discussions and ideas shared at your event accessible to more people.

Example Event Sites:


  • Digital Project Site If you are working on or completed a digital project, MSU Commons sites are a great place to house it. Again, because MSU Commons sites are directly connected to your MSU Commons profile, this allows your digital work to become a more visible part of your professional identity. MSU Commons sites are also great to use for digital projects because multiple users can ‘own’ and work on it. MSU Commons sites allows for the use of a number of different plug-ins (we will cover these in our upcoming mini-challenge). The commentpress theme+plugin allows visitors of your site to comment at the paragraph level on a work in progress.

Example Digital Project Sites:


  • Digital Anthology If you teach or study literature that is old enough to be considered free-use, creating a digital anthology is a great option. One of the anthologies below was used in a course on early American literature in lieu of a traditional textbook. By creating an anthology for your class on a MSU Commons site, you free your students from the burden of paying for and carrying around a bulky printed anthology.

Digital Anthology Examples:


Claiming a Domain and Establishing Your Site on MSU Commons

To create a MSU Commons site, first click the “Sites” tab located on the left-hand menu below the MSU Commons logo.


Click the “Sites” option from the left-hand menu

Once on the Sites page, select the “Create a Site” link on the top right of the screen.

Choose “Create A Site.”

This should take you to a form which you must fill out in order to create your site. The very first section of this form asks you to create your site’s domain.

The “Create a Site” form

Designing Your Site’s Appearance

Once you’ve finished claiming a domain and establishing your site, you will be presented with a link to your site. Click on the link to get started.

Click on your site’s link.

Click “Customize” on the top left of your site’s homepage to begin designing your site’s look.

Click on “Customize”
The customization menu

The first thing you should do is decide on your site’s theme.  Click the “Change” button on the customization menu. This will allow you to see all twenty-seven themes that you can choose from. I recommend trying out a bunch of different themes before deciding on one.

The various theme options on HC sites

To decide on a theme for your site, click the “Live Preview” button next to the theme of your choice. This will give you the opportunity to view your site using this theme. It will also let you see the different options that each theme gives you. For example, some themes have a banner image, while others don’t. In deciding which theme works best for your site, consider your site’s purpose. How will its information be best organized? Who is the target audience for your site? Which theme works best to deliver information to this group? Should the site be more visual or more textual?

A theme preview

Once you’ve chosen a theme, make sure to click the “Publish” button at the top of the customization menu. This will save your changes and make them live for any visitors of your site. After that, go through the other customization options to further manage your site’s appearance. After any changes, make sure you hit “Publish” so that your work is saved.

To leave the customization window, click the “X” on the top left of the customization menu. This will bring you back to the normal view of your site. If you want to create multiple pages and a menu for your site, you will need to find the “Site Admin” link. This should be somewhere on your site’s homepage, usually on the right-hand side near the bottom. By clicking that, you will be taken to the administration page for your site.

Choose “Site Admin” to continue working on your site’s look

Once there, click the “Pages” link on the left-hand menu, then click the “Add New” button at the top of the pages page. For now, just write the title of your page in the text box marked “Title,” then click “Publish.” Keep repeating these steps as many times as you need until you have all the pages you’d like for your site. For the course site I’m creating for this challenge, I built three pages: “Home,” “Readings,” and “Syllabus,” while my personal site has five: “Home,” “Blog,” “Conferences,” “Publications,” and “Contact.” Consider how best to organize your site based on the type of site you’re building, your audience, and personal preference.

Once you’ve created some pages, hover your pointer over the “Appearance” tab on the left-hand menu and select “Menus” from the options that appear. On the Menus page, you can select which pages you’d like to include on your site’s menu, as well as the order in which they appear. Once you’re satisfied with your menu, click “Save Menu.”

Choose “Menus” from the Appearance menu
Select the pages you’d like to include on your menu
My menu now appears just below my site’s header

Of course, there is a lot more you can do to make your site look perfect- I’m sure you noticed how many buttons and menus there are on the customization and administration pages! For this post, I just wanted to highlight a few basic actions you can take to make your site look clean, professional, and organized. Feel free to play around and explore the many other tools and options available to you. If you discover anything really neat, please share it with the group!

Share your completed challenge

Once you’ve completed this challenge, share a link to your site with the group, we want to see your brilliant creations! Tell the group about your challenges and discoveries, as well as your plans for your newly created (or recently updated) site.

If you’re on Twitter, please share your completed work using the #MSUCommons hashtag. Check out your colleagues’ work as you complete this challenge for inspiration!

If you have any questions or if you run into any issues as you complete this challenge, fear not! Your MSU Commons team is here to help. You can post your question/concern as a new discussion thread in the MSU Commons Getting Started group.