McGrawCommons as a multi-media platform

Screenshot of the McGraw Commons site at

A primary focus of much of our work in the Digital Learning Lab and the Educational & Classroom Technologies group is to support the creative use of media in teaching and learning. While the Learning Lab in the Lewis Library Building provides cutting-edge equipment, computers, and software for media creation such as podcasting, audio and video editing, digitization, image manipulation and mapping, another way we support the use of media in coursework is through the McGrawCommons website platform.

This platform, based on WordPress, serves as the primary platform for the creation of course blogs. WordPress provides a stable, consistent, and easy-to-use platform for collaborative writing, knowledge construction, and publishing that can serve as a project-based focal point during the semester, but an also serve to encourage multi-modal expression. In conjunction with more traditional assignments and term papers, a course blog provides new, media-rich, frames for course content and scholarly production.

While WordPress by itself is a useful tool for collaboration, writing, and expression, the platform can be extended by the use of ‘plugins’. This means we are able to extend the functionality of the platform based on the needs of specific courses and to take advantage of the resources available at Princeton University. Below are some examples of plugins, either developed here at the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning or selected from the wide range of plugins available online, that encourage the use and manipulation of various forms of media for coursework.

Create image galleries

An often overlooked feature built into the WordPress platform is the Gallery tool. Images added to a McGrawCommons blog can be organized and presented in a tiled image gallery or as an in-page slideshow.  Images can be sequenced individually or displayed randomly.

Import images and metadata from the Princeton Art Museum

Developed during the summer 2017, this plugin ties into the online digital collections of the Princeton Art Museum, allowing you to search, select, and embed images from the collection in your course blog.

Collective tagging of images

Images and other media can be embedded in pages of your blog with a crowd-sourced tagging feature. This feature aggregates descriptive tags submitted by students and generates a tag cloud visualization.

Glossary tool

With the addition of the glossary tool to your course blog, a list of vocabulary words and definitions entered in a Google spreadsheet can automatically generate and insert pop-up tips, or glosses. The tool was developed with foreign language instruction in mind, but could be used for many different purposes.

Embed video

By default, WordPress allows you to upload videos or to easily embed videos from YouTube, Vimeo, Hulu, and many other websites.  Functionality has been added to allows for the embedding of video from Princeton’s own Kaltura media server and Video-On-Demand service.

Video clipping

Video embedded from the Kaltura streaming media platform can also be referenced with start and end timecodes, allowing you to display just a portion of the video.

Embed audio

Audio files can be uploaded directly into blog posts. Blogs can showcase student-produced podcasts or audio documentaries.

Annotate video

The video commenter plug-in, developed here at the McGraw center, allows comments to be assiciated with specific times in a video. When a comment is added to the page, the current position of the video playback is stored with the comment, allowing one to bookmark that point in the video.

Create zoomable images

Using a plugin developed at the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, large images can be presented in a ‘zoomable’ window allowing users to focus in on details in the image.


Text authored on McGrawCommons can also include footnotes. Footnotes can contain links, images, audio clips, and video.

Create a network of annotations

Using our annotator plugin, students can annotate posts with other posts, creating a network of linked annotations.  The annotations can then be exported as a spreadsheet or as a network graph for further analysis.

Annotate a reading

AnnotationSpace centers the website activity on extended annotations of texts.  Student responses to readings take the form of blog posts, allowing greater flexibility than the built-in footnotes tool. On the website, posts are linked to from the spine text and displayed side-by-side with the text proving a convenient and attractive annotated reader.

Associate geographical coordinates with blog posts and illustrate your blog with maps

The wpGeo plugin adds a Google Map to the editing interface for each post, allowing students to designate a geographical location with their writing. A map is then embedded in the post. Cumulative maps containing all locations or all locations associated with some category of posts can also be included on your site.

Add Dublin-core metadata

The Dublin Core Metadata extension adds common cataloging fields from the Dublin Core to the post editing interface.

Import citations from Zotero

With Zotpress, collections of bibliographic citations can be imported from your online Zotero library or from a group Zotero collection.

Juxtapose any two posts

A juxtaposition theme, developed by the McGraw Center, showcases featured images in posts and allows users to select posts for side-by-side display.

These ‘plugins’ cover a lot of ground, but are all focused on moving a course blog beyond a text-only medium. If you would like to learn more about any of these plugins, or would like to propose a new use for media in your teaching, feel free to contact us in the Digital Learning Lab in the lower level of the Lewis Library Building or by writing to

Posted by September 14, 2017