Teaching and Learning

Introducing the New Northeastern Commons

Commons Redesign
The library is happy to announce that the Northeastern Commons is relaunching with a new look. The Northeastern Commons is an online platform where Northeastern University students, faculty, staff, and the outside community can come together to share ideas, explore common interests, foster creativity, and expand interdisciplinary thinking.

Screenshot of the Northeastern Commons website

The redesign was led by Northeastern Commons Coordinator Meg McMahon, with help from Web Developer Jeanine Rodriguez and Digital Accessibility and User Experience Assistant Vanessa Lee. As a team, they re-built the platform with a user-first approach and a focus on digital accessibility of the platform.

Using a variety of methods, including stakeholder and user listening sessions, the team focused on how the current platform was functioning. They took the data gathered during those sessions and created an affinity diagram of user needs for the rebuild. From this network of user needs, they turned to considering system requirements for the platform. Rodriguez pitched the idea of using the BuddyBoss Platform as the codebase because of the overlap between user needs and the features of that specific WordPress plugin.

During the build, Lee conducted an accessibility audit of the BuddyBoss platform, including browser checking, screen reader testing, and mobile testing, which Rodriguez then used as a roadmap for changes to the initial codebase. McMahon worked on user testing and internal testing of the platform to ensure users would be able to use the platform easily. Any issues found during the testing were added to the list of changes to make to the codebase.

Currently, the Commons team is still working on accessibility updates to the platform and feature updates and will continue to do so as the work on the Commons continues.

Commons Features
The Northeastern Commons runs on profile and group-based networking. That means users will be able to post, share, and create from their own individual profiles and within groups, which are the primary method of collaboration on the Commons.

Users who set up a user profile can share their research interests, publications, projects, talks, and press. Adding this information to a Commons profile makes it easier for other users to find people with similar research interests, which can lead to greater collaboration between Commons users.

Group collaboration on the Commons is unique based on choice and the subsequent use of those features. Furthermore, there is privacy built into the group design. Visibility of the group depends on the privacy setting of the group: public, private, or hidden. Public groups can be joined or viewed by anyone, whether they are signed into the platform or not. Private groups can be seen on the platform, but members must request or be invited to join. Hidden groups are only visible to those invited to join. Every group regardless of privacy status has the same features, which are:

Feed
The feed for groups is the activity feed. Activity can be an update from the organizers of the group, a notification when someone joins the group, a document added to the document table, and any action a member does within the group. Members of the group can also comment on the activity, leading to greater collaboration within the feed.

The feed acts as a living record of the progress and conversation the group is having and is searchable by keyword, which leads to greater discoverability of previous conversations.

Members
The members tab is a list of all the members of the group. Users will be able to search for members here, message them, and request a Commons connection, which is like friending on the platform.

Documents
The documents tab is a place for the group to upload documents that are relevant to the whole group. The file structure uses folders to sort and separate out documents.

Discussions
The discussions tab is a place where group members can create discussion board topics and reply to others’ discussion board topics. These can be subscribed to for easy access through a user’s profile.

Send Messages
This tab can be used to send a message to all group members using private messaging. It can also be used to send a message to only a few group members the message creator selects.

Subgroups
This tab appears if the parent group has subgroups within it. Subgroups function the same way that a parent group does; it is just nested within the parent group and does not show up in the group search.

Zoom
This tab is used to keep a running list of Zoom meetings for the group. If the organizers of the group choose to have the meeting recorded in the cloud, the meeting itself is accessible within the group.

Calendar
The calendar is a tab where organizers can create a list of group events which can be viewable in many different calendar forms. This feature must be specifically requested for a group using the Northeastern Commons Consultation form.

Static Pages
This is where a group can request to have a static HTML page within their group tabs. Group organizers will be able to add whatever they want to that page and continually update it based on their needs. This feature must be specifically requested for a group using the Northeastern Commons Consultation form.

Next Step for the Commons
Going forward, the Northeastern Commons will continue to utilize user needs assessments to grow and build further functionalities, leaning on the collective knowledge and desires of current group organizers and users.

For more information on the Commons, visit northeasterncommons.org or contact Meg McMahon at m.mcmahon@northeastern.edu.

Library Transitions from Nexis Uni to Access World News and WestLaw Campus Research

Beginning on June 30, the Northeastern University Library is no longer subscribing to the database Nexis Uni, transitioning instead to a pair of databases – Access World News and Westlaw Campus Research – that together provide even more news and law resources through much easier user interfaces.

Why replace Nexis Uni?
Over the years, Nexis Uni has been removing much of its content while steadily increasing its prices. That combination, along with a difficult-to-use interface, has led many libraries and institutions to cancel their subscriptions and put money toward more cost-effective and user-friendly databases and resources.

Access World News database logo

What new databases should I be using instead?
For the cost of Nexis Uni, the Library was able to acquire access to two new databases that, together, provide much of the same content in a far easier-to-use format. Access World News Research Collection from Newsbank includes current and archived news content from more than 12,700 sources, spanning over 200 countries and territories and combining all formats (full-text articles, web-only content, and PDF image collections) in a single interface. You can browse Access’ full list of sources here.

Westlaw logo

For legal and business content, Westlaw Campus Research contains primary and secondary legal sources including statutes, codes, and case law, as well as the American Jurisprudence legal encyclopedia. On the business side, it contains tools like Hoover’s and the Company Investigator, which provides public and private company information and hard-to-find information on small businesses and partnerships. It also can be used to prepare company reports using visual graphics. This reference guide provides detailed information how to use Westlaw.

Other databases also provide useful news resources, including Factiva (which includes access to business news, including the Wall Street Journal and Barron’s); Pressreader (which covers daily news in more than 100 countries); and ProQuest News and Newspapers (which includes current and archival access to newspapers like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Newsday, and Los Angeles Times, as well as more than 80 local and regional titles).

In addition, Northeastern University students, faculty, and staff can access the Wall Street Journal‘s website by using their NU credentials by going to wsj.com/northeastern.

For more information on available resources, please contact your subject librarian!

Archives Research Project Included in “The Teaching with Primary Sources Cookbook”

Take 2 library professionals.
Add 25 high school students.
Mix in a specially curated collection of archival materials.
And let simmer over a 90-minute class period.

Cover image of The Teaching with Primary Sources Cookbook, edited by Julie M. Porterfield

This is the recipe Reference and Outreach Librarian Molly Brown and Arts, Humanities, and Experiential Learning Library Regina Pagani have perfected while working with students and teachers from the Boston Public Schools over the past few years and it is now included in The Teaching with Primary Sources Cookbook, a collection of first-hand accounts from librarians, archivists, and other educators who use primary sources to teach information literacy skills to various audiences.


Brown and Pagani’s project is detailed in chapter 28 and titled “A Potluck of Expertise: Inviting Boston Public Schools’ Juniors to Use Northeastern’s Archives and Special Collections’ Pantry to Build Their Recipes.” They detail an ongoing project they have developed with BPS educators Chris Madsen and Katherine Petta where students work in groups to write a biography of an activist who advocated for racial equality in Boston’s public schools, using primary sources from the Archives’ vast social justice collections.

Regina Pagani and Molly Brown teach a class of students in the Archives Reading Room
Regina Pagani and Molly Brown (standing) lead Lucy Maulsby’s architecture class on a lesson in archival research, similar to the types of classes they teach to BPS juniors. Photo courtesy of Mary Hughes.

The chapter provides a detailed account of the project, with suggestions for ways to alter it based on different archives’ collections. The 2021 edition of The Teaching with Primary Sources Cookbook, edited by Julie M. Porterfield, is available through the American Library Association.

To learn more about the different ways Brown, Pagani and other Northeastern University Library staff members have utilized the Archives’ unique collections to teach primary source research to students at Northeastern and at the Boston Public Schools, visit the Teaching with Archives page.

Library Launches Podcast Publishing Service with Northeastern Classes

Is your class starting a podcast? Several Northeastern classes have adopted podcasting instead of the usual term paper or final project, and the library’s Podcast Publishing Team is here to help. Over the past few semesters, Jon Reed from the Digital Media Studios and Brooke Williams from the library’s Research and Instruction team have worked with classes in English, History, Architecture and other departments to help students learn how to create, record, edit and publish their own podcasts.

One of the questions the team was asked when working with faculty was “how do I get my class assignments into Apple Podcasts?” Using the university’s Digital Repository Service and the Library’s CERES WordPress platform, the Library is able to create a stable website for your class assignment to be sent out to Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and the world. The first podcast published was Speak Up! Podcast, coordinated by English Professor Elly Jackson. 

“The library podcast opportunities are as good as they get and should be blasted all over the campus and around the world,” says Jackson. “My classes set up podcast assignments that have now reached 25 published podcast recordings from undergraduate research, and these are up on Apple Podcasts. I believe educational podcasting has a great future and I am proud of the tram at our library’s podcasting service. This is a stellar partnership and I cherish their talents and commitment to experiential education.”

Some examples of podcast episodes produced by the Speak Up! students include “Death By Chocolate” and “Jet, Set, Go – A Podcast on Medical Tourism.”

Sarah Sweeney, manager of the Digital Repository Service, and Patrick Murray-John, Associate Director for Systems, have both played major roles in getting the podcast publishing program up and running.

Interested in bringing podcasting into your remote classroom? Email the team at Library-PodcastTeam@northeastern.edu. We look forward to working with you closely if even physically afar!

Access to Kanopy limited during summer

Beginning in May, Northeastern University Library will be reducing full access to Kanopy videos. From April 27 through August 24, Kanopy will be a mediated library service and access will be limited to instructional use and research support for faculty and students. Films that are already triggered (licensed because of usage for one year) will appear on the site and in Scholar OneSearch, but other films will have to be requested. 

If you have films you know you will use in teaching and research this summer from the Kanopy collection, please notify Erin Beach (e.beach@northeastern.edu) or Amy Lewontin (a.lewontin@northeastern.edu) and we will ensure that the films are activated in ample time for the summer sessions.  You can also use the request form on the Kanopy site after April 27, and if you identify that the film is for class use, we will expedite the activation.  Please note that this can take a day or two so be sure to build in adequate lead-time. 

If you live in the Boston area and wish to use Kanopy outside of academic use, the Boston Public Library offers Kanopy for free, and one can watch four films a month, once you obtain an e-card. More information is available here.

Thanks for your understanding of this necessary cost-saving effort and please let us know if you have any questions.