Helping Northeastern lead.

We helped Northeastern implement an industry-defining digital commons to connect students, faculty, and researchers.

Helping a forward-thinking university continue to lead the way.

Northeastern University (NEU) is a forward-thinking university seeking to help define what a higher ed digital commons should look like. They wanted a system that could be easily adopted by faculty, students, and external experts while still maintaining the necessary functionality and security.

Overview

NEU wanted to build on the Commons in a Box framework and the open source work done for HCommons.org. In addition to creating a commons for shared research and discussion, NEU wanted a platform that integrated with their authentication system for a seamless experience for their students and faculty.

In order to create an effective commons, iWitness Design needed to create a unified experience for the various societies using the platform by implementing and customizing an advanced search engine. All the site data and activity needed to be available in a central location while also allowing for site-specific security and customizations.

Challenge

The NEU Commons was intended to start out as a clone of the HCommons open source project. This gave us a great starting point, but with limited documentation, reverse engineering the customizations made for HCommons proved to be a difficult task. In addition to the task of cloning the HCommons project, they also required that we integrate with their Active Directory system to allow single sign-on and also allow for social login on one of the networks.

The Multi-Network site infrastructure also proved to be an interesting challenge. We were tasked with building a system that could scale to multiple WordPress networks and hundreds of subsites while also maintaining manageable administrative flow.

Describe the solution

We worked closely with NEU’s Associate Dean for Digital Strategies and Services to build out a highly customized BuddyPress installation based on the HCommons project. We forked and customized many of the components from the original project while maintaining backwards compatibility for updates and future development.

We also integrated with their Active Directory system using Shibboleth and configured custom rules so that authenticated users would automatically be routed to the appropriate site in the network.

We also configured a custom Elasticsearch server to enable multi-network search and also provide a system for recommended content. This was a HUGE improvement over the default WordPress search both in terms of functionality and speed. This ElasticSearch integration now powers several recommendation widgets across the site.

Features

  • Public and private groups with discussion boards, events, announcements, file sharing, and member management.
  • Advanced member interface with custom profile fields including academic and personal interests. These fields were leveraged by ElasticSearch to provide a powerful recommendation engine for connection recommendations.
  • Multi-Network setup to allow for multiple WordPress networks with their own administration and subsites.
  • Advanced search and recommendations built with ElasticSearch.
  • Single sign-on with GoogleTwitter, and the NEU Active Directory database.
  • Page builder for administrators to easily create custom landing pages.

Result

Upon completion of the project, the new commons was already adopted by several societies within the university and were able to hand off the project to NEU to continue the management of the project internally.

View the project here at https://northeasterncommons.org.

Northeastern University logo

Founded in 1898, Northeastern University is one of the top 40 universities in the United States. As a major research university, Northeastern receives grants from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, as well as the Departments of Homeland Security, Energy, and Defense

AT A GLANCE:

Year Founded: 1898

Industry: Education

National Rank: 40th

Students: 27,391

Patrick Yott

Everyone at Northeastern University is thrilled with the Digital Commons! We achieved exactly what we wanted to achieve with the help of the team at Mission Lab.

Patrick Yott, Associate Dean for Digital Strategies and Services
Northeastern University

Ready to talk about a project?

Patrick Yott

Everyone at Northeastern University is thrilled with the Digital Commons! We achieved exactly what we wanted to achieve with the help of the team at Mission Lab.

Patrick Yott, Associate Dean for Digital Strategies and Services
Northeastern University

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