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Free Textbooks!

There is no question about it, college textbooks are expensive. The U.S. Department of Education has announced an “Open Education” or #GoOpen initiative and ran its first “@GoOpenExchange” to get schools and educators committed to use open educational resources (OER). Institutions such as Ithaca College, The College of William & Mary and Santa Barbara City College are all pushing their schools to adopt OER. The following sources offer free quality digital content to use in your courses without worrying about the price tag.

College Open Textbooks

The College Open Textbooks Collaborative, a collection of twenty-nine educational non-profit and for-profit organizations, is affiliated with more than 200 colleges. This collaborative aims to bring awareness about open textbooks to more than 2000 community and other two-year colleges. Resources include training for instructors adopting open resources, peer reviews of open textbooks. COT offers links to free textbooks by subject, from anthropology to statistics.

Open Textbook Library

Open Textbook Library offers textbooks that have been funded, published, and licensed to be freely used, adapted, and distributed. All the books can be downloaded for no cost or printed at a low cost. This catalog is supported by the University of Minnesota Center for Open Education within the College of Education and Human Development, the library of textbooks pulls titles from multiple sources.


Photo Credit: Open Textbook Website

Merlot II

The MERLOT project began in 1997, is the grandfather of OER, managed through the California State University System. The current catalog offers nearly 29,000 science and technology resources, 4,600 resources for math and statistics, 8,300 results for humanities and 9,400 for education. These resources are not only textbooks; you can also find case studies, assessment tools, online course modules, journal articles, quizzes, simulation and tutorials.

ORE promotes access, affordability, and student success through the use of open textbooks. With these helpful resources we can ensure more students have access to the textbooks they need to be successful.

For more information, click here

“Everyone Pirates”: Higher Ed Students Increasingly Seek Free Learning Materials

As textbook prices skyrocket and the internet makes producing and sharing digital files easier by the day, students are increasingly turning to illegal means to access their learning materials. A recent study says that as few as one in five students use fully legal sources for their textbooks. Nearly a quarter admitted that none of their textbooks or other material were acquired from a legitimate source.  Most students cite the high price of textbooks as the primary reason for downloading unlicensed material, saying, “Is it unethical to want to be educated or is it unethical to charge so much [for textbooks]?”

(Photo Credit: Google Images)

(Photo Credit: Google Images)

A common narrative surrounding modern students is that they are capable of finding whatever material they need, from whatever online source possible. But many students included in the survey say they don’t know how to access illegal resources: it usually needs a level of ingrained research ability or word-of-mouth sharing to be able to find unlicensed material online. Other students find work through unofficial, potentially illicit channels, without realizing that this access can make them subject to legal action. Many students in both groups expressed jealousy for students that could knowingly access unlicensed textbooks. In other words, the overwhelming consensus among those surveyed was that “pirating” textbooks was morally justifiable, if unfortunate.

The researchers in the South African study hope that its results point to the importance of the creation and use of “Open Education Resources,” or OERs, which are learning materials that are specifically given licenses that encourage free sharing and use. In this way, students and instructors both can avoid the hassles of dealing with proprietary textbooks and the resulting piracy.

For more info, visit the article here.

Feedback Studio by Turnitin

The infamous anti-plagiarism website has added a new feature! Turnitin Feedback Studio is a product that will emphasize feedback, easy use and accessibility. Renamed “FeedBack Studio”, this new function’s main point is to help instructors provide authentic feedback to improve their student’s writing.  It does this by giving instructors a single place to quickly provide direct feedback on all aspects of their students’ work.


(Photo Credit: TurnitIn.com)

Some features of this new tool include:

  • New user interface that puts plagiarism prevention, feedback, and grading into one unified view
  • A responsive design that is functional on PC’s, tablets, and mobile devices
  • Expanded database and enhanced anti-plagiarism technology that indexes the most relevant and up-to-date content on the web, including content that is hidden behind JavaScript

In a survey conducted with more than 1,000 students, the students stated that they valued the feedback from their teachers in support of their learning.  Feedback Studio’s new interface allows educators to provide feedback on students’ papers from one window the entire time they edit and comment. Teachers also have the option to choose from over 75 pre-written comments like “citation needed” or “phrasing”.  Furthermore, the new version offers grading rubrics and voice feedback options.

Turnitin Feedback Studio is currently available to all Turnitin users and for on a per-student, annual subscription for new customers.

For more information, please visit the article here, or the Turnitin website

UCI Wireless Accessibility

WiFi is quickly becoming an expected standard for higher ed campuses. The University of California Irvine is one of 10 University of California schools, however Irvine was the only UC campus that didn’t have end-to-end wireless. UCI has 30,000 students, 9,000 of whom live on campus. These students need wireless connection for all their academic needs.


(Photo Credit: Campus Technology)

When UCI was finally ready to roll out WiFi for student housing, the university partnered with CDW-G and Cisco for the project. Cisco provided the equipment while CDW-G organized the whole installation. Over a period of several months the UCI installed the needed wiring to support wireless access for four different undergrad communities, geographically located in four different areas of the campus, with an estimate installation of 1,300 access points. The goal was to locate the access points so that each student would have the best connectivity.

The IT team at UCI provides students with advice on how to remove viruses and malware from students’ devices and how to install the proper antivirus software and security tools. Funding the UCI project came from the campus Student Housing department. The campus is 50 years old this year.

“Listen to your students. They’ll tell you what services they need, the latest trends, and whatever other services they desire,” said Kevin Ansel, director of student affairs IT. By making wireless connection available throughout the school and campus housing students are able to stay connected with their academic work anywhere on campus.

For more information, visit the article here.

Blackboard Partners with ReadSpeaker

ReadSpeaker is the worldwide leader in online text to speech. In 1999, ReadSpeaker created the first-ever speech-enabling solution for websites followed by the first web-based platform for producing digital talking books. ReadSpeaker speech-enables content in 40+ languages and 100+ voices. All of ReadSpeaker’s products are web-based and work with all browsers (Firefox, Mozilla, Safari, Chrome, Lynx, etc.). Having their products be web-based allows users to avoid tedious downloads and allows users to access their products from any location.

ReadSpeaker has teamed up with Blackboard to make its text-to-speech technology more available to students around the world. Enabling text to speech is an important pillar of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Rather than reading through challenging articles, auditory learners can simply listen to the content on-demand. This not only benefits those who prefer to learn by listening, but also students that are language learners. Students with visual impairments and with certain learning disabilities will also benefit from ReadSpeaker and Blackboard’s collaboration.


(Photo Credit: ReadSpeaker Website)

Blackboard is committed to improving accessibility to learners. Katie Blot, senior vice president of corporate strategy & industry relations at Blackboard, shared that the partnership between Blackboard and ReadSpeaker will help make learning more adaptable and accessible for educators and learners.

Text-to-Speech is opening doors to help students access higher education.

Click here to learn more.