November 2006 Archives

The Textbook Commons

Every few years, the idea of a repository of freely distributed "learning modules" or "learning assets" rises up as a solution to the time spent developing course content for instructors, or the cost to students in purchasing text books filled with common knowledge. The most well-known of these efforts is perhaps MERLOT, but often the information shared is hobbled by the latest technology taking the focus away from the intellectual content.

Lately the idea has taken hold again, and this time seems to be gathering some steam. Rather than focusing on the technologies, the efforts now seem to be focusing more on the content itself. One example is from the creators of Wikipedia, called WikiBooks. The purpose of WikiBooks is to create free, public-domain text books through a collaborative writing effort, similar to the way Wikipedia works. It may have some of the same flaws as Wikipedia, since anyone can edit any page the information is suspect.

A more promising example is Connexions from Rice University:
Connexions allows instructors at many institutions to create modules of content that can be mixed and matched or combined into useful complements to any course. All of the content in Connexions uses a Creative Commons license to retain some copyrights while opening the content to free use and redistribution. The idea is to approach textbooks as you would a playlist of music, and since authorship is clear the content is more reliable. You can see the list of authors at

Content from Connexions is easily used by linking to it in Sakai, eCompanion or Blackboard (and until it disappears next academic year, WebCT), or by downloading the PDFs and uploading them to your course site.

The university now has a license to use Refworks, a tool for collecting bibliographic references and properly formatting a bibliography and citations according to any of several hundred reference styles. People who already use Endnote or ProCite can send Refworks citations to those programs, and use both simultaneously.

To begin using Refworks, create an account by visiting this page:
Refworks Accounts for Rutgers -

When using RefWorks, it is best to log in through the "Connect" link at the library web site, this ensures full access to the Library databases and other resources, particularly if you do some of your work off-campus:
Library Refworks Information and Login -
It is possible to login directly by going to, however if you do this when you are off campus then the links to the "full text" of articles may not work if they require a Library log-in.

The Library has already integrated many of their electronic resources to send reference information directly to RefWorks (look for an option for "bibliographic manager" when saving reference lists), and IRIS should be able to do the same in the near future.

In addition to using RefWorks for personal research and writing, it is possible to use it as a teaching resource. There are several possible methods to share RefWorks reference lists with students, the different methods have different purposes and individual faculty can choose whatever method best suits their needs.

  • Using your own RefWorks account, create a folder and use the "RefShare" feature to share that folder with anyone in the world (no password required). Any reference that you place in the folder will be available to anyone who has the link to your folder, however they can only view the references and will not be able to alter them. You can mail the link to students or put it on a course web site. Students can copy the references into their own RefWorks account in order to use them as a source for citations.
  • In your RefWorks account information, you can set a "Read Only" password. Providing this password to your students will allow them to view any references in any folder of that RefWorks account, but they cannot change anything. This is similar to RefShare but applies to the entire account (not just a folder), and requires a password.
  • Create multiple RefWorks accounts (you can have as many as you like). For example create an "English_101" RefWorks account, and share the "English_101" username and password with your students. This gives anyone who has that username and password full access to the reference list, so students can add or modify references as needed. You can share this username and password with your students (remember to keep your own, personal RefWorks account private; create additional RefWorks accounts for sharing).

RefWorks integrates well with course management systems like Sakai, eCompanion and Blackboard. In particular, if you use "RefShare", you can paste the shared link into your course site (in Sakai, use a "web link" tool) to have the reference lists appear in the course site, without requiring a second login. "RefShare" also produces an "RSS Feed" that can be used with the Sakai "News" tool for a similar but more flexible result.

More information is available at the Library's RefWorks page, and the Center for the Advancement of Teaching will schedule training workshops, beginning in the Spring semester.

OIT Planned System Outage

OIT will be upgrading a central data storage device on Thursday, November 16, from 3:00 A.M. to 8:00 A.M.

As a result, the following systems will not be available during that time, since they depend on the device which is being upgraded:
- WebCT
- Sakai
- Eden (including student e-mail)
- RULink (calendar and e-mail)
- RAMS (mailing list for courses and official notices)
- Mailman (general mailing lists)

There will be additional service outages not listed here (please contact OIT for more specific information).

Please keep in mind that this will affect your ability to communicate with your students via e-mail or by web site, even after the upgrade is finished there will probably be a delay while backed-up e-mail is delivered.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from November 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

October 2006 is the previous archive.

December 2006 is the next archive.

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