As has probably become very apparent by reading my blog, I like free options for educators and professionals. While teaching at a for-profit university, I also had to start seeking resources that were not only free, but also didn’t violate copyright restrictions that would otherwise not be an issue for non-profit universities (i.e., fair use for education/learning). I was specifically challenged when designing a technical writing course that didn’t rely on a textbook, so that I had to either write the material, find library sources, or copyright “free” sources on the Internet. I couldn’t even provide students with a URL to a site that did not give us permission to do so.
One comprehensive and free to use source is usability.gov. As the URL implies, the focus is on usability testing, which is a cornerstone of effective technical communications. Since it is a government website, I don’t have to worry about copyright issues (which is noted in their About page). The site doesn’t just cover usability, but also design, project management, accessibility, and content strategy. It has templates and tutorials. There’s also a blog, but it’s buried under the Get Involved link (…not good design, by the way). It’s worth exploring the site, but here are a few of my favorite pages:
The site was created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, but the content is general enough to apply to almost any field and situation involving design and usability testing. The site is not only for educators looking for “free” content, but I would advocate web designers and other professionals who create content viewed by a large audience review the site for insights. Some of the articles have further links embedded, so you can continue researching topics beyond what is offered at usability.gov; just a caution, though, that not all the external links are active. While the site isn’t as robust as a textbook might be, it’s still good supplemental materials to get a conversation started.