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Course Materials: OER, ZTC, Textbooks, and Other Resource Ideas for Western Faculty

Curated resources, examples, and ideas for course materials, with special emphasis on ZTC and OER resources

The Purpose of Course Materials

Instructional materials are used to help learners achieve the learning objectives (Quality Matters Standard 4).

While this may feel obvious at the outset, it is important to keep this in mind throughout the identification, selection, and integration of materials. 

Instructors have many different (and many good!) options for what to use as instructional materials. Consider your learning objectives and student needs throughout the course development process. There are many people who can support you and help you brainstorm options and ideas to consider, but you will know best what will best suit your students, content, course, and instructional style. 

This guide collects some options and ideas for various kinds of course materials, as well as a curated set of ideas by area of interest and/or program. These lists are not exhaustive and are intended to help get you started in exploring materials that may be appropriate to your courses. 

How to use course materials well (paraphrased from QM4)

  1. Select materials that align well to your learning objectives and that you have permission to use
  2. Explain in writing how the materials align to the learning objectives
  3. Use a variety of materials and provide a variety of formats whenever possible 
  4. Document appropriate permissions and citations for all materials
  5. Consider student needs and barriers when selecting course materials. Opt for open, free, or low cost options whenever possible. Select appropriate formats, reading levels, and platforms that support student needs and preferences.
  6. Continually improve your course materials. Start where you are, but each year, term, unit, or lesson make improvements. Over time you can accomplish a lot and your students will benefit!

Ideas and Options for Course Materials

Various kinds of course materials to consider (listed in order from most flexible/preferred to least flexible):

  •  Open Educational Resources (OER) - teaching and learning resources that are openly licensed and free to use. These resources can be adopted and used in the classroom as is or modified as needed to best first the learning outcomes of a course (definition from WTCS "Open Educational Resources")
    • Open textbooks
    • Openly licensed websites, documents, media
    • Government resources (in the public domain)
    • Instructor-created openly licensed content (or student-created content)
  •  Other Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) options - ZTC is a broad term for courses where there are no required textbook related costs for students. These courses may use a combination of openly licensed content, links to scholarly or professional websites, institutional subscriptions, library resources, original content, or other free resources for students. In many cases, ZTC courses utilize a curated collection of many resources rather than a single text.
    • Free online resources, including websites, documents, tutorials, and media
    • Library resources, such as ebooks, articles, and videos (available in Library Databases) 
    • Unlimited user ebooks available through the library (not available for all publishers/texts, but such a great option to consider when it is)
    • Instructor-created content (or student-created content)
  • Other low cost options and strategies to consider
    • Class sets of materials (books, reference materials, equipment, etc.)
    • Student-selected materials around a prompt or theme ("find information about...")
    • Place copy (or copies) of materials on course reserve in the Learning Commons
    • Allow/encourage students to purchase an earlier-edition version of a textbook instead of the most recent edition
    • Select a single, comprehensive resource or professional manual that can used by multiple courses
  • Traditional textbooks or publisher-provided online textbook platforms
    • Textbook available in multiple formats (print, ebook, rental, etc.)
    • Textbook available in single format (single user, access code, rental, etc.)

Some good places to look for options for possible OER and ZTC course materials:


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