Selecting Course Materials

There are many factors to consider when selecting course materials: the rising cost of textbooks, the availability of online resources, lab and supply fees for certain courses, and how students will access multimedia materials.

1. Consider the cost of required textbooks and other course materials.

For many introductory courses, a traditional textbook is typically assigned. When appropriate, you might also consider alternative information sources, including books that are not textbooks, journal articles, or online sources. If your course has additional fees for supplies, software, or participation in local events, let students know as early as possible.

2. Determine how much of a textbook students will be asked to read before you require they purchase it.

If you are using only a single chapter from a book, ask the Library to put it on E-Reserves. Also consider that many publishers sell individual chapters of books, enabling you to select only the parts you will use. Check with the AU Campus Store for additional information on the different ways course materials are available.

3. Address the issue of alternative editions of a textbook.

Based on your particular course content and discipline, consider whether students may use an earlier edition than the most recent one. Let students know your policy on the first day of class. Earlier editions will nearly always be less expensive, but may not be an option in courses for which up to date information is essential or where there have been substantial changes between editions.

4. Consider using high-quality – and free – Open Education Resources (OERs) to replace or supplement a traditional textbook.

Learn more about the value of Open Educational Resources to you and your students.

5. Make use of Library Course Reserves (either physical or virtual).

You can put materials on reserve yourself or you may want to consult with your school or college’s designated librarian. Check if the Library owns the books you would like placed on Reserve. If it does, you may pull the books from the shelves yourself or ask Library Reserves to do so. If the Library does not own a book you want to have available on Reserve, you may request they purchase it. (Be sure to give enough lead time before your course begins, especially if the publisher is outside the US.)

In constructing your Reserves list for print materials, specify the amount of time a student may check out a book. For example, a two-hour reserve allows more students to access the book in a given period than a longer reserve period. For Gen Ed courses, the Library automatically puts two copies of all course books on reserve.

http://www.american.edu/library/services/reserves.cfm

6. Contact the Library for ideas on relevant multimedia materials.

http://www.american.edu/library/mediaservices/index.cfm

Videos, TED talks, podcasts, or YouTube videos can add variety to course readings and engage students in different ways. For many audio or video resources, students can conveniently stream them on their digital devices. For students without a personal computer, Media Services (on the lower level of the library) has viewing stations.

7. Clearly distinguish on your syllabus between required and suggested readings.

Students sometimes interpret ‘suggested’ or ‘supplementary’ as really required. Be clear about which course resources they will be held responsible for and which are genuinely optional, but can add to their understanding of the subject matter.

8. Look for ways to represent multiple perspectives.

For most academic disciplines, there is a canon of theorists, research, and conceptual frameworks that will be reflected in course materials. This reality may limit the range of racial, cultural, or gender perspectives that students explore. Here are some ways to create a more inclusive pedagogy:

  • As you provide students with an overview of the course, acknowledge such perspectival limitations and explain how you plan to address them in your course.
  • Consider adding readings or videos to what you typically assign to students, thereby presenting an expanded view of course topics.
  • Include one or more assignments, such as short papers, that encourage students to select a topic, author, or perspective that can broaden the existing perspectives addressed in your syllabus.
  • Provide an opportunity for students to share their findings with their peers.

Also see Creating Inclusive Classrooms for more ideas.

9. Acknowledge potential or actual bias in assigned materials.

Wikipedia aside, most writing (especially in the academic world) tends to be done from a particular point of view. When appropriate, consider assigning readings that represent multiple perspectives. Some bias in writing is obvious, but other times, implicit or potential bias may not be so readily apparent. Asking students to identify bias in readings helps to increase their critical thinking skills.

According to Myra and David Sadker’s book Schools and Society, these are some of the most common types of bias found in textbooks:

Invisibility: exclusion of a group or of a specific idea

Stereotyping: assigning rigid roles or attributes to a specific group

Imbalance: only one side of an issue is addressed

Lack of Reality: facts about a particular event or theory are intentionally ignored

Fragmentation: text boxes appear within the reading with select but incomplete information

Linguistic: subtle or blatant slurs are included

Cosmetic: the physical appearance of the text leads the reader to particular conclusions

10. Identify extra resources for students who do not bring some of the background knowledge needed for your course.

Work individually with students to recommend additional materials that can help them attain the foundation needed to thrive in your course.