Selecting Instructional Materials


Finding materials that both meet the needs of the course and engage learners can be difficult, especially in considering content, audience, and cost. Even then, learners do not always purchase or read required materials.  To make the most of your materials, ensure they align with your learning objectives, your course syllabus, and your teaching philosophy (CUSE, 1997). Below are other points to consider when selecting instructional materials: 

  • Content - Does the content meet your needs in terms of covering the topics necessary for your course objectives? Are there accreditation, industry, or state standards to consider? 
  • Audience - Does the material appeal to your audience in terms of reading level and style?  For instance, is it written for undergraduate or graduate audiences? Does it offer examples or case studies that would appeal to members of that audience? 
  • Sequencing & Pace - Does the sequencing and pace of the material align with your course? Though you can sometimes ask learners to re-order their reading, the volume of information may or may not meet your needs in terms of brevity or depth. 
  • Cost - Are there costs associated with the material? Have you explored the open educational resources like open textbooks that might be available for learner access at no cost? The library reference staff can help search OER databases.   
  • Supplements - Does the material provide supplements like software (examples: Mindtap, Connect), slide decks, case studies, practice activities, or test banks that you can adapt for your needs? Learners often use supplements if diligently reminded (Lang, 2009). 

Potential Material Sources 

  • Traditional Textbooks or Ebooks 
    • Educational textbook publishers (Cengage, Pearson, McGraw-Hill, etc.) often allow educators access to review copies of the texts they carry on a topic. 
    • Additionally, many educational publishers now offer digital copies of textbooks for purchase or for rent that are immediately available online and are often cheaper to obtain. 
  • Scholarly/Trade Books & Smaller Publishers - These are often hard copies from popular print vendors (Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, etc.) you might find in a retail bookstore and they are typically cheaper to obtain than traditional textbooks. 
  • Course Reserves - CMU Library can also work with you to place some books, articles, movies, and more into your Blackboard course shell before the course starts. They will explore copyright and request permissions for you. 
  • Open Education Resources (OERs) - These educational materials are licensed for public use, often for free. OERs can even be modified to meet your course needs. There are many OERs available for common undergraduate courses such as Algebra, Psychology, Biology, Composition, Spanish, Chemistry, Sociology, Political Science, and more. 
  • Multimedia Options - Instructional materials that are not in textbook form, such as videos, infographics, or industry created materials are gaining in popularity, too, especially in flipped or blended class formats. 


Hemmings, B. & Battersby, D. (2006). Textbook selection: Evaluative criteria. Higher Education Research & Development, 8(1). Retrieved from  

Meador, D. (2017). Suggestions to guide textbook adoption. ThoughtCo. Retrieved from  

Street, R.C. (2014, April). How do teachers choose textbooks: A guide for UTC students (blog). The Loop. Retrieved from 

Student PIRGs. (2017, Jan.). Make textbooks affordable: Recommendations to faculty. Retrieved from


  • To see what events we may be offering related to instructional materials, check out our CETL Events Page
  • Schedule a time with CETL staff to discuss selecting instructional materials for your course. 


Committee of Undergraduate Science Education (CUSE). (1997). Chapter 7: Choosing and using instructional resources. In Science teaching reconsidered (pp. 47-54). Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. Retrieved from 

Lang, J.M. (2009, April). Choosing and using textbooks. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from