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Publisher Content in Online Courses: The Right Mix

online-3410266_1280McGraw-Hill, Cengage, Wiley, Pearson, Macmillan, Sage…. These are just a handful of academic publishers who routinely provide content-rich choices for supplementing instruction in online courses. Although adopting publisher content for your course can provide a plethora of material and activities to dole out to your students, publisher content should seldom be adopted wholesale. Here are some baseline practices that you can use to improve the effectiveness of using publisher content and its impact on student learning and student success.

1. Best Practice: Choose content that aligns to course objectives

Start out by carefully selecting publisher content that best aligns with the objectives of your course. What are the learning aims you have established for your students? Which publisher offers the best choice in supporting those learning objectives? This might require a bit of shopping around. Ask publisher reps for assistance in matching your course objectives with the content of their wares.

2. Best Practice: Drill down publisher content

Some publisher content is extensive, and not all of the assets need to be integrated or used in your course. In fact, some publishers create five times the amount of content needed for a 16-week class, and it’s not uncommon for publishers to provide you with test banks containing upwards of five-thousand test questions! Much like selecting the chapters from a textbook, your role in this critical step is to select which resources you will use. It is important at this juncture to use only the material you will need, and select content and activities that will diversify learning for your students.

3. Best Practice: Add interactivity

Once you beef up your course with rich publisher content, be sure to create opportunities that will provide student-to-student interaction and student-to-instructor engagement. Oftentimes, online courses lose their effectiveness because dynamic content is not supplemented with meaningful and necessary interaction.

4. Best Practice: Provide knowledge checks for your learner along the way

There will be no shortage of assessment activities if you elect to use publisher content in your course. Your role then, is to be sure to select both, Formative and Summative assessment measures that may be integrated frequently and strategically throughout your course content. Provide your students with a variety of opportunities to show you they are learning, and resist the urge to boil your assessment strategy down to one or two high-stakes exams. Research suggest that using a variety of assessment measures in a course decreases the likelihood of academic dishonesty.

5. Best Practice: Provide ample feedback

Be intentional about selecting key junctures in your course where students may ask questions, receive feedback and stay on track. Find opportunities to provide feedback when students have a chance to remediate. When summative feedback alone is provided, students do not have a chance to course-correct.

6. Best Practice: Be present

Remember that a number of your students selected to take the course with you because they are looking for your expertise to enrich their learning experience. Be present. Participate in discussion forums, answer the students’ blog posts, reply to comments, give feedback, send out emails, post announcements and let them know you are present with them as they walk down the corridor of learning.

ebook-books7. Best Practice: Circumvent Cheating Potential

Publishers often provide you with large question pools. Consider rotating the use of questions across semesters, especially since question pools may be compromised (shared with friends, posted on the internet). Using randomized question blocks is also effective when preventing students from predicting your exam question choices.

8. Best Practice: Make the end goal clear

Students are going to want to know what they need to do in order to succeed in your course. Use the built-in LMS Calendar, or a Course Schedule to keep learners informed of what’s due and what is coming up.

If you make a change to your syllabus mid-semester, be sure there is evidence in your course that you informed students of the change. In many cases, students who file grievances cite a lack of communication as the biggest pain-point. If you change a grading scale or a due date after the course has started, post an announcement about it. This will ensure there is a clearly visible record of your communication with the students, and it will also increase the likelihood that they will stay in the loop.  

9. Best Practice: Don’t forsake the basics

Despite utilizing pre-built content, the course is still your domain! Remember that you have at your disposal a number of communication and interactivity tools that will make your course come to life. Personalize your course. Add a welcoming video, and/or add your picture with a welcome message. Use these tools frequently and intentionally. Your students will thank you for it!

  • Welcome Message- Video and Picture
  • Virtual Office Hours
  • Contact Information – yours, the Department’s, the SHSU Online Support Desk, etc.
  • Weekly Announcements

Implementing these simple, effective measures will increase the level of satisfaction your students experience when completing your course. And remember, if you could use a hand in the application of any of these best practices, contact the SHSU Online course development team at