Teach the Earth > Web-Based Resources > Reuse of Resources

Reuse of Resources

There are three separate but related reuse scenarios to think about:
  1. Reusing someone else's resources.
  2. Making your existing resources available for reuse.
  3. Creating new resources with their potential reuse in mind.
At the same time, there are four parts to the Reuse Cylce (Sumner and Dawe (2001); Sumner et al. 2002 ):
  • Location refers to finding a resource.
  • Comprehension is not only understanding the relevance of a found resource, but also understanding the how it is put together and its context for use.
  • Modification includes anything that has to be done to make use of a resource in a new setting.
  • Sharing closes the cycle by making new resources available for others to Locate.

1. Reusing someone else's resources.

Locating these resources was discussed on our Search First page and there are several good search strategies listed. Remember that copyright issues will probably be an issue when reusing another faculty's resource. Check out the Overarching Issues page under the Website Design section for more information on this.

If you do reuse someone else's resources, it is important to give that author feedback about the resource. What worked? What was problematic? Do you have suggestions for improvements or changes? Feedback and reviews are crucial for the ongoing development of a "culture of reusability." Many resource collections have mechanisms for giving feedback, but if that is not the case you should still look for an email address for the resource creator and send them comments.

Instructional Architect is an interesting tool that may be helpful in pulling together various resources created by others into useful activities. This tool acts as a "container" environment for resources you find by searching in a couple of different digital libraries. It allows you to preview and organize links to these resources onto a series of web pages that you can then send your students to. It also has the goal of developing an educator community by supporting resource sharing and recommendations.

2. Making your existing resources available for reuse.

It may appear that, since you are working with your own materials in this case, locating and comprehending the resource are not issues. But you should give thought to how others will find and comprehend your resource. A description that is linked to the resource can go a long way in both of these areas. It will provide a larger target for search engines to find and a well written description will give other users the information they need to determine the relevence of the resource to their needs. Another area that is increasing in importance is the images used in a resource. Image searching is becoming another way to find desired material on the web. Proper labeling of the images used in your resources is an easy way to increase the visibility of your resource on the web.

In terms of modification, give some thought to whether the resource could be broken down into even more basic parts. For example, if you have a resource that is an entire semester's worth of Structural Geology material, consider breaking it into separate resources for each unit or major topic. Other faculty are more likely to be looking for specific material (like your unit on Strike and Dip or the picture you took of Bear Butte in South Dakota) than entire classes. In fact, many faculty are looking for charts, pictures or diagrams that can be downloaded very quickly and then easily implanted into a lecture they are about to give.

3. Creating new resources with their potential reuse in mind.

Faculty are not yet in the habit of thinking about the potential for other faculty to reuse their electronic resources. This is in part responsible for the variable utility one can expect to find in available web resources. Giving some thought to these issues as you create your new resources can make the process easier.


On a page linked to the resource, include the creator's name, institution and email. This page should stand alone so that it can then also be linked to any resource you generate later. In addition, the description and overview mentioned below under Comprehension will help provide a larger target for search engines to find.

It used to be recommended that authors embed metadata about the resource in the HTML code itself using "meta tags". The "description" and "keyword" tags, among others, were designed to enable search engines to know more about web pages beyond the actual words in the text. However, due to abuses of this functionality from some businesses and marketing groups hoping to increase the number of site visits, many search engines have de-emphasized these tags or ignore them completely in their ranking schemes. (For more information on this, check out this article - How to Use HTML Meta Tags (more info) .)


Provide an overview of the resource including information such as intended audience, a listing of the topics included in the resource, creation/revision dates and the sources of data used in the resource. This information will help others decide if your resource is relevant to their needs.

Also, take the time to fully develop any necessary auxiliary materials such as syllabi, lesson plans, tables of content or instructors' guides. Without these "extra" materials, a resource is often too idiosyncratic for other professionals to take advantage of.

It is often helpful to examine examples of other resources to establish a template for your own. Templates help you make sure you have included all the information necessary for someone else to make use of your resource. At SERC, we have several collections of examples that are organized on templates for this reason.


Avoid embedding time- or course-specific information directly in a resource. This would include the name, institution and contact info for the resource creator, the class and the term in which it is held. It is recommended that this information be on a separate page that can be linked to the resource. This also allows that information to be updated easily and linked to any number of pages in the future.

Information that is for the faculty and not the students (e.g. learning goals or assessment) should also be kept out of the actual resource. The overview and the auxiliary materials would then be on another separate page that is linked to the resource. That way, students can be sent directly to the resource without having to go through any of the supporting materials. And remember to include copyright information for the resource with the overview. Explicitly stating any copyright restrictions (or the fact that there are none) protects the rights of the creator and provides an example others can follow in providing similar information for their own resources.

Remember, other faculty are more likely to reuse smaller topical modules than larger, extended works. Try to organize your resource as the smallest possible chunk of information that is still meaningful. Several of these can then be combined to fill particular academic needs.


Sharing what you have created is important whether you are starting from scratch or renovating someone else's material. Knowing how faculty tend to find resources to reuse will help you put your new resource in front of people who can use it.

When faculty are looking for resources to use in their classes, they tend to start by asking their collegues if they know where to find them. They consult journals, talk to people at conferences and consult organizations like NASA and USGS. In short, they tend to start with sources they trust the most (Sumner et al. 2002 , Recker et al. 2004 ). So one tactic is to make sure that you "advertise" your new resources to your collegues and within your professional circles. Try to find out who else is working on reusable resources and network with them. Does your discipline have a newsletter or other publication where you can make them visible? Similarly, many institutions have campus-wide sharing initiatives where faculty can make their resources available to other faculty at the same institution. Check with the teaching/learning center on your campus to see if there is one of these.

After checking with their peers, many faculty turn to the web. As a first order process, they often to use a search engine like Google or Altavista. By using multiple keywords, and boolean operators (and, or, etc.) it is possible to reduce the number of unrelated search results. If you want other faculty to find your resources in this way, be sure that the resources are on a server that is visible to the internet and not protected in such a way that search engines can't see them.

On the other hand, digital libraries such as the Digital Library for Earth System Education (DLESE) and resource collections like Starting Point or Merlot (more info) are places where faculty can search annotated collections of resources. When these resources are cataloged, extensive descriptive metadata are developed so that faculty know as much as possible about what the resource. Submitting your resources to one of these entities is a good way to put them before a wider audience than your immediate circle of collegues.

Additional Resources

Visit NSDL's Reusable Design Guidelines at http://www.reusablelearning.org/index.asp?id=52 (this may require a subscription) published by the NSDL Reusable Learning Project.

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