Initial Publication Date: May 20, 2013

Student & Instructional Materials Formats

Authors have several different formats to chose from in presenting:

  • student materials: materials used by student to learn the content outside of class (that play the same role that textbooks traditionally do). Usually made available to the students throughout the module or course
  • instructional materials: Handouts, datasets and other materials designed to support the mechanics of a particular activity which are generally provided to the students as they are actually needed.

Both student and instructional materials should be linked to from within the Description and Teaching Materials of the Unit in which the materials are used.

Additionally, the Student Materials page provides access for students to the student materials and other framing information about the module:

Student Materials Page

This page introduces the module to students. It contains:

  • a one paragraph introduction to the major goals of the module and what they will learn.
  • a list of units with:
    • a one or two sentence introduction to the unit
    • links to any student materials for the unit
    • links or bibliographic references to key additional reading and background materials. These should be carefully selected to support students working outside of class to master the material.
This list should only include materials that would traditionally be made known to students at the beginning of a course (e.g. readings included on the syllabus). Handouts and other instructional materials that support a particular unit and which would not normally be provided to a student until the time of the activity should be included in the Unit description, and on the Overview page, but not here.
This page and the subsquent student web pages will also automatically be provided in a decontextualized version (without the surrounding faculty-oriented pages and blurbs), as well as a downloadable version suitable for local modification by the user or import into a local LMS. Contact your web liaison to set these pages up in the appropriate way.

In most cases the nature of the material will dictate which of the formats below will be most broadly useful.

Web Pages that Present Content: Readings

A significant element in many modules will be extended readings (often assigned to students outside classtime) that provide motivation, background, or introduce core content. This is similar to material that might traditionally be found in textbooks, but is created expressly to support the module. The material should be written as a series of web pages. In addition to the text itself you'll want to consider including:

  • Regularly spaced formative check-in questions that will help student reflect on their own understanding of what they have read. These may be open-ended questions or interactive multiple choice questions
  • Images, diagrams and data tables.
  • Scan-able headings and, in the case of longer readings, numbering of sections so that different parts of the reading can be easily referenced

Outside Readings

There may be articles from journals, newspapers or other outside sources needed to support your module. These often present a copyright challenge. The laws and systems that support the use of these in individual classrooms (fair use of copyrighted materials and local library 'reserve' systems) don't extend to supplying the material freely from a public website like InTeGrate. Your module will be most broadly useful if it can include this supporting material directly, so we encourage you to seek materials that are licensed in a way that will allow you to include the articles directly in your module. In most cases uploading the article in PDF format is the best choice.

In some cases we may not be allowed to redistributed the materials directly, but it may be available from an existing site (e.g. a newspaper article available directly from the newspaper's website). In these cases linking to the relevant page will work with the following caveats:

  • Many online articles may appear 'freely available' because your institution has paid for a subscription and you are being granted access transparently. Test these links from your home computer or the local coffee shop before assuming that a given article really is available to everyone at no cost. Others may be freely available for limited use in a way that is problematic for classroom use. For example the New York Times has a 10 article/month limit on free viewing.
  • Outside resources you've linked to may move or go offline entirely in the future. Consider the likely longevity of the link before making it a key element in an assignment. Of particular note are newspaper sites which often don't keep articles available at their original urls (if anywhere) indefinitely. You may need to dig into the fine print, or contact the source directly, to be confident the url you're including will remain useful.
As a last resort you may simply provide citation information for the original resource and leave it to the local instructor to obtain a copy and make it available to their students. When making this choice consider how widely available the materials are likely to be at the full range of institutions. In most cases this approach will make your module less broadly used. Consider suggesting more broadly available (if less ideal) substitutes for the original article.


Videos of full lectures are less easily modified and adapted for local use than textual presentations of content and are more difficult for students to skim and review while studying. So in general aren't a good match for InTeGrate modules. However, shorter video segments can be useful in a number of ways:

  • Short videos of people talking about the science or societal challenges involved in a module can be a good way to set the stage for an activity and stimulate student motivation.
  • Complex concepts can often be conveyed more effectively through a short video. Consider combining narration with an animation, a shot of the relevant diagram being created and manipulated, or a demonstration with a physical model.

If you plan to create your own videos they can be embedded directly within the site following our format guidelines. We encourage you to talk with your team leader or web liaison if you're interested in generating your own video.

If you would like to include video from outside sources most of the considerations mentioned above related to outside readings also apply. You'll need to consider copyright, the value of embedding copies directly in the InTeGrate site and the long-term viability and accessibility of outside video links.

Data Files

We encourage you to include activities that involve students working directly with data. Depending on your pedagogic focus it may be more appropriate to provide a canned data set for download within your unit, or provide instructions on retrieving appropriate data from an external site. If you supply the data directly consider what tools and formats will be broadly available. In most cases numeric data should be provided in comma separated values (CSV) format which is easily importable into most tools (e.g. Excel). In other cases the data will dictate a particular format (e.g. kml for files supporting an activity that uses Google Earth). The CMS supports uploading and distributing any file format you choose. If you have a more obscure format consult with your webteam liaison on the best way to ensure your files will download appropriately for visitors.

Often a data-rich activity can be made more engaging by allowing the students to work with a data set of relevance to their area or situation. This points to providing instructions for retrieving data from the original source so that different classrooms have the option of working with locally relevant data. Consider whether you expect this to be a student activity (is becoming facile with the particulars of a specific data site a pedagogic priority?) or something the instructor will do. Keep in mind data sites may move or significantly change their interface which can quickly make detailed instructions obsolete. Consider providing both a reasonable sample data set as well as some guidance on retrieving additional data sets from the original source.

Handouts to Support Assignments

In many cases activities require materials be distributed to students, either in paper or electronically, to support the mechanics of the activity. These range from a rubric students use to evaluate peer presentations, to a table students fill out while doing a hands-on lab. Very simple handouts (e.g. 3 guiding questions to consider during a gallery walk) can easily just be presented as text within the Teaching Materials section of the unit. Instructors can copy and paste the questions into a document for printing as needed. In cases where the structure of the handout is more complex you'll probably want to provide it in a downloadable format that the instructor can modify locally. The best format to try first is Rich-Text Format (RTF) which captures basic formatting and can be opened in a variety of word processing programs. If RTF doesn't sufficient capture the formatting of your handout you should use Word (.doc) format as most faculty have access to programs that can handle that format. PDF format is generally not a good match for handouts as it is difficult to edit and therefore to modify to meet local needs.

Images, Animations and Interactives

Small sets of images can be embedded directly into the Teaching Materials section of a Unit (for download and distribution by the instructor) or included directly in student web pages. If you have a large collection of images consult with your webteam liaison on the best method for making them accessible.

Similarly, the CMS supports embedding most animation formats directly within the site. You'll want to consult with your webteam liaison about the particulars of a given animation. The same considerations mentioned in the Outside Readings section apply here. Embedding materials directly, rather than linking to them elsewhere, makes our materials more resilient but brings with it copyright considerations. Also note that most existing web interactives use either Flash or Java technologies both of which are unsupported on increasingly popular iOS devices and have suffered recent security problems. So these are a less viable method for reaching a broad audience than they once were.

Attributing Original Sources, Crediting InTeGrate and Copyright

All student materials need to attribute their original source, clearly indicate their association with InTeGrate and be used in ways that are consistent with copyright. When you upload files into the CMS there is a "provenance and reuse" information field which should be used to record the original source of the material and the copyright situation. For downloadable files such as student handouts and datasets you should include a section within the file itself that both cites the original sources and indicates it's association with InTeGrate and how it may be reused. For example:

Student Rubric drawn from: DebBurman, S.K. (2002). Learning How Scientists Work: Experiential Research Projects to Promote Cell Biology Learning and Scientific Process Skills. Cell Biology Education, v. 1, p. 154-172. Article is offered by CBE under a Creative Commons license: It is distributed as part of a teaching module on Carbon Capture and Release ( ) through the InTeGrate project.