Teaching Commons > Teaching Guides > Course Design > Learning Materials

Learning Materials

Map of the 1919 Chicago Riot
"The Chicago Riot, July 27 to August 8, 1919," a map from University Library's Special Collections.
Identifying and obtaining materials for a course begins with clarifying our course objectives and learning outcomes. Because there are so many materials that we could potentially choose (e.g., books, journal articles, newspapers, documentaries, podcasts, etc.), it is helpful to be clear about the course learning outcomes and what materials support will students in achieving them. Often, clarifying our goals also helps us to identify what falls outside of a particular course’s focus, which is especially important given the time constraints of the quarter system.

Ordering Textbooks

Although the procedure for ordering books varies from department to department, most instructors place orders online through the official Barnes & Noble DePaul University Bookstore. For more information on placing orders with Barnes & Noble, read DePaul's Course Materials Requisition policy.

The Student Government Association, working with Faculty Council, has issued a best practices guide for faculty to review when considering which textbooks to adopt. Perhaps the most important consideration is being timely with your book adoption submissions, which allows the bookstore more time to acquire used or rental books and students extra time to procure them.

Before you place an order for a textbook, you’ll have to find one appropriate for your course, which can be challenging, particularly for introductory courses where there are many options available. Many professors choose to eschew the practice of teaching with a textbook and curate their own sets of materials by using course reserves, course packs (less common), and online materials including Open Education Resources.​

Course Reserves

The DePaul University Libraries offer full service for online and reserve shelf materials. Course reserves are materials (books, articles, etc.) that are placed on reserve at the library front desk. E-reserves are a type of course reserve that can be accessed online. These course reserve and e-reserve services include:

  • Assistance in finding articles and other materials (such as articles, books, DVDs, etc.)
  • Assistance in posting materials for easy online access
  • Managing copyright concerns such as fair use

Why Use Course Reserves?

There are numerous reasons to use course reserves, such as:

  • Incorporate course materials that are not commonly available such as out of print works, journal articles, DVDs, etc.
  • Avoid high cost or inadequacy of textbook selection
  • Access single chapters from books
  • Provide professionally scanned and copyright-compliant PDFs
  • Offer a centralized place to access course readings
  • Simplify the process of using course materials for the future

University Libraries Course Reserves

Course Packs

While course reserves are less costly and more convenient than print coursepacks, DePaul offers two services for creating them nonetheless:

  1. DePaul Print & Mailing Services
  2. XanEdu

Ordering Through Distribution Services

  • Fill out a Distribution Services job ticket
  • Provide the material to be reproduced (preferably a loose master copy)
  • And, if copyright clearance is requested, provide bibliographical information. The copyright clearance form details the information needed for each source to complete the copyright clearance request. Required fields are indicated with a black diamond. (Source details may be submitted in another form, so long as the required information is provided).

Distribution. Course packets may be ordered for the campus bookstore, or may be distributed directly by the department placing the order. If course packets are to be sold through DePaul's campus bookstore, documentation of copyright clearance is required.

Copyright. Anyone may seek permission from rightsholders; however, use of some materials may fall under fair use or be in public domain. If the professor or a designee acquires copyright permission, documentation must be provided before Distribution Services will copy the materials. Distribution Services can seek copyright permission for all sources in accordance with the guidelines mentioned above.

Deadlines. Please allow at least four weeks for such permission to be obtained, depending on the number of sources and the nature of the articles and rightsholders.

Binding options. Once all copyright issues are in order, the packets are ready to be copied and bound according to a variety of options available. These options are detailed for the most part on the Distribution Services job ticket, but further information or clarification is certainly available upon request.

Payment. Upon completion of the course packets, they can be delivered to the bookstore or any department on campus. A budget transfer, initiated by Distribution Services, bills the cost of copyright royalties, photocopying, and binding of the packet to the chartfields indicated on the job ticket. These chartfields belong either to the campus bookstore or the department distributing the packets. It is not uncommon for some course packets to be sent and billed to the bookstore and others sent and billed to the department.

Ordering Through XanEdu

Order course materials through XanEdu by completing the CoursePack Order Form​ and sending it:

Questions? Contact XanEdu at  1-800-218-5971.

Primary Sources

The vast wealth of information available to instructors and students has revolutionized the way we teach and learn. The explosion in the number, variety, and quality of primary-source documents available online holds the potential to increase both content knowledge and discipline-specific skills in students of all subjects.


What are primary sources?


The Library of Congress defines primary sources as “the raw materials of history—original documents and objects which were created at the time under study.” Primary sources, in other words, are artifacts of a specific time and place, created at that same time and place. For example, if you were studying the American Civil War, a soldier’s journal, a photograph of a battle, or a newspaper report would all be considered a primary source.


But primary sources are so much more than documents. In fact, you are probably already using primary sources in your classroom—any object from the time and place you are studying can qualify as a primary source. Some examples of primary sources include:

  • First-hand accounts: diaries, autobiographies/memoirs, newspaper and magazine articles

  • Official documents: laws, court proceedings, maps, speeches, military documents

  • Visual artifacts: photos, prints, drawings, maps, political cartoons

  • Audio/visual artifacts: film and sound recordings

  • Data: graphs, charts, census reports, economic data

  • Physical artifacts: clothing, equipment, personal and household items, weapons, flora and fauna

  • Internet artifacts: blog posts, YouTube videos, tweets, Facebook posts


Some of those sources may surprise you. But just as personal letters can tell us about the lives of Americans during the Civil War, tweets and Facebook posts reveal the thoughts and feelings of modern-day people from around the world. In fact, the Library of Congress recently began a Twitter archive, and has collected nearly 200 billion tweets that it plans to make available to researchers!


Why Use Primary Sources?


Primary sources are powerful tools that engage students and activate processes of inquiry and critical thinking. Regardless of what subject you teach or what sources you use, primary sources:

  • Engage students. Because they often contain a personal perspective, primary sources offer a direct connection between students and their subject.

  • Develop critical thinking skills and construct knowledge. Primary sources represent specific points of view and can be biased or even contradictory (such as a pair of editorials arguing different sides of an argument). By examining primary sources, students are forced to compare, contrast, and critique various points of view, thus developing both critical-thinking skills and disciplinary knowledge.

  • Develop research and information literacy skills. Most primary sources are incomplete on their own—no single document or artifact can reflect the complexity and context of a subject or time period—compelling students to critically evaluate sources and corroborate their findings through original research.


Using Primary Sources


If you’re new to teaching with primary sources, this can seem a bit daunting, but a primary-source activity can be very simple. Find a source and let your students view it. Have them offer their observations—what they notice about the object. Based on those observations, have students reflect on the significance of the source. Ask: Who created this source and when? For what purpose? What does it tell us about the subject we’re studying? Finally, have students create original questions to guide further discussion and/or research.


Once students are familiar with the method, you can ask them to find sources on their own and apply it independently. As they track their findings, a clearer picture of their topic will emerge, building content knowledge and allowing for expansion into larger research projects.


This simple Observe/Reflect/Question model can be applied to any primary source, and there are a number of guides and tools to help you and your students get started.


Finding Primary Sources

One of the biggest advantages of primary sources is that a large (and ever-increasing) number of digitized documents and artifacts can easily be accessed online. In fact, the internet is full of rich collections of primary sources, many of which are available free of charge.


Finding primary sources at DePaul:

University Libraries 

  • Special Collections at the University Libraries are materials with a strong emphasis is placed on book illustration, particularly from the nineteenth century, and on books that exhibit the arts of printing, support many curricular uses, as well as provide scholarly resources.
  • DePaul has an extensive image and document collection that faculty members can use in their teaching: the Digital Collections at the DePaul library.
  • Vincentian Heritage Collections at the DePaul Library collects accounts of St. Vincent DePaul including secondary sources and Vincentian journal articles.

University Art Museum

  • The Museum offers a wide variety of special exhibitions in all media throughout the year, from thematic and historical exhibitions to works by contemporary artists.
  • Its collections are searchable online.

Finding primary sources outside of DePaul:


The Teaching with Primary Sources Program at DePaul


Funded by a grant from the Library of Congress, the Teaching with Primary Sources program at DePaul University provides professional development programs in the use of primary sources by educators. Visit our website for more information, or contact project director Dave Bates at dbates2@depaul.edu if you'd like to set up a free primary-source workshop for your class!


Open Educational Resources (OER)

Open Educational Resources (OER) refer to openly licensed teaching and learning materials that anyone can use and adapt without charge. The University Library has created a guide to OER materials that you can review. In addition, there are a number of resources external to DePaul you may wish to peruse:

  • OER Commons, a hub for not only finding OER materials, but also making your own. 
  • Open Textbook Library, supported by the University of Minnesota, and OpenStax, supported by Rice University, are two online directories for open textbooks. 
  • MIT OpenCourseWare and the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon house collections of open educational resources, including entire courses, syllabi, assignments, etc. that can be used in your teaching.
  • MERLOT, a program of the California State University System, is a directory of open educational resources that educators can add to, in addition to take from.
  • Public domain text, video, and audio materials are also available on sites such as Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive. (See the Primary Sources dropdown for more).