Teaching & Learning

eTextbooks, coursepacks, knowledgebases, linking and citations

Stack of books with an apple

There are multiple ways to provide textbook and reading materials to your students. Using online readings and book or course pack reading provides additional options to expose students to different topics and may include multimedia to enhance the student learning experience. The following are various resources you can use:

  • Resources from publishers
  • eTextbooks
  • Course packs
  • Portals, knowledgebases, and collections
  • Linking to electronic resources
  • Links to web resources

Resources from publishers

Many textbook publishers produce electronic versions of their books and allow faculty to customize digital books by adding their own reading material. Publishers also offer discipline-specific multimedia products such as CD-ROMs and online labs that faculty can use to explain concepts through interactive simulations, demonstrations, or experiments. Contact your publisher's local sales representative for product information.

Publishers also produce "content cartridges" for Learning Management Systems, (LMS) to accompany their textbooks. The cartridges are made available by the publisher in a downloadable zip file format which can be uploaded into an LMS. To find out if your textbook publisher provides cartridges which are compatible, contact your publisher's representative.

Courses that use an e-pack or course cartridge may provide a blanket statement acknowledging that a significant portion of the course materials came from the publisher instead of including individual citations for each instance of publisher materials.


Some online courses require that students purchase an eTextbook. eTextbooks have benefits and limitations.

Benefits for faculty who publish their own material as eTextbooks:

  • royalty income
  • editable up-to-date information
  • copyright protection by publisher
  • easily share resources with other experts in the field
  • customizing teaching materials to match the course
  • fast turnaround for publication
  • may contain rich media content such as color graphics, hyperlinks, multimedia objects, and interactive activities

Benefits for students include:

  • no shipping or printing costs
  • instant access to textbooks from anywhere on the Internet
  • option to print or view online
  • searchable content


  • student may lose access after course completion
  • printing may be expensive
  • different comfort level reading on screen
  • Internet connection required for access

eTextbooks have the potential to embed discussion and interactivity. The professor (and students) could annotate the text, adding comments and questions and personal examples.

Course packs

Though students are increasingly comfortable with electronic learning resources, many still prefer to read from print, rather than on screen, particularly if readings are extensive. In 2010, a National Association of College Stores survey showed that 74% of students continue to favor print. Paper course packs can be a convenient and cost effective way to offer students custom course materials. For example, course packs are particularly useful for presenting third-party copyrighted content that is not electronically available through licensed MSU Library resources, as royalties and permissions fees may be prorated into the retail cost of the course pack. Almost anything may be included in a custom anthology such as book chapters, journal articles, excerpts from newsletters, presentations, graphics, and newspaper clippings. Reprints of out-of-print works may also be made available in course pack format.

Course Pack Copyright Clearance, Printing, and Distribution

The Course Materials Program (CMP), a service unit of the MSU Libraries, offers comprehensive assistance with course materials.

Materials in a course pack should be checked for copyright clearance. CMP staff will evaluate clearance needs, verify bibliography, seek permissions, process payment of fees and royalties, and archive citations to facilitate clearance year after year. CMP staff can also estimate rights costs to help faculty weigh pedagogical value against potential expense.

The Course Materials Program will facilitate high quality, low cost digital print production in black and white or in color. Standard bindings are available. Course packs are archived for easy reprinting or revision.

Through a partnership with the Spartan Bookstore, course packs may be distributed in the International Center or at Fee Hall on campus. Students may also order packs online for prompt home delivery.

Some off-campus services are also available to assist instructors in the printing and distribution of course packs.

Student Book Store, on Grand River, East Lansing, will:

  • produce and bind course packs
  • distribute course packs for sale at the East Lansing SBS bookstore
  • provide online-ordering for distance students
  • provide CD and media duplication

Budget Printing Center, on 974 Trowbridge Road, East Lansing, will:

  • produce and bind course packs
  • distribute course packs for sale at the store
  • mail course packs to off-campus students

Allegra Print & Imaging, on 1283 Industrial Drive, Saline Mi, 48176
(734) 944-1404

Portals, knowledgebases and collections


Some classes are self-contained - the textbook and lectures are the only knowledge resources students are directed to. Many online course instructors develop extensive portals to important online resources in the subject area.

A portal can be as simple as a collection of links, or as elaborate as a knowledgebase built by students. Ideally a portal includes the link, title, and description of the resource. Library liaisons, experts in a particular subject matter, know which web sites are key resources in the field and can help you create portals. Some portal links are supplied by the instructor, while sometimes students contribute sites to the portal.

MATRIX is a digital library initiative developed by MSU faculty for creating portals. MATRIX maintains many specialized portals. H-Net (Humanities and Social Sciences) was the original portal created by Matrix. H-Net includes forums, reviews, job postings, and all manner of resources. Imagine a way technology could be used to make a portal (a list of online resources including link and description) even more valuable for learning.


An interesting approach for learning is to require students to find and contribute resources to a Class Contributed Knowledgebase. The knowledgebase is collaborative. Students and the instructor add value by adding new links and by commenting on existing resources. Students can use a discussion medium such as a wiki to communicate asynchronously, to edit, comment, revise and update information or links in a knowledgebase.

You may find it useful to have a page (or series of pages) that students can modify and write to. This space can be used as a student-created knowledge base about a topic in your course, for example a timeline, taxonomy, or glossary. The tool most commonly used for this is a "wiki". If your course management system does not have wikis built in, a popular free alternative for educators is Wikispaces. Be sure to sign up as an instructor and you can create ad-free wikis.


Collections differ from portals in that they are self contained and focused. A collection creates its own knowledge resources (such as this PBS site about their Civil War documentary) and offers a rich repository of information.

Linking to electronic resources

The MSU Libraries subscribes to various electronic resources including online books, searchable electronic databases that deal with specific topics, and digital collections.

You can use the MSU Libraries E-Resources listings to search for scholarly journals, magazines, newspapers, and other materials. The electronic databases provide wide subject and journal coverage along with providing access to some full text articles.

Instructors can create stable links to electronic journal articles to support their course content. Stable links will allow authorized students to access journal articles that instructors recommend with no end-user searching required. Distance Learning Services can help you create links in your course to full-text articles. Please e-mail Julia Perez at perezj@msu.edu for questions regarding stable link creation. A guide to the creation of stable links can be found at: http://libguides.lib.msu.edu/stablelinks.

Following are some of the commonly used general indexes to search for journal articles:

  • Academic OneFile has article listings with access to many full text articles.
  • The Proquest database provides access to a wide selection of journal articles and allows instructors to freely link to full text articles.

Links to web resources

The World Wide Web has information and data from many sources. Many applicable web resources are available for teaching, and will allow you to extend your traditional classroom boundaries. The web based tools provide free access for knowledge construction, and for online collaboration and communication between students.

The internet offers information through text and digital media and provides benefits and problems as all sources of information on the World Wide Web may not be credible. It is important for you to provide criteria that students can use to evaluate the credibility of online material. Some criteria that you may consider for assessing internet information include:

  • authorship (is the author recognized in his/her discipline?)
  • publisher (does the Web site belong to a scholarly or academic organization?)
  • literature review (does the author give references to scholarly work in his/her field?)
  • accuracy (how accurate is the data?)

If you assign students a project that includes web resources, you can provide the URL for students to find the web site easily. Make sure to check the links so that they are accessible as some links may have expired or moved. Your library liaison can also assist you in creating links to internet resources. The list of library liaisons by subject is located at: http://www.lib.msu.edu/contact/subjectlibrarian.jsp


For citation guides: