Say you are developing a new advanced course in Computer Science in a fast-developing area.

  • You may look at equivalent courses given elsewhere that partially overlap with your new course, while structuring your slides and Syllabus.
  • You may give reading assignments explicitly directing students at going through materials publicly available online from other courses.

At what levels should you give attribution and/or personally request permission from the prior authors of these materials?

  • 2
    Give the source for everything that is not yours...
    – Solar Mike
    Feb 17, 2019 at 5:47

2 Answers 2


This depends on your definition of a "course". Is it an online course? Do you earn money with it or is it available for free? Or do you actually mean an old-school course taught at a school somewhere to a small group of people?

If it is a free online course, you should at least mention somewhere where you got some of your ideas from, as a courtesy to the other authors. The course they made might be part of their portfolio with which they apply for jobs, if your course then raises doubts concerning the originality of their work because you did not reference them properly, that would be bad. (You should also double-check whether they have written something about this topic somewhere, maybe they released their course under a Creative Commons license, for example.)

If it is an online course that you earn money with (Udemy or some other e-learning portal comes to mind), the situation is probably more complicated and there would be some legal issues that I don't know anything about. In this case you probably have to mention your sources and also ask for permission.

Finally, if it is simply a course taught in a classroom, I think it does not really matter. Your students will not care where you got your ideas for the design of the course from as long as the course is good and helps them to understand the topic.

  • 1
    Actually some students care a lot about this. There was a recent question here, something of a rant, in which someone accused a prof of being lazy and dishonest. It is a subtle issue. Ideally you cite anything you use. But you don't want to enable cheating by going to the other's materials, perhaps with solutions. Ask the original author, perhaps, about how to handle this. I would normally give permission to use without citation. Others would not. But contacting the creator also lets you get any caveats that s/he might be aware of.
    – Buffy
    Feb 17, 2019 at 18:55
  • See this question: academia.stackexchange.com/q/119991/75368
    – Buffy
    Feb 17, 2019 at 18:59
  • True, some students might care about it, and it might also be educational to disclose the sources. But ethically speaking, which is the question here, I do not see a conflict. There is also a difference between not mentioning the sources during the course and actively hiding them after being asked to reveal them, which is what happened in the question you linked to.
    – PoorYorick
    Feb 17, 2019 at 19:06
  1. If you look on the web and get ideas from different instructors on course (e.g. topics to cover, grading schemes, etc.) that is fine and I wouldn't even both citing that, especially if it is a synthesis along with your own ideas.

  2. But you are talking about something different. Explicitly pushing students to identical homeworks, videos, etc from other instructors. If you copy that stuff, you need copy permission (not just a cite). I guess you could just give your students links and then not need copy permission (and the cite is implicit). But that's not really feasible as you don't know if the links will stay live (many course links decay). Now, sending students to links from government sources or big companies may be a bit more stable.

  3. Finally, why do you need to copy so much? Can't you do as in para 1 and just use information for inspiration but make some contribution of your own? Even if it is a difficult topic in that there is no standard text to rely on as the "crutch", you can still make a series of journal readings. But just relying on other course websites seems too slack to me.

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