As background, I have a MSc in Chemical Engineering, and I am currently teaching in one of the first Fachhochschule-type institutes that have been established in my country. This institute stands as the middle ground between high school and university or industry, and I have been appointed as a teacher for one of the mandatory courses.

Due to COVID-19, all lectures are being performed online, and I have prepared the course material, such as slides for lectures and practicals. The lectures I have prepared cover about 80% of all course material.

I have found that one of my former professors' research group has published in their webpage the slides of a university course which comprises the missing 20% material of my course. Moreover, their slides are really well done, and it would take me lots of time (1-2 months) to prepare the same material from scratch. I have the idea of using said material directly in my lectures, by citing very explicitly the source, since it is very well made and clear.

Is it therefore ethical to do it?

2 Answers 2


If you cite the work you avoid plagiarism, other questions aside.

But the really ethical way to do this is to ask permission first and explain how and why you will use the material. If they have published it online there will probably be no reason to refuse you.

But another issue is how it will be perceived by your own students. Other questions here have revealed that some students feel cheated when this happens. So, make sure that you add value to the slides you borrow and that the value added is clear to your students. You may want to explain the borrowing to your own students as well.

In general, students want to know that you are spending effort on them.

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    A "side benefit" from asking permission is that this way your former professor knows that external people appreciate their slides. You never know when the argument "our slides are used at x other universities" comes in handy for your the former prof. A 2nd consideration is that you can at the same time ask whether they'd be interested in feedback in case you have an idea how to improve some slide. Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 12:48
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    @cbeleitesunhappywithSX, excellent catch. And keeping communication lines open with former professors can also pay benefits in the future.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 12:50

More as a food for thought, than an answer: You state that you (are going to) teach mandatory classes which reads equivalent to providing lectures about topics generally known in your scientific community. Say, as an example, after your classes each attendee shall know about how to compute the mean residence time in flow reactors.

It is late, you soon complete the lecture materials about something which is well known and understood, the equations won't change if the topic is taught in school A or B. And you use materials by your colleague, altogether with proper attribution of credit as s/he prepared it this well that you estimate this as better as you -- given time and plausible effort at your disposition -- could yield.

Now the Provocation: Put the your material together with him/her, identify others to join forces in a collaboration, this time under the perspective to improve lecturing material. Distribute the load to prepare the material on multiple shoulders, gradually improve them in a collaborative effort like wikipedia. What is the benefit if each instructor has to do this work on his/her own if these hours of work could be used instead for discussions with the students? Here I agree with Greg Wilson's argument around minute 26 at his talk at SciPy 2014 and his contributions to the computer-oriented initiative of software-carpentry.org. With courses given around the globe, material is openly shared (example) and improved over multiple years by many (example). But this pattern equally may be used in academia (example).

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