I am a PhD student at a fairly large university, and I have twice taught a 200 level course for my department. The course is a new course that I developed. All of the lecture and lab content for this course was developed from scratch. As I will be graduating shortly (fingers crossed), a faculty member is scheduled to take over this course. My question is, "should I pass my course content on to said faculty?" I am primarily concerned about passing my slides on verbatim. Some issues I am concerned about are my indebtedness to the department (I developed some content while a TA and some while an adjunct.), ownership of the slides (What rights do I have to my content?), and distribution of content (How can I prevent the material from being further distributed?). I am interested in the issue of sharing content in general and not just in this one instance. Any guidance is much appreciated!

edit - as a colleauge of mine pointed out, I think there is a power imbalance issue as well. The faculty at my university are generally disinclined to share material with graduate students. Most grad students have to develop their own content. On the other hand, grad students are being asked to pass on material to faculty.

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    What is a "200 level" course?
    – gerrit
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 21:53
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    Why wouldn't you want to have your material accessible by as many people as possible? I would put all material online, open access.
    – Zenon
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 21:54
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    @gerrit, it is a second year undergraduate course. 1XX is first year; 4XX is fourth year. Roughly speaking.
    – Sam
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 21:55
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    @Zenon, perhaps I should. My concern is that I will lose control and that the material will no longer be attributed to me.
    – Sam
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 21:59
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    Copying material without attributing it to you is plagiarism, which (as I'm sure you're aware) is taken pretty seriously by academics. Publishing work online is exactly the same as publishing it in a book or journal, the only difference being that anyone can access it (which is definitely a good thing). My undergraduate tutor gave us a couple of explanatory articles by a professor at another university, and they were referenced just like the other items on the reading list.
    – Nico Burns
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 0:27

3 Answers 3


In my opinion: Yes, you should certainly pass over all course material.

My colleague took over a course from another colleague who had left. My colleague know much less about the subject than the one who had left, so putting together a good course was a challenge for him. In theory, he had passed over all course material, but in practice, it was not very well organised, and my colleague ended up having to build it mostly from scratch.

As you have probably experienced, the first time you give a course is by far the most work, because you have to create everything from scratch. It helps enormously to have access to earlier course material. You lose very little by giving away course material. It's probably not publishable anyway — and if it is, passing it on to the next doesn't disqualify you from publishing it as a review or textbook, because passing it on is not a publication.

The only situation I can imagine where it would be problematic is if the person who you pass it on to claims it as their own and incorporates it in a review paper or textbook. But if you have any trust for the person, they won't do that, and it's much better to simply make all the course material available. Probably for the entire world.

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    What if I provided watermarked PDF copies of the slides? This would drastically reduce the instructor's workload, but would also prevent the content from being directly reused. Is that just petulant?
    – Sam
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 22:18
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    @Sam I would really advise to avoid watermarks… it's not technically efficient method, and most importantly it adds insult to injury (in addition to giving material of a degraded quality, you make it clear that you don't trust your follower). You were employed to produce this course, you did so, good for you. They will reüse it, probably improve it over time, good for them. Most probably they will do it right, and acknowledge your contribution. If they don't, shame on them, and you can act. But don't assume bad faith!
    – F'x
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 22:31
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    Or, to link the issue to a related situation: when you publish figures in papers, do you watermark them because of fear of them being misused?
    – F'x
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 22:34
  • @F'x Thank you. I will avoid the watermarks. I had thought about the comparison between published papers. I think it is a little different because there are systems in place to ensure attribution of paper publications. If the course content is further distributed or reused (perhaps not by this instructor, but by a graduating student who may TA the course) there is no attribution.
    – Sam
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 22:46
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    I would recommend posting a time-stamped snapshot of the course materials on your own web page, to resolve any later contention over priority. Then let it go.
    – JeffE
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 23:49

In some cases, ownership may be defined in your contract. In the US, intellectual property law usually assigns ownership of works created during the course of expected duties of employment to the employer. The employee may or may not retain ownership, depending on the contract that was signed.

Your institution may also have ownership over all course materials, since you created them while you were an employee doing expected duties (teaching). Thus, they can do whatever they want with them, including assigning, licensing, or selling their ownership. Your ownership, however, would remain intact, if you had ownership. Your ownership cannot be reassigned or sold without your permission or under court order. You may have already give permission waiving ownership by signing your contract.

  • Thank you, I am not sure what my contract states. I will look into that...
    – Sam
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 22:22
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    Many US universities have an explicit policy giving their employees copyright to "traditional academic works" but requiring a permanent royalty-free license to the university. Otherwise, nobody would write textbooks. Whether lecture slides qualify as "traditional academic works" probably depends on which lawyers you ask.
    – JeffE
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 23:53

Complementing the other answers, that are more specific to the text in your question (being a TA and giving up the material), I'll add how I "roll" as a faculty member with my teaching assistants after 10+ years.

I have amassed a lot of material for several of the first-year courses I was "stuck with" in the beginning. It's true that some academic tradition is to ask TAs to develop their own material without any sharing from faculty. Some faculty I have spoken with feel it's how a TA builds character; others say it's a way to see if a TA has potential as a researcher; others say it's simply tradition.

In my case, my courses are too important to have TAs test out their worth and possibly crash and burn due to lack of support (it happened once that the students revolted, and this problem fell back into my lap, being the faculty member in charge of the course). So I learned my lesson to hand over everything, with the caveat that the TA know the material in the books and not think of the material as being a "pass" at teaching the course. I always encourage TAs to re-do their presentation slides, only because presenting is a personal style, and it's risky to present someone else's material with confidence.

After I started sharing, one TA added some exercises that were well done, but he didn't want to give them back, saying it was his property and he was underpaid, etc. Fair enough, since I didn't state any expectations when I gave out my material.

So, now I will give my material out to any new TAs who sign an informal contract (email response) saying that by accepting the material, they agree to improve on it (add exercises, examples, exam questions, multiple-choice questions, analyses, etc.) and render it back to the community (me). This has worked well with many TAs, and frankly the cooperation factor is very high.

Another practical aspect: I ask TAs to cite sources of material they borrow (just as they do in their research reports). The course material is already full of citations, so it's natural. In the distant past, some undergrad students raised a stink (rightly!) about TAs who copy/paste figures/text from web sources without citing them in Powerpoint. In one case, a TA was fired because he wouldn't change this behavior.

As for how to share, today I'm using Google Drive (our school has the academic license). In the past I used Dropbox and both ways are very practical.

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