Often, when taking a course at the university level, I amuse myself by Googling phrases from the instructors' slides, assignments, and other materials. I have found, without exception from any instructor, that the material is more or less identical to some resource I can find online, often course materials posted by a professor at a highly prestigious university (e.g. Stanford). In some cases I will find material that is 10 - 15 years old; other times it is undated. Sometimes I can find the same material posted by a dozen different professors at a dozen different universities.

A few times in the past, I've entertained the idea of reporting the professor for possible plagiarism, but I've never followed through on it because

  1. If the material is undated, there's no way to know who published it first
  2. For all I know these slides and assignments can be purchased from vendors. I have occasionally had a professor use a complete course package, where the publisher of a textbook also offers the assignments and tests to accompany the textbook.
  3. I have been unwilling to risk having to re-take the course, if the instructor is suddenly fired mid-semester for plagiarism

(In some cases the materials are sprinkled with enough informal language that it's obvious that they were not purchased from a vendor.)

Since it seems like all of my professors get all of their slides and assignments from somewhere else, I am curious how common it is to share course materials between instructors. Do college professors commonly purchase their lesson plans and assignments from vendors? Do instructors and universities share premade courses with each other?

  • You didn't exactly ask if this is considered plagiarism, so I don't think this is a duplicate, but it's closely related: Is it considered plagiarism for a professor to use uncited sources in teaching materials?
    – ff524
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 22:27
  • 3
    If you Googled phrases from my lecture material, you'd find a mixture of material from the textbook publisher's slides, from the textbook itself, and material that I have developed independently. Most of the publisher's material is marked as such, but not all of it because I'm sure I've overlooked to put a credit on a slide here and there. My lecture material is, anyway, an outline of a lecture to be delivered, and not material to be read verbatim. I frequently share my course material with others and sometimes borrow others' material. I sent off a batch of slides to a colleague today.
    – Bob Brown
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 22:59
  • @ff524 I'm not concerned about the definition of plagiarism, but trying to get an idea for how things work on the academic side. Since completely original work is demanded of every student, it's easy to make the tacit assumption that instructors are teaching off their own original work, but in reality I have no idea what goes on behind the scenes (as a programmer, I cringe at the idea of thousands of professors independently developing slides and assignments for the same subject instead of using existing materials, although I know some [many?] like to teach the course "their own way")
    – user45623
    Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 1:10
  • 3
    @user45623 College professors are expected to produce original work in their scholarship (research, publications, etc) but there's no expectation of originality in teaching.
    – ff524
    Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 1:13
  • 1
    Yes, I understood the question. There isn't generally an expectation of originality in teaching materials: slides, assignments, exams.
    – ff524
    Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 1:23

2 Answers 2


It is common for college professors to use teaching materials from outside sources. There is generally no an expectation of originality when it comes to teaching materials.

Do college professors commonly purchase their lesson plans and assignments from vendors?

Many textbooks come with a set of slides, distributed by either the publisher or the author of the textbook (often for free). Instructors may choose to use these exactly as they are, or adapt them. Some books come with other materials too, including assignments.

Personally, I often don't like the textbook authors' prepared materials and prefer to develop my own. But that's my preference.

Do instructors and universities share premade courses with each other?

Yes, this is also common. I have shared my course materials with instructors at my own university and at other universities. Many of my course materials are hosted online with an explicit Creative Commons license allowing others to use them.

I have also participated in projects that received NSF funding specifically to develop course materials and other resources to share with other instructors.


I have always shared my course materials with (younger and other) colleagues, and others have shared some materials with me. I have also jointly developed material. This happens all the time -- and it's also a good thing because, obviously, if one person is doing a good job at teaching a particular course, it would make no sense for everyone else who starts teaching it to start from zero. Reasonable faculty help each other out. Only poor colleagues insist that a new faculty needs to develop their own materials.

  • I use a different background for materials I am using from colleagues and slides I have made myself in order to make the difference clear. Commented Mar 26, 2016 at 22:13

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