Choosing Course Resources: A Conversation with Jane Zimmerman and Erin Campbell

I used to rely heavily on textbooks. now, instead of seeing it as "the textbook defines my course," now I define the course and find or create the texts to support what needs to be in the course. -Jane Zimmerman

We wanted to know how professors choose classroom texts and resources.  So we asked them. This is the fourth interview in a series of five conversations that we’re sharing as part of a blog series. We hope to spotlight some of the interesting ways our educators are making innovative choices to help us learn more and spend less. If you missed it, read the interview with chemistry professor Melanie Cooper, the interview with associate professor of veterinary medicine Ioana Sonea, and the interview with physics education professor Paul Irving.

Interview Transcript:

Erin Campbell:  Can you tell me about the resources you use in Math 103?

photo of Jane Zimmerman, instructor in the Department of Mathematics at MSU

Jane Zimmerman, instructor in the Department of Mathematics at MSU

Jane Zimmerman: We’ve integrated the text in D2L. We used Open Educational Resources (OER) and align them with our curriculum and then embedded them in the D2L course.

How did you select those resources?

We’re using standards-based grading so it needs to be strictly aligned.  All of the content, the practice, the text needs to be aligned. And after looking at [many] textbooks we found there wasn’t one that did that. So, I researched some OERs in Openstax ( and one book was fairly close. We used that and modified it somewhat to meet our needs.

What are the approximate resource costs for your course and was cost a consideration when you were making the selection?

The textbook is free but there are other costs in the course because we have online homework ( We use Knewton Alta ( and there’s a cost associated with that, so it was important to us that there was no additional cost beyond that. [It’s well under the cost of a typical textbook] but the cost for the two is approximately $100.

Will students find the course resources useful beyond the course itself?

Knewton they have for two years and there is instruction embedded but I’m not sure if the [students] will use it.  They could. Webwork probably is not useful beyond the course itself. And the D2L, unless they’ve printed [materials], that closes after the course.

How do students feel about the course resources [and how do they voice their perspectives]?

I do focus groups.  And this is the first time we’ve used Knewton Alta, so I’ll get their feedback on that.

Do you discuss with students how and why you selected the resources?

Yes, I give an orientation session explaining the reasoning behind all this.

What’s a reasonable weekly workload for your course?

[There’s no required reading] and students don’t get points for homework, they don’t get points for Webwork or Knewton, but they do get points for mastering the objective.  So it will vary greatly from student to student because some only need to practice [a few] problems while others will need more.

Do you think the choice between digital and physical texts matters to 21st century students?

I don’t think it does for most.  Because I think they’re as comfortable with a computer as they are with books.  There are some people that like to have the book in front of them. But with digital you can always print it out.  But it’s not detrimental to move to digital.

Have you noticed students printing the text from D2L?

No, in fact in prior classes [it seems] math textbooks are not [heavily used].  That’s a last resort resource for most students.

Have your thoughts on course resources changed over your teaching career?

Absolutely.  I use to rely heavily on textbooks.  Now, instead of seeing it as ‘the textbook defines my course,’ now I define the course and find or create the texts to support what needs to be in the course.