Watch the video recording of this Office Hours session, or keep reading for a full transcript. The chat transcript is also available, for those interested in reading the conversation that took place amongst participants and seeing resources shared.

Note: If anyone would prefer to not be associated with their comments in either of these transcripts, please contact Craig as soon as possible and we will remove any names or other identifying information.

Audio Transcript


  • Apurva Ashok
  • Karen Lauritsen
  • Sarah Elaine Hare
  • Nathan Smith
  • Ann Fiddler
  • Jonathan Poritz
  • Kristin W

Apurva: Welcome everyone to another Office Hours. My name is Apurva Ashok. I am from the Rebus Community. And I am joined by my wonderful co-host from the Open Education Network, Karen Lauritsen, and a few other team members from the OEN. There’s Craig Sandler and Barb Thees on the call. So, today’s topic is OER course markings. Quite an interesting topic for us to be diving into. 

But I will just say if this is your time attending Office Hours, know that this is an informal conversation we will hear from our guests, each of them will take five minutes to present about their topic, share their experiences. And then, we’ll turn things over to all of you for your questions, for your thoughts, and we’ll let you drive the conversation following that. If there are future topics that you would like us to discuss, or if you’d like to be a guest at an Office Hours session, we are always open to your suggestions. 

I’m going to drop in a link to a form here that you can fill out and share your suggestions or topics. And we definitely keep reviewing this regularly to see if there is something that we have missed that you would like us to dig deeper into. Today’s line up is really fantastic, we’re going to be talking about course markings and how we can make it clearer to students and other stakeholders that OER is being used in the classroom. 

And what kind of impact this clarity and transparency might have, both to students but also to others in the higher education institution, or behind the policy doors. So, Karen, I’ll turn it over to you to tell folks a little about yourself, the OEN, and to introduce our guests. 

Karen: Thank you, Apurva. As always, we are delighted to be here with you and with the Rebus Community. The OEN is a community of people who are working to make higher education more open, and many OEN members are on this call and like our three guests will probably have lots of stories and resources to share. So, we’re delighted to welcome three guests who will share some case studies with us. 

First, Sarah Hare, scholarly communication librarian at Indiana University. Then, we’ll hear from Nathan Smith, instructor and OER coordinator at Houston Community College. And then, finally, we’ll hear from Ann Fiddler, who is open education librarian at City University of New York. As Apurva mentioned, our three guests will speak briefly, and then we’ll really turn it over to you for your questions and comments about what they share with you today. So, without further ado, I will hand things over to Sarah. 

Sarah: Great, thanks for that introduction. Again, I’m Sarah Hare, I work at Indiana University, Bloomington. And we’re not actually doing open course marking at IU. I’m here to talk a little bit more about a book project that I was a co-editor on. So, I’m going to go ahead and put that link in the chat. This was a book that was published last spring and it’s all about course marking and course tagging, both open and affordable course materials. 

And both Nathan and Ann had case studies in the book, and so I just want to talk a little bit about it as a resource that might be useful to folks that are considering this and thinking about how to operationalize the big project on their campus. So, I should say too, the book was supported by Rebus, we’re part of their beta project. And we also used Hypothesis and Pressbooks, so the book itself is this open experiment in some ways. 

But the content, I think is really helpful, so in addition to having multiple case studies from different contexts that use different SIS, student information systems, and implement course markings in very different ways based on how they define open, how they define affordable, what kinds of icons they’re using, that sort of thing. In addition to those case studies, there’s also a deeper dive. 

So, the book is interesting because it’s part case studies, almost edited book, and then also part collaboratively written monograph in some ways. So, the first part is more of a monograph deep dive into course markings, specifically for open and affordable course materials. And so, we talk a little bit about why you might want to mark, why it’s important for student agency and thinking about students being able to get all of the information they need to make an educated choice about which classes to take. 

How that fits into their own financial circumstances, and transparency around that. The second part we talk about is legislation, so I’m going to throw this in the chat as well, because I think it’s so great. Nicole Allen led this section about legislation, and there’s a chart maybe halfway a little bit further down than halfway, that just does a great job summarizing for example what states are required to mark courses, what year that legislation was passed. 

And then, what exactly the language says about what kinds of courses or course materials have to be marked if that’s defined. The book is trying to take all of these ideas and organize them and help folks that are jump starting their program. Other information in the book, we have a section devoted to stakeholders and talking points. So, who are the folks that you want to talk to as you’re starting an initiative?

And what are some talking points, so what are some things that might really help them think through why this may be a good idea? What are some concerns they would have? For example, a common retort we hear from faculty is: well, won’t this mean that the courses that aren’t marked OER will get less registration? So, how do you deal with some of those bigger issues? How do you deal with the cost issue?

So, just some guidance and a framework around that. And then, we also dive into the technical pieces, so we have a systems section, where we talk about SIS and some of the technical considerations for implementing these changes. And then, finally, two other sections, one about marketing and messaging and then the last one about assessments. So, this is very new and so, I think a lot of the assessment approaches we have are introductory or anecdotal. 

And so, the book authors have tried to set up again a framework or some ideas for how could you use both quantitative and qualitative measures to assess any course marking endeavor that you start. And really reflecting back on what are your goals and what kind of metrics might help you think about if those goals were met. So, I’ll stop talking, because I want to be able to have a conversation with you all, but I hope that you’ll check out the book and I’m here to answer any questions you have about it. 

Karen: Great, thank you, Sarah, for that introduction and overview of what sounds like a really valuable guide. Over to you, Nathan. 

Nathan: Thank you all for inviting me to talk a little bit about our course marking process at HCC. So, it’s really interesting to participate in the project and try to draft out a case study that described what we did. You’ll find that when we went through the process, we had several stages in thinking about it. And that might be useful to you in thinking about what are your goals and priorities in terms of course marking. 

I think as with any big projects like this, you really want to put that at the forefront. What am I am trying to accomplish with this? So, some of the key decisions that we made were first and foremost we decided to highlight cost as the feature that we were going to mark for. So, we have a zero cost books course mark, we have a low-cost books course mark. And the low-cost book is a threshold of $40 total for new instructional materials purchase at the bookstore. 

So, that decision was made primarily because we felt like cost is a salient factor for students. And we thought that our course marking was primarily a student-facing project. And so, there’s advantages and disadvantages to this, I think as you may think about. So, for instance, we can’t say with certainty that all of our zero cost books courses use OER. Most of them do and in fact most of our low-cost book courses use OER. 

That’s how they get to that low cost, but we can’t say for sure that that’s the case. The flip side of that is that zero cost and low cost are actually fairly easy to measure, because you can just look at what is required at the bookstore, you can look at the syllabus. It’s fairly simple to identify the courses or verify that the courses are correctly marked. When it’s OER with OER as your marker, that’s a little bit more difficult. 

Because then you really have to go in and look at the resource, make sure that the resource is in fact openly licensed and meets the criteria for an open educational resource. So, we try to accomplish that through training, by bringing faculty in to learn about what open licensing means and what are the advantages of that for teaching and for developing resources. But when it comes to marking the courses, we focus on the cost. 

One of the benefits of focusing on cost is that we have been able to ramp up a program pretty quickly so that within a year of launching this tagging, we’re a very large institution, so keep that in mind when you look at this. But we were getting close to 300 sections a semester for Fall semester, Spring semester, within a year of launching that. And then, that’s gone up since then. 

So, when you make it simple, I think you can get a lot of quick buy in but if you want to really focus on open, I think that requires a little bit more of a process, I’d say. What we do in terms of communicating with students, since that was one of the features that we wanted to focus on today, I’ll say that what we do is we have a communications strategy that we’ve developed with our communications department. 

So, basically, at the beginning of every enrolment period we do a social media blast, which basically tells students you could save up to $1,000 on textbooks for the year. That’s our tagline. And that’s based around the development of we have a Z-degree. So, if a student took all of their courses as zero cost courses, then they can do that at close to eight campuses right now, plus online. 

If they were to do that, then they could save up to about $1,000 a year. We don’t have any students who fully enroll in zero cost courses, it’s usually one or two courses per semester. But anyway, that’s the selling point. What we do then is we send them a link, directs them to a landing page, the landing page has some videos that describe how they could search for courses that are tagged, because it requires using some filters in the SIS. 

And then, it also has a form that they can enter their information, that goes into a backend database that I can pull from and send email messages to them, just encouraging them to enroll in those courses. So, that’s our communications strategy right now. And once a year I meet with advisors and enrolment officers just to have a big meeting that I come in and I just say, “Here’s how you help students search for these things.”

Because that’s typically the first point of contact for students when they’re enrolling for classes, they’re going to meet with somebody in enrolment or advising. So, that person can tell them how to use the search tool and can look for courses that are low-cost or zero cost, that helps. 

Karen: Right, thanks, Nathan. Yeah, it’s great to hear about the communication campaign and then what sounds almost like reaching out individually or in groups to students once you’ve identified those who are interested. So, that is our first two guests, and now, over to you, Ann. 

Ann: Hi, thank you also for having me. What Nathan had to say, and we didn’t talk before was very similar to what I was going to say. We do a very similar process. We market as an attribute in our system, so if you’re looking for an intensive writing course, that would be considered an attribute and we have about 30 of them, and this became an attribute. So, we started in 2017, when we were involved with Achieving The Dream grant, and that was one of the really great things that came out of that was to do that. 

And we started big conversations around our working groups about what to call it. Back to what Nathan was saying, we don’t do strictly OER, that’s just too difficult to control. So, we do zero cost textbooks, ZTC, zero text courses. And we have a process by which faculty can mark it, it varies from school to school. Again, we’re a very large institution, we have about 500,000 undergraduates and non-degree seeking students over the five boroughs of New York City. 

And we have a very needy population in terms of being able to afford textbooks. So, it’s really a heart project across CUNY and it’s gotten a lot of adoption. About a year into the Achieving The Dream program, New York State started supporting this for us. So, that became a project in every single school. One of the advantages that we have, and it may be the same at Houston is that we have one registration system for across CUNY. 

So, we can see what’s going on, we can measure it, we can use different metrics for assessment. One of the things that we’ve seen is since 2017, we have more than 23,000 courses marked in our system, which is pretty awesome. At one point, somebody who works in my office was going through things, just taking a look at trends that students do to register for courses. 

And he found one student who took 12 OER ZTC courses, and so my thought was can we find this student? Can we ask him why did he hear what others don’t necessarily hear? So, we market it in the schools projects, we talk to advisors as well. We do a blast to students and I’m going to share that with you, it’s an email blast that goes directly to their email. It’s also on Twitter and Facebook. And I’m going to try and share. 

[Video Begins] 

Textbook prices can be astronomical. But the good news is a growing number of courses at CUNY assign cost free books and materials. They’re called open educational resources, they’re free, openly licensed, and you don’t have to spend big bucks on commercial textbooks. Registration is underway, so search now for zero textbook cost courses. It’s easy, select the zero textbook cost course attribute when searching for courses in CUNY first. 

For more information on open educational resources and how New York State is working to make the college education more affordable, go to 

[Video Ends]

So, that gets blasted out every semester during registration time, which is actually about three months before registration, right up until school starts. We also have other things that we hand out, we have bookmarks, we have screens for the libraries and for the colleges. We have one-pagers. I’m a little disappointed on how many shares we have on YouTube, I would have hoped that we’d had more, but we don’t. 

So, I think what’s happened and the reason there’s so much interest in this is that in the last three years this has just advanced so quickly, with states jumping in and supporting. I know at CUNY it’s like two years ago we had to explain ourselves everywhere we went, and now everybody knows what we’re talking about and how do we get involved and how we do we mark our courses. 

So, it’s been pretty successful, we recently added a low cost at CUNY. There is a feeling that the $40 threshold nationwide is too high for us, so we went with $25 for the low cost. And we try to consider that a nod to the OER providers who typically charge that per student. So, pretty much that’s how it’s going. We have LTC, we have ZTC, we have actually hired somebody from the grad center at CUNY to do some analysis of what’s getting reported in our ZTC. 

Karen: Great, thanks, Ann. And thanks for showing that video, I think it’s really helpful to see the kind of communication that’s going out to students. And it also leads us to our next question, I think, that Caitlyn just posted in the chat. So, I’ll just pause for a moment to thank our three guests for their stories. And then, to invite all of you to either post questions in chat or you’re welcome to unmute your microphone if you just want to chat audibly. 

So, Caitlyn asks, “Can you talk more about how you decided to highlight OER specifically in the video, when the course marking is just for zero cost? I’ve been thinking a lot about how to be complete and including library licensed and other affordable materials when marketing, but also how not to be confusing in throwing too many terms out there.” Always tough to juggle the terms and the acronyms and especially once they become invisible to us, because we’re throwing them around all the time. 

Ann: Yeah, I think there’s a real blending of that term OER. In the very beginning when we were talking about OER, we felt like well, we don’t want to use this terminology, because it’s going to confuse people. And then, it became part of everyday speech, so I think when we refer to OER at this point, we’re fairly comfortable referring to it as zero textbook cost courses, because it is so pervasive throughout the university. 

So, we know we’re talking about zero cost materials, but the students don’t really differentiate. So, yeah, you’re right, it’s a thing to think about. 

Sarah: Yeah, it’s not scientific at all, these are 10 case studies that just applied to be part of the book. But I’ll just link to our analysis of how they define the different markings and we started the book thinking that it would be all about open materials and quickly found that affordable kept coming up. That having a student easily digest and understand was really important. 

So, I think each institution takes a different approach based on the history of their OER programming and their students’ basic familiarity with the issue. And you were talking about the cost threshold, too, Ann. I think it’s also contextual. 

Karen: Nathan, when you were working on your student communication plan with the communication team, did you guys have to suss out which terms to use or how to be consistent? 

Nathan: Yeah, so what we typically do is say that the courses are zero cost books or low-cost books courses. And that the way that faculty can achieve that zero cost is by using openly licensed materials. So, we mention OER, we just say that’s the way they get there. And that seems to be the language that people, and this is not any kind of, this is anecdotal. But when I talk to people that seems to be something that they understand. 

“So, how can you make the materials free?” I say, “Well, we’re using materials that have a certain copyright license, that allows you to have free access to them.” And then, they’re like, “Oh, okay, that makes sense.” So, it was definitely part of the conversation and we also allow, I know some people, some Z-degree programs have a requirement that you use openly licensed materials. 

We are explicit that you are allowed to use library materials, this is on the faculty side, this isn’t necessarily for students, it’s in our policies on the Z degree. You can use open and free resources on the web as well as library resources. So, that may include the DRM type managed resources that you get, like ebooks in the library that are actually copyrighted, but because the institution has a certain agreement, students can have free access to it. So, we definitely are focused on the free as much as the open. 

Karen: Great. Jonathan asks if it’s true that students preferentially choose ZTC courses when they have a choice? And do we have any well-designed studies on this? 

Ann: Well, who wouldn’t, right? We’re still up against, particularly Nathan’s in an urban environment as well, our students are predominantly commuters, they very notoriously don’t read their email. It’s really hard to get good communication, that’s been our biggest trouble. We work with student affairs as well, we say any time you go talk to a student group invite us, we only want five minutes of your time. 

And every time we’ve been, we’ve been really well received, because they’re like, “Oh really?” And we say, “Yeah, tell your friends, and tell your friends to tell your friends.” But still, communication remains, for us, to be the biggest obstacle. So, I think who wouldn’t, but they have to know. 

Nathan: Sarah, do you know if there have been any studies on this? Because I have been very interested in this question, and I haven’t found anything out there. I’ve talked to my institutional research folks and we’re thinking about how you would design a study that would actually answer that question. We think that you would have to actually look at enrolment over time. 

So, you would actually have to have snapshots of the enrolment counts at certain time intervals because it’s not enough to look at whether the class fills. The question is how quickly is it filling, right? So, this is a very interesting question. We are doing something where we track student searches in the SS. So, when they do that course attribute, it’s just like what Ann had in the video. 

We do a very similar thing. There’s a filter where you can search by course attribute, and so we track every time a student does that search, I can get a printout of that per semester. So, I know that there were 1,000 searches that used the filter, and then I can tell what course that person ended up looking at. So, we are getting some data on that, but yeah, I don’t know. 

Sarah: Yeah, this is not something we could find when we were writing the assessment section. Trying to find studies in existing literature and I think a lot of what we have here is very similar to what you’re saying, Nathan. Good ideas or brainstorming, so in addition to what you said, even I wonder if it would be interesting to do maybe a focus group or even watching a student use the course catalog right and how are they searching or making decisions. 

It’s almost like usability testing, but for their decision-making process for selecting courses. But I don’t know of any existing studies related to that. 

Apurva: Ann, I’m wondering were there any particular findings if you were able to track down that student who enrolled in 12 courses? Were there specific things that this student was looking for? Or communication blasts that really was the tipping point for them?

Ann: So, ethically, we’re not really supposed to know this. 

Apurva: Okay. 

Ann: So, we’re putting it on the backburner for now. 

Apurva: Go ahead, Jonathan. 

Jonathan: So, I think it is a hard study to do, because for example you would want to compare, as people always say, apples to apples. You’d want to have two different sections of the same course at the same time, so it’s not some sort of scheduling issue that is driving the decision. Then, of course, it’s typically associated with a particular faculty or instructor choice, presumably. And it might be the younger more hip faculty are using the OER. 

And therefore, are you really just finding where the more popular professors are? It seems like it’s a hard thing to do but it really is a question we want to be able to answer. We’re going to have to implement this by state law in about a year in my state, I’m in the state of Colorado. And we’re thinking about it a lot right now. And my colleagues all say, “But they’re all going to run to that cheap course, rather than the high quality one I give.”

And I agree with Ann, I think why wouldn’t they choose the cheap one? And go for it, good on them. But nevertheless, it would be nice to have a really hard number to quote at them, a good study. If I’ve got the mic, can I just ask a question? There have been some discussions about what is the definition of low-cost in the CUNY system and the other system. And if Nathan says it was pretty easy to see what the costs were and what was zero cost in his discussion of whether it’s OER or zero.

He went with cost, because that’s easy to check, you go to the bookstore, you look at syllabi, that’s the thing that’s scaring me a little bit, getting accurate information in a timely fashion. Because instructors sometimes change and therefore, they change their book. I’ve been put on a class a week before the semester starts, so these things can happen at the last minute. And so, I’m concerned about how easy it is to collect this data. 

And if you do have the data, has anyone thought about just putting the actual number in the SIS? Why not just have a little field that says required texts for this book are $179 at the bookstore. And students can think I can probably get it from half priced books for $100. But why would we bother giving a detailed thing about making a decision about what the low cost is when we can give the actual number?

Ann: So, for low, I feel like we did the low cost because an English teacher who assigns two novels that cost $15 feels excluded. And so, we’re giving a nod to say, “Okay, we’re going to include you in this initiative that we’re doing, and you can feel part of it. And you can advertise yourself to your students this way.” So, that’s why we started with the low, and we just had to pick a number for the low. 

I think by adding the low versus an actual number, we know okay, it’s less than $25. That’s what our low cost is. Also, what we’ve found happening is big departments, math departments, for example, were using my open math, for example. And entire departments changed over to my open math, and they were entirely ZTC courses. And then, a company came in and convinced them that they need to be using OHM, which cost $25 per student. 

And we were like, “What? Wait, no. What?” But we don’t have control over that, so we didn’t want to exclude them at that point. We wanted to still include them, because they were part of the initiative, and they did spend their time and effort to convert these courses. But you get sidelined by these things. So, I think it is important to have a low cost as a comparative thing, although across the country there are very widely varying ideas of what that is. 

Nathan: I wanted to pick up a question that came up, some people were saying how hard it is to track this stuff and Jon’s question as well. I’ll say what I do at HCC. And it’s pretty time intensive, so I think you need to have somebody who can devote a little time to this every year. But basically, because I have the historical data on who has been teaching these courses, I have a running list of faculty who basically I know have been using these courses. 

We did a research study a couple of years ago and it’s about to be published in Frontiers in Education. And as part of that research study, I physically went through all the syllabi and confirmed that everything that we had tagged as zero cost books was zero cost books. So, I feel like I have a very good baseline for who are the faculty who’ve been using that. So, that means every semester as the semester approaches, I pull from the student information system a document that has every course that’s been tagged as zero cost books. 

And then, I look at the instructor list, and just check to see if there are any names on there that I don’t recognize. If I don’t recognize them, I email the chair and the instructor just to verify that they’re in fact using that material. I can do another thing where if I see an instructor that’s dropped off, like they always use zero cost books and they’re not tagged, then I also go back and say, “Well, is there a reason why? What happened there?”

That’s pretty labor intensive. The thing that’s really hard is that once you tag, see, you’re tagging sections, but as we all know, anybody who’s managed a department at a college university, especially at  community college like Ann and I. Staffing changes rapidly at the very end of the enrolment period, right before the semester starts because of just things that happen. 

And so, the course might be tagged zero cost, but then you’ve switched instructors. Is that instructor still using the material? So, what you basically have to do is really work with the chairs or whoever is handling the staffing and the tagging. And make sure they understand the issues that surround the tagging, what we’re trying to do, what we’re trying to accomplish. And then, hopefully, the faculty and the chairs together can self-monitor. And I think that’s the best-case scenario, and it just takes a lot of work. 

Ann: Yeah, I would say that there is a big mess that develops out of all of this, all of these factors that come in, like courses carrying over and that sort of thing. We found a situation where we work with Akademos bookstore. And they were very cooperative with us and they put a button on there, when a faculty member goes in and puts their courses in, their requests. 

They’re supposed to do it whether or not they’re asking for books from the bookstore. So, they can just tag their course as OER and it automatically converts in our registration system. So, we know right away then and then we found that instructors were doing that. They would mark a course as OER, and then in the notes they would require texts. And we were like, “Wait, no, you can’t do that.”

So, that was pretty crazy. So, that says to me that it was desirable for them to be perceived as a ZTC course. But we have so many instructors, it’s really hard to keep a handle on sometimes. 

Apurva: Definitely, and there is a question from Kristin, so Kristin go ahead. 

Kristin: Thank you. I’m no camera today, so I apologize. I think that that desirability to be in the cohort of classes that is marked as no or low cost or affordable or whatever the terms are is truly something that faculty should aspire to. And so, we’ve at UWM just gotten started with our project and really kept the group of classes that qualifies for this attribute in the courseleaf system that we use, we’ve kept that to a really close group. 

But we have done the work of saying that courses that are $25 and less could also be included there. I really appreciate the comment that sometimes faculty don’t know what they’re going to be teaching, especially when we’re dealing with large numbers of adjuncts, especially when we’re dealing with a year like we’ve just had of trying to prepare under unknown circumstances. 

So, what we have done is we’ve added the attribute to the course, but we’ve also put in a note that says check the bookstore for your specific section. So, if we offer 22 sections of English 101, and we have one person who only teaches that class every four years, then that person may not be part of the affordable cohort or they may not be part of the open cohort for that textbook. 

So, what we want to do is make sure that the transparency is there for the students that they are able to filter for the affordable marking, but then it takes us off the hook so to speak, that students still need to check which section with the bookstore. So, the bookstore is fulfilling their role of noting the cost of course materials for financial aid purposes and administrative purposes. 

But then, we’re still offering students that opportunity to try to identify open and affordable courses through the course schedule. At some point, we’d really, really like to be able to get to the section level, but since we’re doing everything manually right now, we don’t have that workflow built. And since we’re pretty small right now, I think that’s okay, because it’s allowing us to see what some of the challenges are. 

But as soon as we went live with this, we had faculty contacting us and say, “Hey, my book is $24.99, can I be included?” But for the sake of the registrar and lord knows they’ve had enough to deal with with converting the status of classes and that sort of thing. But we’re just trying to get started on the project. But I think what we’re really interested ultimately is coming up with better workflows to make things more seamless as we grow with it. 

Karen: Thanks, Kristin, it’s great to hear another case study of what’s being done in Wisconsin, and good to hear your voice, it’s been a while. So, thanks everyone for a great discussion, and I will continue to invite you to post your questions or comments in the chat or if you want to unmute, feel free to jump into the conversation when you can, it’s not too formal here. 

One thing that, Sarah, you talked about that I thought maybe we could revisit, because it’s popped up a couple of times as an aside, is that in the guide there is some discussion about how to handle common faculty concerns and how to have those conversations and talk with them when this is introduced. So, I was wondering if you or anyone in the call could talk a little bit more about tactics for that. 

Sarah: Yeah, let me go ahead and drop this in here. So, it’s hard to be exhaustive, of course, with every concern that might come up or things that might be effective even. It depends so much on groups, on a specific group. And so, what we tried to do instead was give a framework here are things that you might try, based on that group. So, for example, we talk a little bit about utilizing strategic documents that talk about the institution’s mission and pointing to access and affordability, student agency, transparency. 

Some of those things that we see course marking overlapping with, trying to use data when possible. And then, here at the very bottom we talk a little bit about concerns. So, the second one there, currently concerned about maybe enrolment changing based on the markings. And so, we try to give a couple of ideas, really, but again, it’s based on your context, how you apply these. 

But yeah, I’d welcome any discussion on some of these more in depth points. One is administrators talking about the cost of such an initiative, there’s maybe extra technical costs, there’s more work on the registrar, there’s assessment costs, the faculty concerns. Just misconceptions about what this might do with student enrolment and interest. So, we try and give a couple of ideas, but the folks that have actually implemented it, I don’t know if you all have that stuff to add?

Nathan: I would say there’s two different concerns, one is the administration level, like you said, Sarah. There are concerns, you’ll hear certain things like well, if we use more open materials, are we going to lose revenue from the bookstore? Because as the bookstore diminishes revenue, usually they have an arrangement where some of that comes back to the college university. 

So, there are concerns about that. There’s concerns about the administrative costs, in terms of maintaining the program. And then, there’s also questions about well, what are the real benefits here? Are faculty just going without a textbook here? What’s this? So, there are definitely lots of concerns. I think on the administrative side the best thing to do is to track some data and try to report that. 

Of course that takes work, but there’s lots of good stuff out there. So, one thing I’ll point people to is Ann was mentioning she was part of that Achieving The Dream group, the OER degree plan. They have published a series of research white papers essentially that look at the impacts of those Z-degree programs. The most recent one which was published in January I think of this year, is really good. 

It looks at the economics specifically and finds that in fact it looks like these OER programs actually bring in more money to the institution by increased enrolment intensity. So, there’s an argument to be made there. Then, when you go to the faculty side, I think their concerns about are students going to flock to those courses? These are things I’ve heard. What I would just say is you know what? 

I was department chair for three years, I’ve been tracking this stuff for a while. What I see is students flock to instructors, bottom line. If your courses fill up, they’re going to continue to fill up. Students want instructors, that’s what they want. So, that’s what I see, but again, that’s pretty soft data. 

Ann: I just want to make one comment about what’s happened at CUNY in terms of OER and how it’s blossomed into this whole open pedagogy movement. So, we say come for the OER, stay for the open pedagogy. So, it’s surely about saving students money, enabling them to stay in school, to progress more quickly through school and not fail and all of those things. 

But it’s really, really very strongly at CUNY and probably elsewhere too, I can’t see avoiding having it become such an enlightenment tool for instructors. When they go to these professional development workshops, they come out and they say, “My mind is blown. What were we thinking about textbooks?” So, it’s so intertwined now, and of course instructors who are open to new pedagogies and things are probably better instructors. 

They’re probably more concerned about their students, they’re not just maintaining their job for whatever reason. So, these things have all become entwined. This past year for example, the theme of every single thing we’ve ever done professional development is open pedagogy and OER. And this year particularly in this Covid moment, we have all sorts of professional development opportunities that never occurred before via central office that we, as OER people, have been heavily involved with. 

So, I think at some point we have to bring in that open pedagogy piece, because that’s all about the philosophy of developing your course. And yes, of course, it is about saving students money, but there’s so much more to it. Look at the conferences, so I just want to throw that in there. 

Sarah: I want to just add too, some of the benefits that we talk about that might be talking points for administrators and faculty alike. What Nathan said about there’s a variety of reasons a student chooses a course, we don’t quite understand sometimes it’s a pretty complex decision-making process. And then, also for better or worse course markings can also be used in trying to attract new students, talking about the institution as a whole. 

Trying to increase access and make their education more affordable, so thinking about that in recruitment materials and also when working with donors or other folks that might be interested in supporting the institution in some way. And then, the other piece is thinking about how an OER or affordable course material initiative feeds course marking and vice versa. 

So, the idea that maybe starting a course marking initiative might result in instructors being more again, we don’t have hard data on this, but being more likely to adopt. And then, vice versa, making that more visible as an important step for raising awareness about the work you’re already doing. So, I think that all of those things are intangible in some way but might be ways to present some of the benefits. 

Apurva: Thanks Sarah, and you were alluding to one of hopefully the final questions we’ll have for today. Going to do a last call for folks in the chat, if you had anything more to ask, please feel free to drop that in. But for someone who is on the call right now thinking of starting this kind of marking system or initiative, where would you recommend that they begin? 

We’ve talked about a lot of different stakeholders, whether it’s folks in the libraries, in the advising office, or talking to students themselves. For someone who’s been listening on this call and taking a moment that says oh no, this sounds like a lot of work, where do I start? What would you encourage them to do? And Ann and Nathan, you’ve seen these initiatives grow significantly over the past few years. So, looking back to when you began, how would you suggest someone start doing this work? 

Ann: Get a group together. Get library representation, get CEDALS representation, get as many chairs as you can, talk to your administrators. We are very careful about not top down, even though we’re sitting in central office, so it be perceived that we are telling people what to do. And we’re very careful about not telling people what to do. But there’s been such overwhelmingly heartfelt interest from the campuses, and each one operates in their own fashion, very different from one another. 

And to embrace that and just whatever style works for you works for us, kind of thing. But yeah, it started with a group, we had a little tiny work group five years ago. And look where we are today, it’s crazy, it’s just crazy. But those were great forces on campus, they were proud librarians and proud people from CEDALS. We have I would say 80% more almost 90% of our campus leads are in the library. So, your librarians are your friends, for sure. 

Apurva: We definitely love our librarians in this community here. Nathan, you had a nice suggestion in the chat about also thinking about your strategic plan. Did you want to elaborate on that?

Nathan: Yeah, that’s something that I’m actively doing this year. And I’m trying to outline objectives and a big thing that I’m doing right now is trying to get our key performance indicators set up, so that we have a regular report on that and everybody is on the same page with this is what we’re measuring, this is how we’re going to assess this program. Because what has happened, I do an annual report to the board of trustees. 

But it seems like every year I’ll present what I’ve got, and then I’ll get the chancellor and the chief academic officer going, “Oh, these aren’t the best numbers, can you do something different?” And it’s like, “Look, can we just agree on what we’re measuring? Then, I can present it every year.” So, we’re trying to align that and get it settled. To answer the question about getting started, I think Ann’s exactly right, build a coalition of allies. 

Specifically for course marking though, you are going to need to get a senior level IT administrator, who is in charge of your student information system. And you’re going to need to have at least as senior a person in your academic instruction unit to be there, too so they can put the muscle behind the request. Because it’s difficult, it’s going to require, I mean, and people saw the course attribute field is like you can add a new course attribute so it’s pretty simple. 

Then, getting that course attribute embedded into the search is a little more difficult, but it didn’t require the creation of anything brand new within the system for us. That may be different for you, so it may require some coding and they’re going to resist doing that stuff. But this is where state mandates actually come in handy, so Colorado, I know Texas has that. So, you can use some legislation as a stick as well. 

Ann: We actually paid somebody to work in the registrar’s office part time to help us with this because we didn’t want to burden them. And it does definitely require, they have to work with you or else it’s never going to happen. And I can’t believe, Nathan, that you have this People Soft system, too which people quit at CUNY over. But for us, it’s been such a boon, because we can see everything. We’re the only people who ever said this is great, ever. 

Nathan: No, People Soft is universally loathed, but sometimes it works. 

Apurva: And Sarah, do you happen to know from the other folks who were contributing case studies whether anyone has used a different SIS system? So, Jonathan’s wondering about Banner?

Sarah: Yes, so KPU looks like is Banner. Again, I think that’s the institution that Rajeev is at. And that’s all I see for our 10 or so case studies. Sorry, I’m just copying links and text constantly. (Laughs) I hope that’s helpful, but this chart does give each SIS, so if you wanted to see. I don’t have great recommendations for first step, but something I would do is look to see who’s using a similar SIS or is a similar size institution and reach out to them and talk to them about their process, too. So, hopefully the resource could provide some leads there. 

Ann: I think some of the SUNY schools use Banner, and they were marketing Banner, if anybody wants a contact there, I can help you. 

Karen: Okay, well what a great question to end on. I hope that everyone who’s here is coming away with something they can apply at their institution. I know there was a lot of great information shared. Please join me in thanking our three guests today, Sarah Hare, scholarly communication librarian at Indiana University in Bloomington. Sharing lots of links and helpful information in the chat. 

Nathan Smith, instructor OER coordinator at Houston Community College, and Ann Fiddler open education librarian at City University of New York. Thank you very much for sharing your experience and your stories and recommendations. We really appreciate it. And we appreciate everyone who attended, so Apurva put a link in the chat earlier, if you would like to see future topics, future guests, please let us know. 

We invite your recommendations and ideas. And I’ll turn things over to Apurva for our farewell. 

Apurva: Thank you first of all to our guests, this was a fantastic session. This was an entirely new topic to me, so I’ve definitely learned a lot. And I can see from the chat that people have taken away lots of different things, whether they’re talking to their faculty, their students or their IT folks to implement this themselves. Nothing else on our, and we really look forward to hearing from all of you, the community about future topics that you’d like us to discuss. 

Maybe we even see some new faces on the call here. And I will leave you all with that. Thank you again and have a good rest of the week. Bye, everyone. 

Karen: Farewell. 

Kristin: Thank you. 

Chat Transcript

00:22:54 Apurva Ashok: Welcome everyone! Thank you for joining us today. 🙂

00:23:25 Sarah Crissinger:

00:25:28 Sarah Crissinger:

00:29:25 Apurva Ashok:  I find the book’s introduction to be very helpful to parse through the different parts and what’s covered. Take a look at the “About the Book” section at the very end of the introduction:

00:29:40 Sarah Crissinger: Nathan’s institution’s case study in the book (HCC):

00:34:06 Nathan Smith: Here’s our landing page for the Z-Degree:

00:34:19 Apurva Ashok: Thanks, Nathan and Sarah!

00:36:08 Nathan Smith: Great point, Ann. When you tag courses in the SIS, it becomes so much easier to pull data on those courses.

00:38:48 Caitlin Balgeman: Can you talk more about how you decided to highlight OER specifically in the video when the course marking is just for zero-cost? I’ve been thinking a lot about how to be complete in including library-licensed and other affordable materials when marketing, but also how not to be confusing in throwing too many terms out there.

00:40:31 Jonathan Poritz: Is it true that students preferrentially choose ZTC courses when they have a choice?  Do we have any well-designed studies on this?

00:40:38 Sarah Crissinger:

00:41:29 DeeAnn Ivie: Asking students Is always helpful, too.

00:43:42 DeeAnn Ivie: We do the same thing at UTSA: including low cost e-books through the library.

00:48:50 Alexis Carlson: Me too!

00:49:01 Alexis Carlson: I cannot get this information easily at my institution

00:49:23 Sarah Crissinger: This is from our assessment section, mentioning KPU case study (Rajiv authored this case study)… may be another idea to use waitlists: Since implementing course marking that designates courses using cost-free resources, Kwantlen Polytechnic University has seen an increase in the wait-list for Zed Cred courses over equivalent courses not participating in the program. This indication reflects student assertions that courses using cost-free resources are preferable to those with more traditional costs. Using wait-lists for Zed Cred or Z-Degree programs is one mechanism to assess the popularity or demand for courses using open and affordable materials.

00:50:06 Nathan Smith: Thanks, Sarah. That’s helpful.

00:55:26 D’Arcy Hutchings (she/her): What SIS are they using at CUNY, Ann?

00:55:57 Ann Fiddler: It’s a people soft product.

00:56:09 D’Arcy Hutchings (she/her): thank you!

00:56:27 Apurva Ashok: Which I think is the same that Nathan uses (he can confirm)!

00:56:50 Nathan Smith: That’s correct.

00:59:57 Sarah Crissinger:

01:03:35 Jonathan Poritz: Does anyone have a link to those whitepapers?

01:03:57 Sarah Crissinger: It’s so interesting that the “flock to those courses” response is SO popular and we don’t actually have any research on it

01:04:35 Nathan Smith:

01:05:08 Marilyn Billings: @Ann- great tag line “Come for OER, stay for open pedagogy” – Love it.

01:05:09 Nathan Smith: It’s fear of the unknown, I think, Sarah.

01:07:45 Nathan Smith: I would also recommend thinking in terms of aligning your OER initiative with the strategic plan.

01:09:31 Sarah Crissinger: Did your group have students, Ann? Or how was engaging students part of your process?

01:10:18 Ann Fiddler: So difficult to engage with students although we do try. The Student Senate did pass a resolution though

01:10:33 Ann Fiddler: PIRGS on campus can be useful

01:12:16 Jonathan Poritz: Has anyone done this with Banner, that you know?

01:12:43 Sarah Crissinger:

01:13:35 Earleen Warner: Thank you!

01:13:44 Jonathan Poritz: Thank you all so much!  This was fantastic!!

01:13:49 Stacy Gehrig: Thank you !

01:13:54 Jalyn Warren: Thank you! Lots of good information!

01:13:54 Cate Kaufman: Thanks so much!

01:13:54 Marilyn Billings: Thanks everyone. Excellent Office Hours session.

01:13:56 Sarah Crissinger: I am a librarian!! Great at resource sharing 🙂

01:13:57 Lisa Louis: Thank you, enjoyed it!

01:13:57 Apurva Ashok: Thank you Sarah, Ann, and Nathan! and everyone else for your questions!

01:13:58 Kathryn Shaughnessy: Thanks!

01:14:14 Rumyana: Thank you!

01:14:14 Apurva Ashok:

01:14:32 Ann Fiddler: Thanks all for having us!

Thanks to Mei Lin for preparing the audio transcript and video captions!

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Categories: Office Hours