15 Effects of Course Marking Initiatives

Chapter 14 (Assessment) provides concrete examples of how to evaluate open and affordable course markings for compliance with mandates, students’ cost savings, student success, student enrollment, and awareness of open and affordable movements. This chapter takes an exploratory perspective and speculates how marking open and affordable courses may impact students, instructors, programs, and institutions in indirect ways. Open and affordable courses may lead to changes in student agency, the promotion of open and affordable courses, faculty autonomy and academic freedom, and collaborations. This chapter elaborates on topics examined further in Part VII (Case Studies).

Student Agency

As evidenced in Chapter 14 (Assessment), these markings affect students’ cost savings, success in higher education, or awareness of open and affordable movements. As the case studies in Part VII suggest, students may also find an increase in student agency and choice. Marking open and affordable courses may lead to the awareness and development of Z-Degree programs and other pathways for students to control the cost of their educational materials.

Students generally use what information they gather to compare courses prior to registration. Students might consider peer recommendations, instructors, meeting times and days, class locations, and whether courses are offered in person or online to create a desirable course schedule that meets their needs. Students who have other important commitments and restrictions, such as work, commuting, care giving, or student loans, can include open and affordable course markings to build an efficient and affordable schedule. Choosing a class with a lower cost textbook is one way students can minimize the amount of money they spend on course materials.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (2013) report discusses textbook bundling, supporting the concept of student agency and choice, which also applies to the realm of course marking. Additionally, marking open and affordable courses produces transparency in allowing prospective students to compare prices, as discussed in Chapter 1 (State and Federal Legislation). Most student information systems (SIS) currently link out to the campus bookstore’s website to provide details about the required and assigned course materials. The course within the SIS does not always contain enough information for the students to identify the correct edition of the material or its associated cost, creating a barrier to student choice. This may disproportionately impact first-generation students or international students. Marking open and affordable materials in the SIS allows students to identify courses that use free or low-cost materials quickly and easily at the point of registration.

Promotion of open and affordable courses

The majority of the marketing and promotion of classes occurs through traditional systems such as the SIS, the registration system, and the schedule of classes. Some creative instructors and/or departments may supplement by advertising with printed flyers, departmental emails, social media, or word of mouth. In A Handbook for Honors Programs at Two-Year Colleges, James (2006, 45) examines the need to publicize newly created honors programs at two-year colleges to ensure program success. One such publicity technique clearly marks honors courses in course schedules and/or catalogs to reinforce the existence of the program at the time of registration (James 2006, 52), a strategy reflected by early adopters of open and affordable course marking, including several of the case studies in Part VII.

As described by James, administrators use course marking as a targeted tool to disseminate and signal important information to students at the point of registration. While the author did not provide an assessment of the effectiveness of marking courses as honors, open and affordable advocates should note the ways in which other groups on campus promote similar marking initiatives. Stakeholders may choose to designate the SIS as a marketing tool and/or assessment tool for open and affordable awareness initiatives.

In “Best Practices for Communicating Critical Messages from a Registrar’s Office to Traditional-Aged College Students,” Kitch (2015) examines effective strategies for transmitting communication from the registrar’s office to undergraduate students and how these messages can be evaluated for effectiveness. By conducting phone interviews with and surveying registrar professionals, Kitch determines that administrators can use the SIS as a means of communicating critical messages to students, but with limited effectiveness because “students will glance over it” (Kitch 2015, 71) and “Students don’t come to the SIS/Portal to read; they come to transact business and can’t be expected to read ANYTHING [emphasis in the original]” (Kitch 2015, 71). While Kitch notes that administrators should evaluate messages shared through the SIS for effectiveness, the author did not identify specific techniques that could potentially apply to open and affordable course marking. Clearly, however, registrar professionals find communicating important information through the SIS of dubious value.

Those involved with open and affordable course marking processes should evaluate the practicality and effectiveness of course marking as a communication tool before determining the extent to which they will rely on course marking for promotion. Open and affordable advocates should examine course marking endeavors undertaken by other units on campus as an integral first step to assessing course marking as a promotional strategy. Potential assessment tools include surveys and questionnaires that focus on measuring promotional impact. While marketing through the SIS can be a valuable tool and a baseline minimum for those seeking to share information with students, programs and initiatives should include additional marketing outside of the SIS for maximum outreach.

Instructor Autonomy and Academic Freedom

Marking OER courses may inadvertently promote academic freedom. At Houston Community College, instructors anecdotally noted that OER usage increases their ability to bypass mandated textbooks that are sometimes required at a programmatic or department level. For those at institutions with particularly strong OER support, OER coordinators may also be able to leverage the academic freedoms associated with the “5 Rs” of open creation: Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix, and Redistribute (Wiley n.d.). This benefit may be useful in persuading those who seek more teaching autonomy and liberation from prescribed curricular content to pursue open education.

Conversely, instructors at other institutions express trepidation about openly indicating that they are using OER in the classroom, especially if they are untenured, such as in the case study from City University of New York. As discussed in Chapter 3 (Institutional Policy), Maricopa County Community College voluntarily initiated the Maricopa Millions Project in 2013. As part of this project, the colleges created a search filter allowing students to easily find open and affordable courses (Goodman 2017). Shortly after, some instructors reported concerns that the filter might actually deter students from signing up for their classes, so the project team reduced the visibility of the course markings (Goodman 2017). Nicolet College faculty reported feeling alienated when not included in the process of promoting OER across campus and feeling pushed to compete against colleagues or select content not in the best interests of the class. At Tompkins Cortland Community College (see State University of New York case study), faculty initially had concerns about OER courses gaining popularity at the expense of courses with traditional textbooks. Since implementing the course markings, Tompkins Cortland faculty have seemingly reversed course and become quick to correct missed OER course markings.

Institutions with a state mandate to implement open and affordable course markings also report a range of responses from instructors about the process of entering the information into the system. Often, instructors initially report open and affordable courses into the SIS. If instructors misreport their course materials as OER when the materials are not OER or omit reporting when they have adopted an open or affordable resource, administrators must implement a process to vet and validate the entries. This happened at State University of New York Canton and at Mt. Hood Community College. As a result, both institutions have developed robust faculty outreach and education campaigns to train faculty how to enter their course materials into the system.

Despite the outreach efforts, Fulton-Montgomery Community College in the State University of New York system reports low faculty compliance, and much effort goes into processing the faculty self-reports. Understanding the process for how stakeholders mark open and affordable courses becomes important for accuracy. Some institutions admit to over-reporting open and affordable courses, whereas others under-report when instructors misunderstand the terminology. See Chapter 8 (Processes) for more on this problem.

Instructors demonstrate a variety of responses to institutional participation in open and affordable course marking initiatives. Some sense a threat to their academic freedom and overall ability to select the course materials that best fit their courses, while others participate with enthusiasm. Institutions interested in understanding instructor awareness of and attitudes toward open and affordable course initiatives can implement surveys or focus groups to further discern perceptions and behavior. This type of assessment can be done prior to implementing an open or affordable course marking initiative, as understanding instructors’ perceptions of academic freedoms might help strengthen the case for marking courses or anticipate questions about the impact on academic freedom or autonomy. The OER Research Toolkit on the Open Education Group’s website provides sample surveys that can be openly adapted to conduct studies on instructor attitudes (Open Education Group n.d.). A range of opinions exist, and as these initiatives become more common and less novel, instructors’ responses will likey show increasing levels of acceptance and policy compliance.


Embarking on an open and affordable course marking initiative may foster collaborations between departments that might not have otherwise existed. These departments may include libraries, registrars, institutional research, instructional designers, academic departments, existing OER committees or working groups, information technology, campus stores, student affairs, advisers, student government, marketing or university relations, accessibility offices, among others. Open and affordable advocates view this as an opportunity to leverage existing relationships across an institution and with external stakeholders such as funding agencies, state agencies, SIS vendors, and advocacy organizations. At City University of New York, the Office of Library Services took the lead on their OER initiative because of their previous experience with the Achieving the Dream grant. Thus, data on new collaborations that result from course marking endeavors—even those that aren’t related to the markings themselves—have value. These data points also make a case to administrators that course marking initiatives result in more than changes in the schedule of classes.

Open and affordable course marking effect data can help close the loop with the instructors, staff, administrators, and partners contributing to the initiative. Open and affordable advocates may use the statistics generated from marking courses in marketing efforts to promote OER programs with instructors and students. Promoting updated open and affordable course statistics can lead to publicity and marketing opportunities, and reports generated from open and affordable course markings are valuable in conversations with stakeholders to ensure continued support for initiatives. Course marking data also demonstrates compliance with state and institutional mandates, which builds goodwill among collaborators. Part IV (Branding and Communication) details the life cycle of the communication plan for open and affordable course marking, and sharing the effect data publicly as part of this life cycle spreads awareness and can be used to support additional funding and program growth.


The motivation for open and affordable movements stems from the desire to make learning more accessible and affordable for students, but the impact of marking open and affordable courses may be more far-reaching. The case studies in Part VII suggest that marking open and affordable courses can impact how instructors perceive their academic freedom and autonomy; faculty negotiate self-perceptions of academic freedom in relation to their departmental or institutional cultures. Nearly every chapter in this book touches on the collaborative nature of an open and affordable course marking initiative. When embarking on any collaborative effort, the initial partnership is  essential to establishing good rapport with other stakeholders and laying the foundation for future partnerships. Discussion of the potential impacts briefly explored in this chapter provides a roadmap for future assessment and research.

As open and affordable course markings become more widely implemented, researchers may identify other potential effects not already addressed in this book. We look forward to future discussions and considerations of how open and affordable course marking can enhance overall student learning and success, as well as assist instructors in their endeavor to make learning more accessible and affordable to all.



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Marking Open and Affordable Courses: Best Practices and Case Studies Copyright © 2020 by Breeman Ainsworth; Nicole Allen; Jessica Dai; Abbey Elder; Nicole Finkbeiner; Amie Freeman; Sarah Hare; Kris Helge; Nicole Helregel; Jeanne Hoover; Jessica Kirschner; Joy Perrin; Jacquelyn Ray; Jennifer Raye; Michelle Reed; John Schoppert; and Liz Thompson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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