Type of Institution: Public university
Impetus: Transparency and promotion of zero textbook cost (ZTC) courses
Student Information System: Banner (Ellucian)
Markings Used: ZTC (attribute); “This course section has ZERO TEXTBOOK COSTS.”
Unique Features: Professional marketing materials, multiple ZTC programs (Z-Degrees)
Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) is a public post-secondary institution in British Columbia with a student population of approximately 20,000. We are Canada’s leading institutional adopter of (OER), and we now also actively support the adaptation and creation of open textbooks through OER grants and OPUS, our Open Publishing Suite. In November 2017, KPU launched Canada’s first Zed Cred program (sometimes referred to as a in the United States) wherein the Zed refers to zero required textbook costs and Cred refers to a credential. Relying on a pragmatic combination of courses that assign OER, library resources, or instructor-created materials, and courses that require no resources at all, students were able to earn the Certificate in Arts credential without spending one dollar on textbooks. We selected the Certificate of Arts because of its flexibility, which offered students a lot of choice when selecting courses (only 2 out of the 10 are prescribed) and provided a faster path to KPU offering a Zed Cred.
Although the Spring 2018 semester was the first for the Zed Cred, students were still unable to easily identify Zed Cred courses at the time of registration. The promotional mechanism we used at the time involved publishing a webpage that listed all of the Zed Cred sections. This strategy was never intended to serve as a long-term solution, not least because few students were aware of the existence of the page. Fortunately, our registrar’s office was willing and able to add the following note below each of the section listings in the course timetable (schedule): “This course section has ZERO TEXTBOOK COSTS and is part of the Zed Cred program. For information about programs that you can complete with zero required textbook costs, visit ZedCred” (see fig. 22.1). However, students who were unaware of the existence of the Zed Cred webpage would have had no way of searching for course sections that had zero required textbook costs, a state of affairs that led us to investigate how we might integrate a convention.
Step 1: Research
As the institutional lead for our open education initiatives, I was aware that other institutions had managed to find ways to integrate open and affordable materials designations in their course schedules. I was also aware that the director of institutional relations at OpenStax had created a survey (Finkbeiner n.d.) and spreadsheet (Finkbeiner 2019) to facilitate the collection and sharing of this knowledge and had invited representatives of institutions that had adopted this practice to share their names, contact information, specific course timetabling software, and details about their approach. Equipped with this information, I reached out to the listed representatives of Northern Essex Community College, Alamo Colleges, Montgomery College, and Umpqua Community College. I selected these institutions because they all use the same course timetabling software as KPU (Banner) and also indicated a willingness to share their method of designating courses. Thanks to the details provided by the director of library and tutoring services from Umpqua Community College, the course scheduling team in the office of the registrar was able to determine that we could use the Course Attribute field within Banner to create a designation for course sections that qualify for the Zed Cred program.
Step 2: Testing
To test the Umpqua approach, I met with two members of the Registrar’s course scheduling team and two staff members from the Faculty of Arts (which houses the Certificate in Arts) in February 2018. The plan was to attempt to integrate the course attribute, using a draft timetable as a sandbox. Although some questions and concerns were initially raised (e.g., relating to KPU’s customization of Banner and whether the integration of the Zed Cred course attribute would require hiring a contractor with coding skills), we were pleasantly surprised to find that setting up a new course attribute was simpler than expected. Interestingly, this realization also triggered a plan to create additional course attribute designations to enable the listing of all course sections from a specific school/faculty (not a feature that had been previously provided).
Following some additional testing, the course scheduling team (led by the associate registrar, from registration records and systems) agreed that the new field could be launched in time for the third semester of the Zed Cred program (Fall 2018). This also meant that procedures needed to be developed and staff oriented to enable an accurate and smooth reporting of Zed Cred sections from the various departments and faculties to the course scheduling team ahead of the Fall 2018 semester reporting deadlines. The procedure piloted involved direct outreach by email to instructors to determine whether their course sections qualified for inclusion in the Zed Cred. (The emails included a clear operational definition of Zed Cred status.) Based on the responses to these emails, student assistants updated spreadsheets containing each school/faculty’s course section listings along with a column to denote a course section’s Zed Cred status. These spreadsheets were then shared with each school/faculty’s course scheduling liaison, who submitted the confirmed Zed Cred listings to the Office of the Registrar. There, the scheduling team ensured the relevant course attribute was added to Zed Cred qualifying sections. Faculty were given the opportunity to review their section’s Zed Cred status for accuracy when the draft timetable was published and prior to the public release of the course timetable (see fig. 22.2).
Step 3: Launch
The Zed Cred course attribute field was added into the timetable in May 2018, two months prior to the publication of the course schedule for the Fall 2018 semester. For the first time, students at KPU were able to filter their course selections on the basis of textbook costs. The nature of the course marking (Zed Cred instead of OER) mirrored our focus on the student experience of , no matter the path to get there. Although the separate webpage with a complete listing of Zed Cred course sections was maintained through to the Fall 2018 semester, we decided to discontinue this practice to avoid both duplication and potential errors (of commission and omission).
Announcements about the new course marking were broadcasted through a variety of channels, including Student Services, Student Orientations, and the Future Students Office (see fig. 22.3). A screen recording that showed how students could use this new feature was embedded on the Zed Cred webpage and shared on social media to further raise awareness. Finally, a professional marketing video was filmed to promote the Zed Cred, with a preview of the Zed Cred course attribute feature included.
The ability to provide a course marking system that students can use to search for and filter Zed Cred courses has been a game changer. Students to whom it matters the most are finally able to identify and register in course sections that have zero required textbook costs. What is more, we are already seeing the positive impact of this feature on student demand for Zed Cred sections (as compared with non-Zed Cred equivalent courses), as demonstrated by the size of section wait-lists. The addition of the course attribute has also made it far easier to evaluate the impact of the Zed Cred initiative as course distribution and enrollment data can now be filtered according to this new field. This has, for example, allowed us to generate reports each semester that compare courses that have both participating and non-participating sections on metrics such as grade distributions, and course withdrawal and failure rates. Awareness of our Zed Cred program (now rebranded as a Zero Textbook Cost, or ZTC, initiative) has continued to grow, with dozens of new faculty members joining the initiative each semester. At the time of writing, students at KPU are able to choose from over 700 courses that are participating in the ZTC initiative, and earn one of seven ZTC credentials, including the Bachelor of Arts Degree in General Studies, Associate of Arts Degrees in General Studies or Sociology, a Diploma in General Studies, and a Certificate in Foundations in Design. By the end of its first two years, the ZTC program has saved students at KPU over $3.1 million. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the care and generosity of practitioners within the OER movement and the support of key stakeholders at KPU, especially the course scheduling team, the registrar, Faculty of Arts staff, and departmental administrative assistants.
- Provide a clear operational definition of what you mean by ZTC status when reaching out to faculty. For example, this is ours at KPU:
ZTC designation criteria: In order to qualify for the Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) designation, sections must have zero required textbook costs, whether this is achieved through the use of open educational resources, library resources, instructor-created materials, and/or other free resources (or even no required resources). Sections may be listed as ZTC if a commercial textbook is optional or if students have the option to purchase a print copy of an open textbook (as long as this is not required). Studio fees and equipment/supplies such as calculators/art supplies do not impact ZTC designation.
- Aim to integrate OER or ZTC course markings with existing procedures. For example, at KPU the Faculty or department liaisons already followed a practice of submitting course section listings to the Office of the Registrar via a spreadsheet. We simply added a column to this spreadsheet to denote ZTC status.
- Build on your initial data collection work. By far, the most time intensive work involves gathering and confirming information about the ZTC status of each course section. To make this more efficient, the open education team maintains an updated database of instructor/course combinations that have previously participated in the ZTC initiative. In the semesters that have followed the launch of our ZTC course marking initiative, we have been able to draw on this by pre-populating the Zed Cred column in the spreadsheets so that those instructors can simply confirm their continued participation in the ZTC initiative when they view the draft timetable.
- Take advantage of the course attribute field to conduct and publish regular research reports to document the impact of the ZTC course marking initiative on educational outcomes.
- Collect testimonials from students who have benefited from the course marking. We are now frequently approached by students (e.g., at student orientation, open houses, and other events) who inform us that they rely on the ZTC filter in the course timetable when they are selecting courses. These stories and testimonials are important to collect as they help to disabuse those members of the academic community who continue to believe that the high cost of required course materials is not a significant problem.
Free teaching and learning materials that are licensed to allow for revision and reuse.
Also called Zed Cred: a degree, certificate, or curriculum path that has completely adopted free or zero-cost course materials so that as students progress through the degree they do not pay for course materials. All courses within the degree program must commit to zero-costs in order for the degree to be designated a Z-Degree.
Also called attributes, designations, tags, flags, labels: specific, searchable attributes or designations that are applied to courses, allowing students to quickly identify important information to aid in their decision making and allow them to efficiently plan their academic careers. Course markings may include letters, numbers, graphic symbols, or colors and can designate any information about a course, including service learning status, additional costs, course sequencing requirements, and whether the course fulfills specific general education requirements.
Courses that do not require students to spend money for textbooks. May be achieved through the use of OER, library-licensed content, or other free resources.