17 Marking Definitions

This chapter provides definitions of the markings used in the case studies presented in Part VII.

Central Virginia Community college

Marking: OER

Definition: “OER means there are low or no textbook costs for the course. Students will use electronic materials but may have the option of purchasing printed textbooks. Students will need regular and reliable internet access in order to access the electronic resources.”

Notes: Course marking does not distinguish no- and low-cost materials from strictly defined OER materials.


Marking: Zero Textbook Cost (attribute); “Course uses OER/Zero cost course” (designation)

Definition: Zero Textbook Costs (ZTC) refers to a combination of openly accessible materials and library resources.

Houston Community College

Marking: Textbook Savings (attribute); Low Cost (L), Zero Cost (Z), and Inclusive Access (S) (designations [icons]); LCB, ZCB, and Z-Degree (tags)

Definition: Low Cost Book – “This course is a Low Cost Books course. The total cost of required instructional materials in this course is less than $40.” Zero Cost Book – “This course is a Zero Cost Books course. The total cost of required instructional materials in this course is $0.”

Notes: Committee made a conscious decision not to tag courses as OER, but as LCB or ZCB, because faculty could be meeting the Low Cost threshold but not OER requirements. Z-Degree designations are administrative only and not visible to students.

Kansas State University

Marking: Open/Alt Textbook (attribute); O icon (designation)

Definition: “Some K-State courses will include an open/alternative resource, which is a quality and affordable alternative to a textbook.”

Notes: Students pay a $10 fee to take a course that has no-cost educational materials rather than paying for a commercial textbook. Alternative resources can include library resources, OER, multimedia, and instructor-authored materials. Materials that do not qualify include commercial textbook and textbook rentals. Materials are approved prior to marking by staff in the Open/Alternative Textbook Initiative.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University

Marking: ZTC (attribute)

Definition: “This course section has ZERO TEXTBOOK COSTS.”

Notes: The nature of the course marking (ZTC instead of OER) mirrored the program’s focus on student experience of zero textbook costs, no matter the path to get there.

Lower Columbia College

Marking: OER and Low Cost Materials

Definition: Courses marked OER use only open-access materials; Low Cost Materials total less than $50.

Mt. Hood Community College

Marking: Low Cost: Under $50 and No Cost: $0

Definition: No Cost courses use free materials and Low Cost courses use resources costing less than $50.

Notes: Associated Student Government was consulted and requested just two designations: “Low Cost: Under $50” and “No Cost: $0.” They also requested that we not designate OER specifically.

Nicolet College

Marking: No Cost and Low Cost

Definition: No cost – “This section does not require you to purchase resources and may make use of electronic resources instead (may change by instructor)” and Low cost – “This section uses resources costing less than $50.”

Notes: We decided not to include the terms “Open Education Resources” or “OER” because not all course materials were truly OER. Additionally, not all students are familiar with OER. We wanted to use plain terms that first-time students would readily comprehend.


Marking: OER (system-wide, in SUNY Institutional Research and Information System [SIRIS]); for course catalogs, varies by institution (e.g., OER, AIM).

Definition: In SIRIS, “Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits repurposing by others. The majority of materials in this section are OER. A SUNY OER course/section provides students a cost effective alternative to traditional textbooks.” Definitions at individual institutions vary.

Notes: The SIRIS designator was specific to OER, rather than other low- or no-cost initiatives, due to the emphasis on OER in New York state funding initiatives in support of open education in relationship to the Excelsior Scholarship. Some SUNY colleges include both OER and non-OER materials in their “low-cost” designation.



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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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