7 Preparing for Implementation

Despite the common end goal of marking open and affordable resource use in the schedule of classes, each institution’s unique environment requires a unique path of implementation. This chapter provides guidance on understanding one’s unique environment as the institution prepares to implement course markings.

Institutional Initiatives

Some institutions utilize a centralized committee or initiative focused on open and affordable course markings to help with the implementation of course markings. These committees are often a part of larger open educational resources (OER) campus initiatives, for which implementing course markings is just one task to accomplish. Committees are sometimes composed of one campus unit or, more commonly, representatives from a variety of campus units. Members of these committees typically include individuals from the faculty, information technology (IT) departments, academic affairs, libraries, student government, and many others. Organizing a committee can assist with communication and coordinated action across autonomous departments, especially since so many different stakeholders are involved in course markings.

If a committee is present on campus, it is recommended that they conduct the environmental scan outlined below. At institutions without a centralized committee, the environmental scan should be conducted by those organizing the implementation of open and affordable course markings.

Environmental Scan

Before developing a plan for implementing course markings, an institution must understand its current resources, processes, and needs. The study of institutional technology, staff, and motivations often takes the form of an environmental scan.

During an environmental scan, an organization reviews its internal and external environment to determine opportunities and challenges. When completing an environmental scan related to course markings specifically, a higher education institution should explore:

  • Motivations for course markings
  • Current course material reporting processes
  • Current student information system (SIS)
  • Staff capabilities and capacity
  • Current open and affordable awareness and activity

Exploring these avenues could include talking to stakeholders, reviewing relevant policies and procedures, exploring technical capabilities, and understanding and agreeing upon cost of implementation. The sections below provide additional guidance for how to explore each facet.

Developing a detailed environmental scan will allow institutions to outline a clear path for implementation by understanding current capabilities and assets and identifying needs and gaps to be filled. At the end of the process, institutions should use the gathered information to formulate answers to the following questions:

  • What will the institution be marking? (e.g., low-cost, no-cost, OER, Z-Degree)
  • How will we represent these markings? (e.g., letter, icon)
  • Where will these markings be visible? (e.g., independent list, location in the schedule of classes, searchability function)
  • What kind of functionality is important to students’ search and course registration process?
  • What type of technical changes will be required? Will there be any associated costs?
  • Who will oversee the technical implementation?
  • Who else will need to be involved in the implementation?
  • Who will develop and provide guidance on new course materials reporting processes that emerge?
  • What are these new processes?
  • Who will oversee the implementation of the new processes?
  • What type of impact will this have on workload?
  • If assessment or compliance is required, how will it be determined?
  • How will new course markings be publicized and how will understanding of the course markings be ensured? Who will take point on such publicity and education?

With a clear understanding of what the institution expects for the final course markings, the likelihood of implementation proceeding smoothly increases.

Motivations for Course Markings

An institution’s motivations for course markings may shape its implementation path. If the initiative is being driven by external pressure, there may be specific guidelines for implementation. For example, Texas’s Senate Bill 810 mandates that course markings be not only present in the course schedule, but also searchable. Implementing this search function might make the process different for a Texas school than one in California, where schools are required to include the information only in the course catalog. Part I (Policy) provides additional details. Additionally, legislative mandates could impact the type of designation; for example, Texas requires OER designation specifically, whereas Virginia requires the more general low- or no-cost designation. For more on course marking policy, review Chapter 1 (State and Federal Legislation).

If the motivation is internal, the institution may have more flexibility in shaping the implementation of the course marking based on the needs of the local program. For example, Lower Columbia College wanted to promote OER usage on campus by helping students identify which courses used these types of materials. They opted to create a single sheet flyer listing each class using OER rather than a more detailed technological customization, as the flyer met the small community college’s needs and environment.

A combination of policy impetus and local motivation may also drive implementation. A school could be implementing a policy mandate while also using the course markings for data collection or course signaling purposes. For example, Houston Community College developed their specific system for course markings to not only indicate to students which classes used OER, but also enable internal tracking of enrollment and scheduling for their Z-Degree courses. The system initially envisioned eventually developed into a very different system, one which tracks the college’s three affordability initiatives.

The motivation for the course markings may change over time and institutions should take an iterative approach. Gauging the initial motivations and hopes for the course markings at time of implementation is important to ensure that these are met the first time around, when the bulk of the work will be completed.

When preparing for implementation, ask:

  • Why are we choosing to implement course markings?
    • Is there a policy or funded mandate? If so, are there any requirements for implementation? Is any assessment or reporting for compliance required?
    • Is it requested by administrators? If so, are there any requirements for implementation?
  • What are we hoping to achieve with the course markings? What features are needed in the implementation to ensure that we meet these goals?
  • Have students articulated any specific requirements or features?

Answering these questions will likely involve discussions with administration and other campus stakeholders. If the institution has an OER or textbook-affordability-focused group—whether preexisting or newly formed to oversee course marking implementation—a discussion about motivations and goals is an important precursor to any decision-making process. Reflecting on motivations will set goals to revisit when implementation challenges inevitably come up.

Course Material Reporting Processes

Each institution has a unique process for enabling instructors to report required course materials and creating the full course schedule each semester. In fact, the former process may differ at a single institution on the department level. This kind of historical context will be invaluable when adjusting processes to incorporate reporting open and affordable resource use in the schedule of classes.

Each institution will have to review current processes before determining how those processes can change to incorporate a new course marking procedure. For some, this change might be easy. For example, Lower Columbia College was able to take advantage of the dual roles of the library’s administrative assistant to easily add the designation into their schedule. Conversely, at City University of New York, they originally hoped to have individual campuses mark zero textbook cost (ZTC) courses but ultimately decided the process was easier if maintained by their central registrar’s office.

When preparing for implementation, ask:

  • Who is currently responsible for reporting textbook selections at the section level? (instructor, departments, administrative assistant, etc)
    • Is this consistent across the university or does it vary by department?
  • What is the current process for reporting textbook selections?
    • Is this consistent across the university or does it vary by department?
    • What technology/technological processes are involved?
    • What are the workflows for staff who are involved in the process?
  • Where are textbook selections reported and consolidated? (e.g., registrar, campus store)
  • How are the textbook selections integrated with the schedule of classes in order to make student registration possible?
    • Is this integrated with the textbook reporting processes or is it an additional step? If the latter:
      • What units are involved in this process?
      • What is the current process?
        • What technology/technological processes?
        • What human workflows?

It is important to involve all stakeholders and key campus units in this consideration of processes. The process for reporting course materials and creating the schedule of classes often involve a variety of parties performing interrelated tasks, so not only is the who, where, and how important, but getting everyone’s unique perspective will be invaluable. For example, if instructors report their selections to the campus store, does the campus store share this list with someone on campus for integration with the schedule of classes? How does this integration work? Who is involved? What information is passed between the various parties? An understanding of all these aspects will be needed before planning how to alter these processes to also include open and affordable course use.

It is also important to consider both the technological and human aspects of these processes. When implementing the new course marking, at least one person on campus will be asked to change their workflow, to accommodate adding the extra step of identifying which courses use open and affordable resources. Additionally, the new marking might also require changes to be made to technological workflows. For example, auto-reports generated from the campus store to the registrar’s office may need to add fields for open and affordable resource use. Be sure to cover all aspects of processes so any need for modification can be clearly identified.

Chapter 8 (Processes) provides an in-depth review of both course materials reporting and schedule creation processes to help understand local circumstances, answer questions from the environmental scan, and plan for implementation.

Student Information Systems (SIS)

Some institutions may choose to indicate open and affordable resource use through an independent list, gathered through individual instructors sharing information. However, for most institutions, such resource use will be indicated in the central course listing, which is often presented through the student information system (SIS).

Higher education institutions use SIS management software for organizing and tracking student information, from personal details to financial aid to enrollment data. An SIS enables an institution to have a centralized location to manage student data.

An SIS can perform registration and scheduling functions or can work in conjunction with other software to create the online course schedule. While this book focuses primarily on implementations using the SIS, those institutions which use these systems in conjunction with other course management software will need to include the latter in their considerations.

If course markings will appear in the schedule of classes, it’s important to understand the current landscape of the SIS at the institution.

When preparing for implementation, ask:

  • What SIS is used on campus?
  • Is it used in conjunction with other course management software?
    • If so, how will changes in the SIS impact the other software?
    • Will the other software need updates, as well?
  • Which unit runs/maintains the SIS?
  • How long has this system been used? Are there any imminent plans for updating or migration?
  • What kind of changes can be made to the SIS?
  • Has the institution implemented other customizations in the past? If so, what was this process?

Finding the answer to the first question is likely easy. SIS are often used to manage faculty and staff personal information, as well. Checking with the office of the registrar, the records office, or central IT department should be all that is needed to confirm the software used, and in-depth conversations with stakeholders should be able to answer the rest of the questions listed above.

The office of the registrar and central IT department can inform the project in important ways and should be included, especially the unit maintaining the SIS, in conversations about implementation. These stakeholders can speak to capabilities, limitations, and processes while planning the change, making the implementation of open and affordable resource use and the maintenance of such course markings down the road exponentially smoother.

Chapter 9 (Student Information Systems) will provide additional information on SIS customization, including overviews of some of the most popular systems.

Staff Capabilities

It is important to also explore how these changes will impact an institution’s staff. Here “staff” refers to any employee affiliated with the institution, regardless of rank. Reviewing the SIS and processes will help identify which campus units and, more specifically, staff members are involved with textbook reporting and course schedule generation. But it is also important to ask what these staff members are able to do, both in terms of skill and in terms of capacity. This kind of holistic view of individual staff members involved and their capacity will lead to important conversations about the feasibility and sustainability of the proposed challenges. For example, if there is a robust IT department maintaining an in-house SIS system, they will likely be able to take on any alterations in-house. Others may need to work to fill in gaps, perhaps contracting out to the SIS vendor directly. For example, Mt. Hood Community College found that their SIS did not have the needed functionality and thus coordinated with four other Oregon schools to contract the vendor, Jenzabar, to perform the needed modifications.

Evaluating staffing capabilities and needs will allow for better planning for implementation. It may shape implementation so that it can occur without unnecessarily burdening existing staff.

When preparing for implementation, ask:

  • What staff are involved in the processes of textbook reporting and course schedule generation?
  • What staff are involved in running the SIS?
  • Do they/the institution have the resources to implement technological changes in house?
    • Alternatively, what are the cost-benefits of hiring out to an external vendor?
  • Do these staff have the bandwidth (time/effort) to take on additional responsibilities required by the implementation, future maintenance, and new processes?
    • Will additional staffing be required?

Current open and affordable awareness and activity

Understanding the climate surrounding open and affordable course content at an institution may help shape both implementation and marketing. If awareness of open and affordable course content is little to nonexistent, this may influence course marking labeling. In these cases, communication and marketing will need to address not only what the new markings are, but also why they are needed. For example, using OER would require education about both the term OER and the new marking. Conversely, if the use of open and affordable course content is widespread, awareness of relevant terminology is likely, as is support for the markings. Thus, education would focus primarily on how to report, mark, or use the new markings. Understanding this climate on campus can help plan for educating stakeholders and identify potential opposition, allies and advocates. For more on the stakeholders involved, review Chapter 5 (Other Stakeholders).

When preparing for implementation, ask:

  • Are there any open and affordable related initiatives on campus?
  • Are instructors aware of open and affordable course content?
    • What is the perception and attitudes of educations regarding open and affordable course content?
  • Are there users of open and affordable course content at the institution?
    • Are they willing to help with the marking initiative? If so, what would their assistance involve? How much of their time and effort are required?
  • Are students aware of open and affordable course markings?
    • Can student action surrounding OER and/or affordability be leveraged  to advocate specifically for course markings?
    • Can campus partners, like student government, be invited to contribute to course marking initiatives?

Many course marking initiatives may emerge from the above discussed institutional initiatives, which are already working in this space. If the initiative arises independently or from a different department, partnering with groups interested in open and affordable course content will be helpful not only in assessing the current climate on campus but also in advocating for the new course marking initiative.

Costs of Implementation

An exploration of the costs of implementing and sustaining open and affordable course markings is a vital precursor to implementation. While a full understanding of the goals will help shape marking initiatives, the costs are deeply connected to the institution’s capabilities. For example, during the environmental scan, additional staffing needs may arise, but the institution may not have funds available to hire additional staff.

When considering costs, it is important to consider not only implementation, but also the long-term sustainability and maintenance of the new course markings. While the initial implementation will have the heaviest apparent costs, due to the changes to the SIS, the impact on course material reporting processes may also have a significant impact on staff workload. Further, the initial plan for course markings may not end up being the final product. For example, Houston Community College initially planned on marking only low-cost books but advanced through multiple stages of course marking implementation, now tracking low-cost, zero-cost, Z-Degree courses, and First Day/Inclusive Access courses. Costs for changes or other ongoing maintenance to the SIS should also be factored into the institution’s calculations.

Costs for implementing and sustaining open and affordable course marking initiatives may be hard to calculate concretely as most costs are indirect, such as labor. Institutions should examine the impact that in-kind contributions will have on their infrastructure and labor force. Having a good grasp of all types of costs before implementation will help shape the scope and final plan for implementation. While plans and costs may change along the way, this initial understanding of costs will help the implementation proceed as smoothly as possible.

When looking at implementing their course markings initiative, Mt. Hood Community College and four other schools, under the guidance of Open Oregon staff, decided that they did not have the ability to make the change in-house and would need to contract out the customization to the vendor, Jenzebar. Jenzebar offered to make the enhancements for all five schools for $15,000. The group was able to split costs proportionally according to FTE, making a potentially prohibitive cost for any one school manageable for all. Reviewing both direct and indirect costs allowed the group to develop a path that allowed them to invest the amount they could afford and still produce a satisfying result for all five schools.

When preparing for implementation, consider:

Direct Costs:

  • If changes to SIS need to be contracted out:
    • How much will it cost?
    • One-time change or is ongoing maintenance required?
  • If additional staffing is required,
    • Where will the funding come from?
    • Short-term or long-term positions?

Labor Costs:

  • If changes to the SIS need to be contracted out:
    • Who will manage the project, including coordinating with and overseeing the third-party making changes?
    • Does it involve any additional labor or adjustments on the part of the institution?
  • If doing in-house edits to SIS:
    • Who will make the changes?
    • How much time/effort will this take?
  • Do current staff have the time and/or resources to take on additional responsibilities required by new processes?
  • If additional staffing is required:
    • Will this be the sole responsibility of the new position?
    • Full or part time?
    • How will the new person fit into existing workflow and office organization?
      • Will the management of the new person have a large impact on others?
    • How much will it cost?
      • Where are the funds coming from?

Extra-institutional Partnerships and Guidance

While all institutions will have unique circumstances, it does not mean that each must carry out course marking implementations on their own. Many institutions are beginning or have finished the process. This community can be drawn on for partnerships or guidance.

Although some higher education consortia or systems may ask each member institution to individually carry out implementation, some offer assistance in this process. For example, State University of New York offered funding to its institutions as part of a more general OER initiative. Its participating members can act as resources for others within the system who have not yet begun marking open and affordable resource use.

Last, even if the possibility of partnerships seems out of reach, the higher education community can still be drawn on for guidance. Marking open and affordable resource use is a relatively new trend, so implementation strategies are still relatively fresh for those who have gone through the process. Many of these institutions are happy to share their path to implementation, so that each new school does not have to reinvent the wheel.

One valuable resource is a spreadsheet created by Nicole Finkbeiner (2019; formerly of OpenStax) that tracks institutions that have implemented course markings. Schools have an option to indicate if they are “[w]illing to share coding and resources to help another school set-up theirs,” with accompanying contact information. These volunteers are a resource, especially for those systems not covered in this book. Once course markings are implemented, institutions are encouraged to submit information about the marking to be included in the survey (Finkbeiner n.d.).



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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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