8 Processes

Marking open and affordable content will impact the technological infrastructure of an institution’s schedule of classes, and it will likely cause disruption in current course materials reporting and schedule creation processes. This chapter will provide further exploration into the processes surrounding course materials reporting and course schedule creation, including who is involved and how the processes work. It then outlines potential pathways to incorporate open and affordable course markings into institutional processes, and it concludes by reviewing potential problem points.

Understanding institutional processes

To understand how marking open and affordable resource use will impact current course materials reporting and course schedule processes, information must be gathered about how these processes currently function at the institution. This exploration should be included as a part of the environmental scan, as introduced in Chapter 7 (Preparing for Implementation). Such processes can be extremely complicated owing to the large number of stakeholders and the variety of workflows both across and within institutions.

Who is involved

Stakeholders will vary from institution to institution, but typically three primary entities are involved: instructors, schedule (usually student services or registrar), and the campus store. While these three groups may not communicate often, each has a key role to play in course materials reporting and schedule generation. Though campus information technology (IT) is a key stakeholder in new process development, this chapter focuses on the decision making and reporting structures rather than on technological implications. IT is explored in more detail in Chapter 5 (Other Stakeholders).


Instructors have a hand in both the course schedule and course reporting. Many instructors have input on which classes they teach and which course materials they use, although some instructors, such as adjuncts or graduate students, may have less agency in these selections. The 2016/17 National Association of College Stores Faculty Watch (2017) reports that 80% of faculty select their course materials, although a Choice white paper on Course Material Adoption (Bell 2018) found a more conservative 54% with individual control over their course materials. The next most common option, with about 33% on the Choice survey, is an instructional committee or department chair. Steven Bell posits that such findings may be the result of a community college dominant response group, where the practice of selection by committee is more common. Other reasons for the lack of instructor input could include classes with multiple sections or multi-semester course paths that use the same textbook (Bell 2018).

Campus Store

The campus store functions as the central location for an institution’s students to identify and buy course materials. The store collects course materials information from instructors and makes it available to students, often curating an online platform that shows class, professor, and required and recommended course materials information. Although students can use this information to purchase materials from whichever vendor they choose, campus stores must make available all required materials; that is, they cannot pick and choose which materials they carry based on considerations such as profitability (Kim 2014). Whether independently owned and contracted or run by the institution, campus stores are viewed as part of the institution and are thus subject to a state’s textbook affordability and transparency laws, including those governing open and affordable resource use (Kim 2014).


The schedule provides information on an institution’s course offerings to students. At its most basic, a course schedule will include course number and name, sections, time offered, and instructor. In the registration system, the schedule of classes also includes the seats available in the class and the wait-list. Both the schedule and the registration system will often include more detailed information, including class descriptions, fee information, and textbook information. Both typically are available digitally, while the course schedule may also be available as a PDF or print version. The schedule is often maintained by the institution’s registrar or student services office.

Information Technology

An institution’s IT department is key to course materials reporting and course schedule processes. IT staff maintain and often create the infrastructure that supports the exchange of information between instructors, the campus store, and the schedule. Such infrastructure includes the student information system (SIS), which is central for registration and student information and will be discussed in-depth in Chapter 9 (Student Information Systems). IT should be consulted as new processes are developed to help ensure that any new technology infrastructure meets the needs of all parties, including the institution; is a feasible purchase, installation, or customization; and can be maintained beyond implementation. Though IT is not discussed further in this chapter, the role of both IT platforms and staff should be considered and IT included in discussions about implementation.

understanding existing processes

Instructors, the campus store, and the schedule each hold or organize one piece of the materials and schedule puzzle. Thus, it is important to understand how they work together to efficiently convey accurate information to students.

Instructors know which classes they teach and the course materials they assign. This information must be conveyed to both the schedule and campus store, who may either receive the information separately or share the information between themselves. This basic relationship is illustrated in figure 8.1.

Chart reviewing processes relationships. Educators tells Schedule which courses are taught by whom and when offered. Educators report course materials selection to Campus Store. Schedule and Campus Store share classes and course materials selections.
Figure 8.1: The interaction between educators and their department, the campus store, and the scheduling office for course materials reporting and course schedule generation. (adapted from Open Oregon)

The process for how these three entities share course materials information varies by institution. At some schools, instructors directly report their course materials to the campus store. Some may have an online system, for example, Barnes and Noble College’s Faculty Enlight, whereas others may use a form. At other institutions, this process may be mediated on the department level by an administrator or department chair.

Similarly, the selection of courses may be reported directly by the instructor to the registrar, who puts together the schedule. More likely, a department representative (e.g., administrator, chair, or faculty member) works with instructors to determine a semester’s schedule and then passes this information to the registrar. Such reporting could occur directly within the SIS or through an external reporting process, like a form.

If the institution uses a separate scheduling software, the registrar will have to use the information collected to create both the course schedule and the registration system using the SIS. The two systems likely communicate—yet another technical process that should be taken into consideration.

Typically, the registrar sends the information on courses being offered to the campus store, which can then coordinate with instructors reporting on course materials for the sections they are teaching. For some institutions, this course materials information stays with the campus store, which has its own platform to allow students to search for and locate materials for a specific course. For other institutions, textbook selections are shared back to the SIS or course schedule, either as detailed information or as a link to the campus store’s platform. In institutions with the latter, the campus store will need to send the course materials information to the SIS or schedule. The exchange of scheduling and course materials information may involve automated technical processes or may be a manual process, requiring human intervention to generate and send reports. Such reports would in turn need to be processed by the campus store and registrar.

The reporting of course materials and the course schedule, at some institutions, are the same process. If this is the case, the reporting and communication between the three branches will further differ. Figure 8.2 illustrates these complicated processes, providing key questions to help understand particulars at a specific institution.

Diagram of Course Materials Reporting and course catalog generation processes is reflected in the table below.
Figure 8.2: Course materials reporting and course schedule generation processes with instructors and their department, the campus store, and the scheduling office. Includes key questions that should be explored to help understand the processes at a specific institution. Dotted lines indicate alternate lines of reporting. (adapted from Open Oregon)

Considering the impact of course markings on existing processes

 While reporting open and affordable resource use certainly relates to the preexisting processes of course materials reporting and course schedule generation, that does not mean it will be easy to add an extra step. Although these processes don’t have the strict rules underlying SIS database functionality as discussed in Chapter 9 (Student Information Systems), they similarly have limited ability for customization and change. Thus, the integration of reporting open and affordable resource use into existing processes should be carefully planned. Ideally, the new process for marking open and affordable resource use should be as intuitive and streamlined as possible. Considering how the processes will be impacted before beginning customization will help to ease implementation.

In developing new processes, first consider how each of the three key players will be impacted by the new course markings. First, how will course markings be designated in the schedule: where and how will they be marked? Is space available to add an explanation? Such discussions will occur mostly in light of SIS customization. However, SIS customization is closely tied to process revisions and should be considered together:

  • If customization is added to an already frequented part of the SIS, fewer changes to current workflows will be made than if the customization requires an entirely new data entry location.
  • If SIS customization requires the entry of additional information at two different points, checking both of those places will need to be integrated into the process.
  • Deciding who will be responsible for inputting the new information may depend on whether the task requires specialized knowledge or can be conducted by whomever ordinarily enters course materials or scheduling information.

Such considerations will lay the groundwork for revised processes.

Unlike the schedule, there is no guarantee that the campus store will be intimately involved with marking open and affordable resource use. Will they also display the course markings? Will they link out to open content, possibly in conjunction with the markings? Or will they collect the information to send to the schedule? City University of New York worked with their online store, Akademos, to provide instructors the option for “Course uses Open/Zero cost course,” which sends information to the SIS when selected. A last option is for the campus store not to be involved with the reporting of open and affordable resource use at all. Since these resources are available without charge, instructors may not be required to report such usage to the campus store and, thus, the campus store may not be aware of the existence of such classes. Omitting the campus store from the process can have a negative impact on students, as doing so impedes the campus store’s ability to make print copies of OER available for purchase by students who prefer this format.

The last of the three discussed entities, instructors, are intimately involved with the selection of these open and affordable resources for use in their classes. Instructors do not have to make additional accommodations for the course markings outside of awareness of the new requirement, although they will likely have to revise their processes to allow the campus store and schedule to accommodate these new designations.

Once it is determined how the schedule and campus store will integrate course markings, an institution can begin to look at existing processes to see how they can accommodate the new markings. The big question is how the newly required information will be communicated among instructors, the schedule, and the campus store. Will there be new forms? Additional staff? Or can existing processes accommodate checking an extra box along the way?

Additionally, understanding the communication between the campus store and the schedule is key to the process. If the campus store can automatically, or even manually, send the required information to the SIS, then the process might be easily accomplished. However, if the campus store cannot directly send course materials information to the schedule, as Portland Community College found, an alternate process of reporting this information needs to be identified (Klaudinyi et al. 2018). These latter cases may integrate marking open and affordable resource use into the course schedule creation rather than course materials reporting process.

Figure 8.3 expands on the analysis of processes described in figure 8.2 to include key questions that should be considered when beginning to develop new processes that can encompass course markings. In the web version of this text, Figure 8.3 is represented in table form as Appendix C (Processes Table).

Diagram of Course Materials Reporting and course catalog generation processes is reflected in the table below.
Figure 8.3: Course materials reporting and course schedule generation processes with educators and their department, the campus store, and the scheduling office. Includes key questions that should be explored to help create new processes for marking open and affordable content use (in red and bold). Dotted lines indicate alternative lines of reporting. (adapted from Open Oregon)

developing Processes to incorporate course markings

The processes developed for open and affordable resource implementation vary from institution to institution; however, there are some common pathways. This section splits the development of new processes into two categories: building on existing processes and creating new ones.

using existing infrastructure and processes

In many cases, existing infrastructure and processes are able to accommodate the changes required for the implementation of open and affordable resource use reporting. When this occurs, the new processes build on existing processes, tweaking when small changes are needed.

In some cases, indicating open and affordable resource use is simply the additional entering of information in one or two places, such as at Houston Community College. These new data entry points, such as the addition of a new attribute, are often a part of the SIS and thus the course schedule creation process. Thus, the responsibility falls to those who typically handle the interactions with the SIS, often department chairs or administrators. Instructors communicate whether the designation applies to their course, and the administrator then indicates this detail in the SIS. Some small additional effort is required, but it fits nicely into existing processes.

When the information is required to be reported in two places, for example, in the case of City University of New York’s separate reporting of textbook and Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) status, the changes might be a tad more complicated. Instructors can still indicate resource use while working within existing processes, but they have to add additional steps to ensure that the new requirements are met. City University of New York experienced pushback from instructors for this addition to their workload and ultimately decided to change processes so that the central registrar’s office entered the code for ZTC courses.

These are clear examples of integrating reporting open and affordable resources use into the schedule of classes, but what about the traditional course materials reporting structure through the campus store? The store is typically not part of the reporting process, owing to a technical inability to transmit the information from the campus store to the schedule or SIS, as was discovered by Portland Community College when they attempted such a solution. While such a solution would have resulted in the smoothest process, they were unable to automate the communication between the campus store and their Banner SIS (Klaudinyi et al. 2018).

There are some cases, however, where this communication is possible. City University of New York was ultimately able to work with their online campus store, Akademos, to customize their system so instructors have the option to report that the course is a zero-cost course. This report then automatically syncs with their registration system, triggering the attribute. Such automation, where possible, may be the least invasive process change for all parties involved.

Nicolet College was also able to involve their campus store, although not through automated reporting. Nicolet’s manager of open and instructional resources (formerly known as the campus store manager) was already receiving course materials requests. A new step was introduced at this point in the workflow, in which course materials requests are manually reviewed to see if they met the no- or low-cost course criteria. This information is communicated directly with the registrar’s office, who applies the designation to the tagged courses. While this involves extra work by the manager of open and instructional resources, it replicates existing communications between the campus store and the schedule and allows instructors and departments to continue with the established process.

creating new processes

Sometimes the existing processes do not have enough flexibility to allow the addition of open and affordable resource use reporting. Customization of the SIS may be specialized, with new fields being inconvenient or impossible to create or modify. Adding a category to the textbook reporting form may be prohibited for one reason or another. In these cases, new processes may arise.

Such a new process will be specific to the institution and the needs it aims to fill. Mt. Hood Community College opted for the route of new process creation. Realizing that instructors were best positioned to report quickly and accurately on their own course materials selection, instructors—rather than administrators—were asked to indicate no- or low-cost courses when reporting other course information. They created a form to report open and affordable resource use which would directly map to the corresponding inputs in their SIS, which instructors would complete for each section each semester. Although the form was created with input from instructors, filling out the form still added a step to the previous course materials reporting process; as a result, initial usage of the form turned out to be low.

Alternatively, new processes may arise because they are the easier solution for integration of the new markings into existing processes. At Lower Columbia College, the same person as before assembles the initial schedule, before sending it to the college’s OER librarian, who manually tags classes as Alternative Educational Resources. The list of these courses is in turn sent to instructors to review for accuracy. The approved list is sent back to the initiating staff member, who then manually inputs the sections into the schedule. The involvement of the OER librarian and approval by educators introduces new steps to the workflow; however, Lower Columbia College is a small institution. Such a hands-on solution may not be feasible for larger institutions but was found to be a relatively efficient solution given the campus’s needs, infrastructure, and workforce.

A much larger institution, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, was able to accomplish something similar, though doing so required additional resources. In the new process, professors are emailed to confirm inclusion in the campus Zed Cred program and student assistants are paid to review the responses and corresponding spreadsheets. Process designers also took advantage of the traditional schedule creation processes, sending the completed spreadsheets to the departmental chair or administrator to report this information to the registrar, who then codes it.

Kansas State University also implemented a mediated reporting method for open and affordable resource use. Instead of requiring instructors to report their open and affordable resource use, Open/Alternative Textbook Initiative leaders created a list of instructors who had completed initiative projects and/or been awarded initiative grants. This list forms the basis for open and affordable course marking. Instructors not involved in the grant program but using open or alternative educational resources can apply to be added to this list. Initiative leaders review these submissions to ensure that the appropriate classes are marked in the schedule of classes. Developing this new process enabled the school to easily add open and affordable course markings while working within the existing system.

Vetting and Feedback Mechanisms

Whether new or existing systems are used for course marking, it is essential to build in opportunities for students and instructors to share feedback with stakeholders who can act on this information to improve policies, processes, and course data. Robust feedback mechanisms are particularly important in situations where marking is automated. Larger programs, institutions, and systems may face sustainability challenges if vetting all courses prior to marking them as open or affordable in the schedule of classes, though unmediated tagging can introduce inconsistency and inaccuracy in the marking process. Anecdotal evidence suggests syllabi vocabulary can be manipulated to skew course marking data and may result in providing false or misleading information to students. For example, instructors may adopt the term “recommended” rather than “required,” despite heavy use of a high-cost course resource, in order to justify a free or low-cost designation. Syllabi evaluations of courses submitted for free/open markings have also revealed the use of illegal copies of commercial materials that can be freely accessed and downloaded from unauthorized websites. Developing and prominently displaying a feedback loop for students impacted by such errors in the marking process is essential in ensuring inaccuracies can be removed from the schedule in a timely manner and corrective action taken as necessary.

Processes should clearly identify how feedback on course markings will be addressed, as well as the timeline and parties responsible for monitoring and responding to reports of inaccuracies in the data. Some institutions implement spot-checking or sampling procedures to lower the risk of miscommunication with students. See the State University of New York, Lower Columbia College, and City University of New York case studies for examples.

Potential problem points

Even with careful planning for the addition of open and affordable course markings, problems may arise during implementation. Problems in the existing system, such as the timely reporting of course materials, should be taken into consideration when planning for implementation even if there is no fail-safe way to plan against them. Predictable problems, such as misreporting, can be combated with education about open and affordable educational resources.

Variety among processes

Course materials and schedule reporting processes vary among institutions but can even differ among departments on one campus. Jen Klaudinyi and colleagues, in their Open Oregon webinar (2018) cite this as a major hurdle to implementing course markings at Portland Community College. Although they originally intended to use the current communication processes, they found instead that the lines of communication and processes were not standardized across departments. Although Portland Community College was able to implement course markings without resolving the communications issue, a streamlined, instructor-generated reporting process was placed on a wish list for future iterations. Taking the variety of processes into account and accommodating them may be imperative to getting an initiative off the ground, but finding a simple option that allows for slight variations might be the best path forward.

Workload overload

No matter how much planning an institution undertakes, there is a possibility that not all will go smoothly post-implementation. The adjustment to existing processes might be more involved and time intensive than originally thought, and organizers might encounter pushback. City University of New York fielded reports of unease at additional workloads and frustration with the process as designed. Likewise, unexpected hurdles may appear. At Kansas State University, Open/Alternative Textbook Initiative leaders initially planned to code the course themselves but ran into difficulties emerging from the more frequently than anticipated updates to processes and systems. It is important to be flexible in these new processes. Kansas State University asked their implementation partners, who included those overseeing the SIS, to take over the coding process because of their familiarity with the system. City University of New York responded by restructuring their processes so that a list of ZTC courses could be sent for coding to the central registrar’s office, which hired an additional part-time staff member to handle the additional workload. Thus, while planning is key to laying a good foundation, the flexibility to revisit those plans to ensure they best fit the institution will help with smooth implementation in the long term.

Too many hands in the pot

Spreading responsibilities is one way to combat work overload; however, the more people there are involved in the process, the more room there is for error. The possibility for accidentally unchecking a box or deleting a name from a list may arise if the database or list must pass through many hands for approval. A streamlined process presents less room for error, but it may not be clear at the outset what the streamlined process will entail. Adjustments may be necessary to find the balance between new tasks, workload balance, and accuracy.

Timely reporting of course materials

Although the Higher Education Opportunity Act (U.S. Department of Education 2008) mandates the reporting of course materials by registration, in practice this timeline isn’t always met (Klaudinyi et al. 2018). Campus store managers, when discussing reporting course material adoption, will likely raise this as a problem area; acknowledging the deadline is one thing, but making instructors aware of this legal imperative and their meeting it is problematic for a number of reasons. A certain amount of flexibility may need to be built into the process to account for the probable inability of the campus store to generate reliable information.

Houston Community College elaborates on this problem in their case study. Some educators do not comply with the requirement, but not always because they mean to. Classes are sometimes not assigned to instructors before registration opens, for example. In these situations, the instructor cannot select the materials ahead of the deadline, let alone report them.

If existing course material reporting guidelines are not universally met, there is a slim possibility that new guidelines for reporting open and affordable content will be. However, implementing the infrastructure and processes lays the groundwork for compliance, and educating about guidelines should raise numbers of those who meet requirements.


Course markings can be further complicated when course material selections change between the time of registration and the beginning of the semester. Some instructors receive delayed assignments, preventing them from reporting their materials selections. Others may be assigned classes and report their materials selections prior to registration only to have that assignment change before classes begin. When the instructor for a section changes, the course materials may change as well.

Such changes have a significant impact on course markings. Depending on the process for indicating which classes use open and affordable course materials, updating the schedule of classes may be easy or extremely difficult. For institutions using stand-alone lists, the list must be updated or else the outdated information will continue to be communicated to students. Even for those processes that allow for easy updating, the institution must find a way to ensure changes are communicated to students. A student who selects a section based on the cost of course resources will surely be taken aback if higher textbook costs are revealed on the first day of class. Institutions should not expect students to check the SIS regularly for updates prior to the beginning of the term. Developing a process for updating the SIS post-registration and communicating any changes are essential for combating these challenges.


One of the biggest issues with tracking open and affordable course material use is the lack of a clear understanding of what falls under this category. For example, if an institution uses an OER marking, instructors may not know what “open” means and report a resource that is free but not open. Others may select a box without meeting the requirements, as was often encountered by City University of New York through their Akademos reporting option.

Some schools have reduced the possibility of misreporting by eliminating educator involvement. For example, Kansas State University issues an icon in the schedule of classes only for those that have completed their grant program. Others can apply to the Open/Affordable Textbook Initiative leaders, who approve these applications before compiling a full list of eligible classes to be sent to the registrar.

The most common way to combat such misreporting is through education. Many schools have compiled guidance outlining what should be marked, such as City University of New York’s “Guidelines for Designating a Course Section with the ‘Zero Textbook Cost’ (ZTC/OER Attribute” (CUNY n.d.). Such documentation can provide a clear overview of what should be marked, as well as the process for doing so, helping to eliminate errors along the way. Implementing robust feedback loops, as discussed above, is another strategy for combating misreporting.

Mixed Messaging and student confusion

Sometimes, how open and affordable resource use is marked at the campus store can be problematic. This can be especially prevalent for those that report course materials to the campus store separately from marking open and affordable course use. Instructors are typically supposed to report course materials selection to the campus store, but when materials do not have an associated cost, instructors may skip reporting their course materials information. Either instructors may not be aware of the correct avenue to share such information or the campus store might not have a system in place for reporting it. When resource information for a class is not reported to the campus store, the store may report to students that no materials are required. For example, at Central Virginia Community College, the campus store tells students “No Books Required for this Course” when no book is reported. Such messaging leads students to assume that no materials are required for the course, so finding out that they do indeed need materials, though ones that are freely available online, may come as a surprise. At Central Virginia Community College, students complained to administration about this mixed messaging. In 2020, the college adjusted its strategy to adopt common and consistent language that aligns with best practices adopted at the system level.

There may also be confusion at the campus store over whether a book should be marked as required or as recommended/optional. Regardless of whether they report the free online counterpart to the store, some instructors report the print version for those students who would like to read in print and/or use financial aid. If a book is marked as recommended or optional, the option to purchase exists while leaving an opportunity for instructors to share about the free online version. However, if print versions are marked as required, especially without corresponding indication that a free version is available online, students can be mislead that they have to purchase a book when no requirement actually exists. Further, inclusion of print versions as required can, in some cases, move a class beyond an institution’s low-cost threshold and thus make it no longer eligible for the designation, as some Connecticut institutions discovered (Chae et al. 2019).

Lower Columbia College encountered a different type of student confusion in their efforts to make students aware of open and affordable resource use in classes. They generated a static list of a given semester’s OER classes to assist in marketing OER and their use in certain classes, but they found that some advisers assumed that all sections of a course listed on the document used OER. Students were being told that some sections had adopted OER when they hadn’t. The misunderstanding was addressed with advisers, but the necessity for frequent updates makes keeping students and advisers informed  an ongoing process.

Clear marketing and education combined with common and consistent language can go a long way toward ensuring that the newly reported course markings are correctly understood by those they were created to benefit: students.



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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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