6 Talking Points

This chapter is aimed at providing customizable talking points on course marking initiatives that can be adapted to fit the needs of the institution and various stakeholders. The stakeholder groups mentioned in Chapter 5 (Other Stakeholders) will express different levels of investment and interest in supporting open and affordable course markings. For some stakeholders course markings are an immediate benefit, empowering them to make informed decisions about courses or allowing them to collect useful data that might further their unit’s mission or open educational resources (OER) more generally. For others, course markings create additional responsibilities and may be seen as a burden. As such, these stakeholders should be approached strategically. The talking points below summarize benefits and concerns related to course marking initiatives, but may not be exhaustive. Part IV (Branding and Communication) provides additional information on how to customize messages to be most relevant for different stakeholders.

Customizing Talking Points

To be most effective, these talking points should be customized to both local context and audience. Strategies for this customization include

  • Utilizing strategic documents, including the institution’s mission and vision to point to its commitment to affordability, access, and student agency.
  • Gathering information about peer institutions and what they are doing. Have they implemented course markings? How might their guidance inform conversations with stakeholders?
  • Gathering information about the student information system (SIS) in use. Has customization already been done? This is explored in more detail in Chapter 9 (Student Information Systems).
  • Citing research on the effectiveness of affordable course materials, specifically OER. The Open Education Research Group is a useful resource.
  • Citing institutional data on student tuition, course material costs, and even student debt. If possible, curate testimony from students on why a course marking initiative might help them.
  • Identifying potential allies from the department or organization to discuss planned talking points prior to the main meeting. If possible, discuss potential benefits or concerns that may need to be addressed during the meeting. Adapt or supplement talking points based on this discussion.
  • For stakeholder groups, in particular campus departments, identifying strategic priorities and mission and determining ways that course markings can serve those objectives.
  • Having a rough idea of what a potential new workflow for marking might look like for stakeholders. Be ready to answer questions about this workflow and be honest about sticking points. The possible impact on processes is explored in Chapter 8 (Processes).

Talking points About Benefits:

  • The urgency for open and affordable course materials resonates with many students. With the rising cost of attendance (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 2019) and student debt (Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System 2019), lifting the burden of textbook costs is an effective way that colleges can support students, encourage success and increase retention.
  • Transparency and student agency are core to course marking initiatives. Course markings enable students to know about course material costs sooner, while they still have time to make informed decisions about their course schedule and load. This builds on the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which, as discussed in Chapter 1 (State and Federal Legislation), requires course materials cost transparency in a timely manner (U.S. Department of Education 2008). Course markings inherently center student agency, as they are built on the assumption that, when provided enough information, students will make decisions that are right for them and their context.
  • Once course markings are in place, these themes of affordability and transparency can be used in recruitment and advancement materials for the institution. Marking open and affordable course materials creates a powerful talking point for attracting new students, instructors, and even donors. Potential students browsing the schedule of classes will see the markings firsthand, demonstrating that the institution is committed to informed student decision making and affordability. Donors might also be excited about trends in higher education, including both OER and course marking generally, and this initiative will be an important talking point for showcasing how the institution is leading in this area.
  • Once course markings are in place, the workflow will be easy to maintain. While there are upfront costs associated with creating the marking and altering related systems and processes, maintenance becomes a regular duty of staff on campus and/or the SIS administrator. This can be seen as both benefit and concern.
  • Course marking initiatives are an important piece of raising awareness about student course material costs and OER more broadly. As such, course markings can be used as part of a larger suite of services and resources for lowering student costs.
  • Marking open and affordable courses will feed general outreach work already being done with OER and vice versa. As more educators learn about and adopt OER, more classes will receive course markings. As more educators encounter information about course marking, they will ask more questions about open and affordable course materials and why they matter.
  • One tangible example is that open and affordable course markings can be used for assessment purposes. There are already examples of how institutions have used course marking to better understand educators’ misconceptions about OER and their existing use of open and affordable course materials, including Houston Community College’s case study. The case study describes surveying over 2,000 faculty about their use of OER. One finding was confusion among respondents about what OER actually are, leading to discrepancies in course markings. In short, course markings can be used as a mechanism to better understand which departments/ disciplines would be a good candidate for OER outreach.
  • Remember that students consider several factors in selecting courses (e.g., word of mouth, websites), with course material cost being only one of these factors. Open and affordable materials can be one avenue for faculty looking to boost course enrollment.
  • The markings may inspire some instructors to adopt open and affordable course materials in their classes. If they want help with this process, there may be existing support at the institution, perhaps in the library, to help them identify and evaluate existing resources or create new materials.

talking points About Concerns

  • While the expense of implementing a course marking initiative is not easy to estimate, a lot of work is already included in existing positions (e.g., instructors already select materials for courses, the registrar already enters class information) One way to manage costs is to provide a robust estimate of extra staff time needed. Workflows are already in place for other markings (e.g., service learning, honors, general education) and can be used as a model.
  • Instructors are commonly concerned that marking courses as open or affordable will put them or their colleagues at a disadvantage when students enroll. Though this topic has not been formally studied, some have said anecdotally that they do not see this happening in practice. For example, one professor at Tidewater noted that she has observed that students’ course decisions “factor in textbook costs just as much even without labels” (Lieberman 2017).
  • Several institutions already have course material markings in place. Some states have mandates requiring these markings, with many institutions working toward or in compliance. This means that we can look to our peers for guidance and support.
  • Although misconceptions to the contrary will likely exist, instructors are not required to use open and affordable materials with the new markings. They will continue to be able to select whichever course materials they feel is the best fit for their classes. They are only required to report for marking any courses that use open and affordable materials.
  • Implementing course markings can be a long process. It may also be challenging to maintain correct notations for courses that are marked as no cost or low cost. As noted in Houston Community College’s case study, effective communication with department chairs is important to accurately mark courses. Campuses can create a maintenance plan to ensure that updates are streamlined and students get correct information.
  • There will be upfront costs, including staff costs, when implementing course marking systems. Staff responsible for maintaining the SIS and other relevant technology must participate in meeting discussions. Staff may have concerns about additional duties, so having buy-in from staff and their supervisors is essential.


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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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