Course Marking Drivers
Within the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities system (CSCU), our labelling efforts started with an Achieving the Dream (AtD) grant. Housatonic Community College, located in Bridgeport, CT, received a grant to develop a Z-degree Associates in General Studies. As part of the grant requirements, Housatonic marked those courses within the program by appending “OER” to the course title within the student information system. Jennifer Nohai-Seaman, Housatonic’s AtD OER Degree Initiative Grant Coordinator, stated that “our goals were two-fold. We wanted to let students know that these courses had OER materials, which meant that they were saving some money, and that they could take an entire degree of courses that are OER. Secondly, it was also to advertise to other faculty that they, too, could join the OER movement at Housatonic, and have their courses marked OER.”
Capital Community College, located in Hartford, CT, implemented a similar approach to marking courses using no-cost or low-cost course materials by appending #NOLO to their course titles. Eileen Rhodes, Director of Library Services at Capital, stated that “the main factor from the student perspective in purchasing textbooks is cost, so we wanted to highlight that issue by creating a designator that included that concept. To label OER would require additional education on the part of the college staff to ensure students understood what OER meant. The designator not only encompasses OER, but also includes other low-cost alternatives and can also include library resources. The goal was to create a memorable designator that would be short in characters (to fit in the allotted character space in Banner) and also to be descriptive and appealing to students so that we could build a marketing campaign around the concept, and ideally, cost transparency for students.”
In December 2017, CSCU system formed a system-wide OER Advisory Council to explore best practice for OER awareness and adoption. The council recommended a uniform adoption of #NOLO for marking any course sections that utilized no-cost or low-cost course materials and adapted the definition and parameters in use by Oregon and Georgia. There was some debate on whether we should adopt two separate designators to mark no-cost vs. low-cost, but the council felt it was better to simplify the process and allow for some OER providers that have fees associated with their services.
At this point in time, the application of the #NOLO designator was a manual process. It required the addition of the designator to the section title prior to registration and then its removal after add/drop to ensure the label didn’t appear on the student transcript. This process severely hampered our long-term reporting abilities. In total, four colleges adopted the #NOLO designator in this fashion.
To assist in greater faculty and institutional adoption as well as improve data capture, the CSCU OER Advisory Council made a formal recommendation to the provost’s academic council in Spring 2018 to implement the #NOLO designator as a course section attribute within the student information system. In addition to adding a course section attribute, a student-facing course search filter was added as well as an additional column within the course search results page.
The request to implement the designator within the student information system was supported in Fall 2018 by the president’s cabinet. The ability to mark courses was enabled late Fall 2018 and the student-facing features were enabled in January 2019. Each institutional representative on the OER council engaged with their local governance structures to request a vote for adoption.
For Fall 2019, we currently have 700+ sections across 10 of our 17 institutions listed as NOLO.
Challenges and Lessons Learned
Reflecting on how quickly our effort went from recommendation to implementation, there were certainly some areas that needed more attention. While there was buy-in from system-level executives and institutional academic leadership, we could have spent more time discussing the benefits of price transparency and the criteria of the course designator with our faculty constituents and our course schedulers. We have had some confusion on whether rental pricing is allowed in our cost calculations – it is not.
Since each institution determined whether to opt-in or not to our NOLO effort, we do not have full participation. As mentioned earlier, we did not refine our messaging on the benefits of NOLO which has led to two recurring concerns:
- Price transparency will harm enrollment of non-participating faculty
- Price transparency will lead to the selection of materials solely based on price and not for their alignment or quality. We are currently working with our Institutional Research Department to study the impact labelling has on enrollment decisions as well as student performance and persistence.
One more area that needs more attention is our connection to the bookstore. While not directly connected to the process of labelling courses, how the bookstore is displaying, pricing, and fulfilling materials request has caused some hiccups. In isolated cases, we have seen negotiated publisher pricing extend beyond our cost threshold due to bookstore mark-up. Additionally, in some rare cases, we have seen print versions of OpenStax books marked as required versus optional, pushing the materials cost beyond our cost threshold.
As our OER council reconvenes for the current academic year, we will reassess our efforts and try to address our messaging needs.