Course Marking Drivers
Visibility to Students
The University System of Georgia (USG) has had affordability as a strategic goal since the implementation of the Complete College Georgia initiative in 2012. Making courses that use OER, no-cost, and low-cost resources visible to students at the point of registration would be another step in the right direction.
Affordable Learning Georgia (ALG) has been attempting to reduce textbook costs to students since 2014. While we have faculty-reported data to support the impact of the program through our grants, we have no idea what is happening outside of our grants in awareness-raising efforts. Because ALG works from within a System Office supporting 26 institutions and not one university with 26 campuses, we can’t just suddenly unify the way This includes our Champions and Coordinators’ workshops, marketing campaigns, and appearances at important meetings. Knowing more about this will allow us to understand the impact of ALG-related efforts outside of what we directly fund.
ALG programs have supported the work of many small teams of faculty at institutions in adopting, adapting, and creating OER. However, once the project is complete, it is tough to gauge how these efforts may spread throughout departments, or even within institutions. Having readily-available data on which courses have no / some / all no-cost or low-cost implementations would assist us in knowing which departments may benefit from us reaching out and supporting a department-wide scale-up of these implementations, therefore increasing the impact of our supported projects and further reducing textbook costs.
Authoritative and Audit-Ready Metrics
Many state programs are measurable through authoritative quantitative data supporting their goals, such as revenue, enrollment numbers, or retention rates. Others are measurable through “softer” qualitative measures such as self-reported patron satisfaction on surveys. While we do quite a bit of qualitative inquiry in order to determine faculty and staff needs for the program and ensure we are providing high-quality support, we need quantitative data in order to report on our cost-reduction impact. At the moment, we rely on faculty-reported estimates through our grant program, and these estimates, while well-maintained, checked yearly, and accepted as our best possible measure, are not deemed auditable. A uniform 26-institution way of reporting no-cost and low-cost resource use, using the same data that other programs use to determine enrollment, graduation rates, and retention, would provide us with a reasonable way for external reviewers to check on the program.
In 2016, ALG partnered with the GeorgiaBEST (systemwide Banner registration system) staff to create two new attributes in the registration system – ZNCM (Z = systemwide designator, NCM = no-cost materials) and ZLCM (LCM = low-cost materials). Technical documentation on Banner usage was created by the GeorgiaBEST team and is reserved for Banner administrators due to restrictions on proprietary platform information.
Administrative documentation on the designators was created by ALG and is available to the public. The first draft of the administrative documentation was heavily based on the Portland Community College Designation FAQ. Subsequent drafts include revisions due to meetings with and questions from USG institution registrars, advisors, administrators, and faculty.
The Vice Chancellor of Library Services, Lucy Harrison, reports to each institution about their compliance with administrative guidelines, and works with the Executive Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs in ensuring institutional compliance. I gather the section and enrollment data from each institution and analyze it using the designators to determine no-cost/low-cost material usage and its potential impact.
Challenges and Lessons Learned
Lack of Uniform Data Collection and Presentation
Despite having a system-wide registration system and a department keen to work with us on implementing the designators, so much of this process was still out of our hands and in the hands of twenty-six largely independent institutions. The following factors keep these designators from being uniformly presented and used across the system:
- Institutions enter course sections into the registration system in various ways. Some institutions have faculty do this themselves. Others have administrative staff do so. Administrative staff receive varying amounts of information about the sections in their departments.
- Institutions gather textbook adoption information in various ways. Some have quasi-enforced mandates which require this information to be entered in the syllabus. Others have the information entered in the bookstore’s textbook catalog system. Many do not have 100% adoption reporting regardless of the rules.
- Institutions present the same registration system in various ways. While Banner itself has a student-facing interface, institutions often place homegrown platforms and/or websites on top of this interface, and these usually need to be changed to display ZNCM and ZLCM designators correctly to students.
Lack of Enforcement
Affordable Learning Georgia cannot enforce guidelines, even if a systemwide set of guidelines is in place and a systemwide technical implementation happens. We cannot stop faculty, administrators, or deans from incorrectly or falsely reporting ZNCM or ZLCM courses. We also cannot realistically detect this if it happens. One possible method would be checking every up-to-date syllabus for each ZNCM/ZLCM section mid-semester, but this would require so many human hours that it would be infeasible for us.
Differences in Cost Savings Attribution
Affordable Learning Georgia cannot attribute every ZNCM or ZLCM course to our own efforts. We can only report on what has changed, and what is most likely linked to our grants. Reporting ZNCM/ZLCM metrics therefore needs to be about the system, not about our initiative. ZNCM/ZLCM data could, if consistent, be used as an automatic sustainability check on our grants and their impact, replacing faculty-reported surveying annually after the end of each grant project.
Because of the challenges above, ALG is not yet able to use this ZNCM and ZLCM designator data to make decisions, or to report on our impact in an audit-ready method.