General Questions

Nationally, marking affordable courses has been on the rise for a number of years. Oregon was the first state to enact course marking legislation in 2015 (Oregon House Bill 2871), followed by California (2016), Washington (2017), Texas (2017), Colorado (2018), Virginia (2019), and Louisiana (2019). Institutions outside of these states have implemented similar projects over roughly the same period as matter of policy, including Kansas State University and Pittsburg State University among the Kansas Board of Regents institutions.

At KU, several consecutive Student Senates have advocated for affordable course markings, starting with the administration of Student Body President Noah Ries (18/19), who worked with other student body presidents to include marking affordable courses in an action plan presented to the Kansas Board of Regents. In 2019/20, Student Body President Tiara Floyd lobbied CIO Mary Walsh to formally launch a project to explore potential course marking at KU. The project team began meeting in Fall 2019 and worked through the subsequent winter, spring, and summer to develop and implement affordable course marking at KU.

The Course Marking Project Team includes:

  • Josh Bolick (Libraries)
  • Cara Nossaman (Enterprise Project Management Office)
  • Carol Hedrick (Enterprise Project Management Office)
  • Matt Deakyne (IT)
  • Susan Patton (IT)
  • Allan Jackon (IT)
  • Sheri Philips (Student Information Systems)
  • Casey Wallace (Registrar)
  • James Rourke (Bookstore)
  • Kyle Whitley (Bookstore)
  • Dylan Geiger (Memorial Union)
  • Kit Cole (Accessibility)

Institutions in seven states have implemented affordable course markings as a result of legislation: Oregon, California, Washington, Texas, Colorado, Virginia, and Louisiana. Beyond these institutions, systems such as the University System of Georgia, the Connecticut State College and University System, City University of New York, and State University of New York have implemented course marking projects. Among the Kansas Board of Regents institutions Kansas State University and Pittsburg State University both provide course markings. Many other teaching-focused institutions have made similar efforts. In December 2020, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill announced a similar effort.

Members of the project team referred extensively to a book that was published in 2020, Marking Open and Affordable Courses: Best Practices and Case Studies, edited by Sarah Hare, Jessica Kirschner, and Michelle Reed. Project Sponsor Josh Bolick served as a peer reviewer of this book in late 2019, which provided early access to it so that we might benefit from it during project design and planning. We also directly contacted leads of similar projects at peer institutions to learn from their experiences.

In Spring 2020, before COVID forced instruction online, the Course Marking Project Team conducted a survey in Blackboard (from February 3 to March 19), requesting input from students and instructors. Over 2000 students and more than 300 instructors responded, indicating the upper threshold of what they considered “affordable”. The average student response was $42.50. The average instructor response was $48.50. The Project Team selected $45 as a reasonable compromise between these two upper thresholds. Interestingly, both averages cohere with national course marking trends, which vary between $25-$50, with $40 being the most common value. We conducted the survey because we wanted to base the KU threshold on local data rather than an arbitrarily selected value.

The aim of the Course Marking Project is to clearly identify courses that use no cost and low cost resources without having to deploy the range of strategies students often use to navigate course materials cost complexity. Those options, including used and rentals often available at a lower price, remain available to students, for both low cost and unmarked courses. Used copies may not be available in sufficient quantity to meet course enrollment, and used prices are subject to wide variability, making it impossible to assure students enrolling in a low cost course that they can find a used copy at a compliant price. Similarly, rentals are a part of the very complexity we're trying to help students navigate. With the Course Marking Project, we want to identify courses that are affordable by design, rather than by skill at finding the cheapest possible version. Regardless of the course marking, students can still leverage strategies to find the best deal, such as the Bookstore's price comparison tool, used and rentals, and other strategies. Instructors are encouraged to communicate best acquisition practices to students, as many already do.

Course materials are increasingly complex in version, format, and cost. A particular textbook may be available in digital and/or print formats, new and/or used, in multiple editions (including custom), for purchase and/or rental, and available from a growing number of online retailers, in addition to our campus store. These circumstances, frequently in combination with each other, can create a multiplicity of possible available price points for any given title. In addition, students are confronted with access codes, bundling deals, automatic billing, digital first and digital only programs, and other publisher experiments, most of which are driven by commercial concerns rather than pedagogic quality. In order to provide students with clear and concise information, the Project Team chose to base course markings on the “new” price of the instructor-preferred format/edition as priced by KU Bookstore, which makes price comparisons available to students to help them find the best deal. For example, if a single required textbook is available in print for $75 and digitally for $40, then the course will be marked as low cost UNLESS the instructor requires the print edition. The Project Team elected not to mark courses based on used and rental prices because these options are already widely understood and adopted by students, when they’re available. By marking affordable courses, we’re trying to save students the additional effort of wading through the complexity described above and to clearly communicate: this course uses materials that are conventionally available for less than $45. All other existing strategies for finding the best deal remain available to students. We also recognize that there are students who prefer new over used, and who prefer to own rather than to rent.

In short, instructors report their adoptions to KU Bookstore via several available means. This is not new. KU Bookstore, Kansas Memorial Union, Student Information Systems, and KU IT collaborated to create a new process that sums the cost of course materials and communicates them to Enroll & Pay on a regular basis, where a course attribute is applied (no cost, low cost). Enroll & Pay is the source of the data presented at classes.ku.edu, so classes can see the course marking attribute and display the corresponding icon.

Course materials are defined as primary required teaching and learning content: textbooks and their equivalents, literary texts, digital learning platforms, homework systems, etc. Other supplies, such as clickers, lab safety equipment, art supplies, required calculators and other technology, etc. are not considered course materials for the purpose of course marking. In other words, a course that requires a clicker or lab safety gear can still be marked as an affordable course if it utilizes otherwise free or low cost material. Technology and supplies are frequently reusable. A clicker or graphing calculator is generally acquired once and used repeatedly, such that once a student has these tools, they don't need to buy them again.

“Recommended” materials are not addressed by this project because they are optional and students may acquire or not without negatively impacting their ability to succeed in the course, according to their own preferences and needs.

The Course Marking Project Team will make every effort to reflect student, faculty, & staff needs & feedback in implementation and future development. We’re seeking to provide clear guidelines, training, and information to all stakeholders, and to streamline participation by leveraging existing platforms and workflows. To share comments, suggestions, request an information or training session, and to report bugs, please email the Project Team at marking@ku.edu or use the "Contact Us" button located at the bottom of several pages within this site.

There are a variety of course types, such as lecture, seminar, laboratory, and discussion. KU refers to these as Course Components and provides a list of their types and definitions. In classes.ku.edu, this is represented by the capitalized abbreviation in the far left column, i.e. LEC for lecture courses. These course types entail different course material norms and practices. In other words, some course types are generally associated with course materials, and others are not. Thus some course types are marked when they are no cost or low cost, and others are not.

Course component types that are marked include:

  • Seminar (SEM)
  • Lecture (LEC)
  • Laboratory (LBN)
  • Laboratory Main (LAB)
  • Independent Study (IND)
  • Field Studies (FLD)

All courses of these types will be marked according to the course material adoptions reported to KU Bookstore. In other words, they may bear the no cost marker, the low cost marker, or no marker at all.

There are a variety of course types, such as lecture, seminar, laboratory, and discussion. KU refers to these as Course Components and provides a list of their types and definitions. In classes.ku.edu, this is represented by the capitalized abbreviation in the far left column, i.e. LEC for lecture courses. These course types entail different course material norms and practices. In other words, some course types are generally associated with course materials, and others are not. Thus some course types are marked when they are no cost or low cost, and others are not.

Course component types that are NOT marked include:

  • Activity (ACT)
  • Discussion (DIS)
  • Discussion Optional (DSO)
  • Thesis/Dissertation (THE)
  • Internship (INT)
  • Individual Research (RSH)

All courses of these types will NOT be marked due to a general disassociation with course materials. For example, in the case of Discussion (DIS) sections, they are always associated with another course type, typically a lecture. Materials are reported for the lecture, but not for the discussion section. In some cases, there may still be required materials. Students enrolling in Activity, Internship, and Individual Research who are concerned about potential costs should communicate with their instructor/supervisor.

We will consider any improvements and further development suggested by any stakeholder in order to make this initiative as useful and simple as possible. If you have ideas for improving course marking at KU, let us know by using the Contact Us button on several pages within this site, or by sending an email to the Project Team at marking@ku.edu.

Course marking is in development for implementation in Fall 2020 for Spring 2021 courses. As of mid-November 2020, markings for the pending Spring semester are viewable at classes.ku.edu.

Student Questions

We're doing everything we can to ensure accuracy, but mistakes are possible. For one thing, we can only provide the best information available at a given time. Enrollment and course material adoption reporting periods overlap, so the markings for a given semester will change over time, mostly of unmarked courses changing to no cost or low cost courses as instructors report their materials and that data is processed. It's also possible that a marking could change from no or low cost to unmarked if the material adopted changes, or if a course is reassigned to a new instructor who adopts different course materials. These are relatively rare events, but they happen.

If a course is not marked AND is one of the course types that receives a marking, assume the cost of materials in that course may be greater than $45. If it ends up being lower than that, or materials can be acquired for less via used, rental, and other acquisitions strategies, that's a good thing.

If a course is marked as a no cost or low cost course and the course materials are greater than $45 cumulatively, send an email to the Project Team at marking@ku.edu and we'll do our best to sort it out. Keep in mind that technology and supplies, such as clickers, lab safety gear, and graphing calculators are not included in the Course Marking Scope, and thus have no impact on the marker. A No Cost course can still require an expensive calculator because calculators are considered technology and supplies, not course materials. Once you have one, you don't need to buy it for other courses.

Give your instructor the benefit of the doubt. In all likelihood, an incorrect marking is the result of an honest mistake or misunderstanding, or a bug in the system. Either way, we want to know about it and to attempt to correct it, and appreciate your informing us via email to marking@ku.edu. Include as much information as you can.

Many instructors use free resources such as library-licensed content, open educational resources (OER), free web-based content, or material they have created or curated. These free resources are generally made available to enrolled students via Blackboard. Because they don't require a purchase, or for the Bookstore to order anything, some instructors are not in the habit of reporting this information to the Bookstore, which is understandable. Now, in order to have the No Cost marker applied to their course, there's a reason to provide that information. Reporting "no material required" is a quick and relatively painless procedure that will result in the application of the No Cost marker and provide the Bookstore with more precise and complete information, enabling the Bookstore to better meet the needs of students.

Because this requires a small adjustment in practices, it will take a little time. We believe there are many courses that use free material, but we just don't know what they are yet. We are encouraging those instructors to provide that information at the earliest point possible so that the No Cost marker can be applied to identify these courses. We expect the number of No Cost marked courses to grow over the next couple of semesters as instructors adjust to this information and have a reason to provide it.

Instructor Questions

When an instructor doesn't report any adoptions for a course type that is subject to marking, that course will not receive an icon, indicating that course materials may be greater than $45. If there are no materials required or free materials are required, instructors should report that to KU Bookstore via the form emailed to them, which will result in a No Cost icon at classes.ku.edu. In Fall 2020, instructors should have received an email on October 19, subject line: "ATTN REQUIRED: Now accepting submissions for Spring 2021 Course Materials!" Instructors may also contact the Bookstore directly to report their course material information, or use the form available at https://union.ku.edu/faculty-textbook-requests.

According to the Higher Education Opportunity Act and KU policy, all instructors should report their required adoptions, even when those adoptions don't require any purchase. The purpose of this law and policy isn't to interfere with instructor prerogatives or to influence the material you wish to assign, but to provide students with information so that they can plan and make informed decisions. It also helps Accessible KU prepare to meet the needs of students who require course material accommodations.

There are a variety of strategies for reducing costs of required course materials. Publishers may be willing to directly negotiate a lower cost, particularly if enrollment is high. KU Bookstore staff may be able to identify lower cost versions of a book (such as unbound versions) or source enough previous editions to meet enrollment. There may be open educational resources (OER) that meet your needs. KU Libraries provides small grants for instructors who choose to implement OER and are available to answer questions and consult on OER. There may be library-licensed content that is suitable for meeting learning objectives. Many instructors have reduced and even eliminated costs for their course materials. This doesn't mean that everyone can, or should, but it may be worth considering, particularly if the assigned materials are close to the $45 threshold. Students appreciate these efforts.

Of course, there are courses that require expensive materials in order to meet learning objectives. Eliminating or reducing cost where possible enables students to afford more costly content when it's assigned. When costly materials are required, instructors are encouraged to provide students with information about the lowest cost ways of accessing that content, as many already do.

There are a number of strategies for reducing course material cost that correspond to support available at KU:

For open educational resources (OER):

  • See KU Libraries OER site, which includes information about grants available to KU instructors who choose to implement OER
  • Contact Scholarly Communication Librarian Josh Bolick at jbolick@ku.edu

For library-licensed content (typically excluding "textbooks"):

  • There may be subject or course guides that provide a place to start
  • Contact the Libraries Content Development Team at libcoldev@ku.edu to identify existing licensed content or to explore purchasing new content, or contact any librarian you work with regularly for help.

For assistance considering copyright, open license terms, and fair use:

For assistance with printing course materials:

For information regarding course material acquisitions, publisher options, and KU Bookstore support, contact Associate Director James Rourke at jrourke1@ku.edu.

Let us know by emailing the Project Team at marking@ku.edu with enough information to look into it! We'll review and work with you to ensure your course is correctly marked as quickly as possible. Keep in mind that classes.ku.edu doesn't update immediate, so it may take a little time for a marker to update if you've just reported your adoptions.

When you report your course material adoptions, including no material required (to purchase), the Bookstore does some processing of information, such as to make sure the requested materials are available in sufficient quantity. This processing is manual and takes a little time. In Fall 2020, the Bookstore is experiencing the same financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic as many, if not all, other units at KU. Sadly, this means they're working with a diminished staff, which is impacting the speed of processing the data, and updating the course markings. They are key partners on this initiative, and have participated in and supported it from the very beginning. At present, they are processing course material adoption information as fast as possible given present limitations. We request your patience and understanding at this time. We will be assessing the initial implementation with an eye towards streamlining it for all parties, with the hope of getting the correct marker applied at the earliest possible point. For future semesters, the best way to get the no cost or low cost marker applied as early as possible is to report adoptions by the adoption "deadline" or earlier. These are the first courses processed and therefore the first batch reflected in the Schedule of Classes.

If you have reported your adoptions to the Bookstore but the marker you believe should apply is not yet visible, you can either check back in a few days, or send an email with your course info to marking@ku.edu, and we can try to provide a status, or ensure it's included in the next upload. We recognize there's a bit of a learning curve here and appreciate your patience during this implementation!

Yes. Due to budget circumstances imposed by the pandemic that have impacted staffing, processing of adoption information provided is taking longer than was anticipated during the project design phase. This is delaying the application of the no cost and low cost icons through the normal (automatic) application process. As a service to instructors and benefit to students wishing to have this information at the earliest point possible, the project team piloting a manual workaround.

Instructors or department personnel who believe their courses should be marked may request the application of a marking directly by sending an email to marking@ku.edu with the following information: the semester offered (ex. Fall 2021), the course abbreviation and number (ex. GERM 104), the 5-digit section number, instructor name, and the marker to be applied (no cost or low cost). PLEASE first review the scope and criteria for the markings carefully. Note that the $45 threshold for the low cost marker is cumulative, and based on KU Bookstore retail price. Clarification of policy or which marker is appropriate will be provided in response to emails to the same address. By requesting the marker, you are affirming that materials are correctly aligned with the marking, and that you will report changes that affect the marking at the earliest convenience.

With this information in hand, members of the project team will manually apply the markers, which will become visible within about 24 hours (from the point of manual application). Instructors may provide this information for their own courses, or someone may provide it on behalf of a department or program (bulk submission in spreadsheet appreciated). This process may evolve as we use it and learn from it.

We recognize this is less than ideal, but request patience and understanding as we adapt to the changing circumstances around us. The project team will be reviewing implementation in Summer 2021 and adapting workflows and policy to make participation and use of affordable course markings as easy as possible for all users.