Course Marking

Course Marking is Coming to the University of Idaho!

In 2021, the Idaho State Board of Education passed the Instructional Material Access and Affordability Policy. This policy requires universities around the state to make meaningful progress towards the State’s goals for transparency around course material costs and lays out specific tactics and requirements for doing so.

In keeping with the mandates of this memo, U of I is required to develop and implement course marking strategies so that students can easily identify reliably zero and low-cost courses.  A special cross-University committee was convened by the University of Idaho Library and the Vice Provost for Academic Initiatives in early 2023, with the overall charge of building a culture of Open on campus, and a specific focus on implementing the state’s required course marking as soon as feasible. The Open Campus committee contains representatives from the Library, CETL, Student Advising, The Registrar, and the VandalStore. 

Instructors may begin reporting their course materials costs during scheduling in spring of 2024, for application to courses listed and taught in starting Fall 2024. In Fall 2024, students will be able to browse the class schedule using Zero and Very Low Cost categories as facets, and, if desired, limit their registration selections to courses in those categories.

Course Marking FAQ

Textbook costs might seem like a drop in the bucket of financial burdens that many students face, but they are one expense where individual instructors and faculty can make a difference. This difference shows not just in course affordability, but in student academic success. Research shows that students in courses which have Zero or Very Low Cost course materials have higher test scores and lower DFW rates compared to students using a traditional, high-cost textbook.

In addition to the positive impact on academic success, retention, and persistence, course marking meets our institutional and statewide goals. Course marking fulfills part of the mandate set forth by the Idaho State Board of Education in their 2021 Instructional Material Access and Affordability policy and algins with the University of Idaho’s strategic plan.

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).

The Idaho State Board of Education enacted course marking legislation as part of their governing policies and procedures in June 2021, under the Instructional Material Access and Affordability policy. That policy can be viewed at III.U. – Instructional Material Access and Affordability 06-2021.

  • Marco Seiferle-Valencia, Libraries
  • Kristin Henrich, Libraries
  • Beth Ropski, Student Advising
  • Lindsay Brown, Registrar
  • Tricia Durgin, VandalStore
  • Brian Smentkowski, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

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.

Within Idaho, our sister institutions are in the process of implementing their own course marking systems. In developing the plan for UI, the Course Marking Team consulted materials shared by the above institutions, in addition to material from Marking Open and Affordable Courses: Best Practices and Case Studies, edited by Sarah Hare, Jessica Kirschner, and Michelle Reed.

Course materials are defined as primary required teaching and learning content: textbooks and their equivalents, literary texts, digital learning platforms, homework systems, etc.

“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.

Zero cost – Students who take a zero cost course should expect to be able to access all required materials for the course for zero cost during the whole term. This can be achieved by courses using the following types of materials:

  • Openly licensed textbooks
  • OER (open educational resources)
  • Freely available content such as materials in the public domain
  • Licensed materials may be used in cases where Library course reserves can provide resources that allow for an unlimited number of simultaneous users.
    • Important Note: Not all current Library Digital Course Reserves will meet or be able to meet this standard due to materials having different simultaneous user policies.

Very low cost – the materials cost less than $30 at full MSRP.

  • This category is for courses that have a cost of less than $30 for the full, msrp, non-discounted price of a new textbook.
  • Inclusive Access materials in which the total preferred package cost is less than $30.
  • Used texts should not be used to qualify a text for this category. The full price of the text, purchased new at the Vandal Bookstore or comparable retailer, is the determining price.

Course material costs are calculated using the full price of the text, purchased new at the VandalStore or another comparable textbook retailer.

If you’re happy with the course textbook you currently use, look up the price online or contact the VandalStore for assistance. If your course materials are less than $30, your course will receive a Very Low Cost course designation. If your course materials are $0, your course will receive a Zero Cost course designation.

If your course materials are higher than $30, your course will not receive any course cost designation at this time. If you want to find a lower cost version of the text you use and are happy with, you have options! Contact the U of I Libraries and we’ll be happy to work with you to find a lower cost replacement using open educational resources (OER), library-owned licenses, or another high-quality solution.

Used book prices should not be used to qualify a course for a Zero or Very Low Cost course designation. The full price of the textbook, purchased new at the Vandal Bookstore or comparable retailer, is the determining price.

The aim of Course Marking is to clearly identify courses that use Zero Cost and Very Low Cost course 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 Course Marking, we want to identify courses that are affordable by design, rather than by skill at finding the cheapest possible version.

In order for your courses to be marked as Zero Cost in the registration system, you need to report “no material required” to your department’s course scheduler when you turn in your syllabus. Making sure Zero Cost courses are effectively and accurately marked in the registration system ensures that our students can make informed choices about their financial burden. We’d also encourage you to reach out to the librarian in your discipline to ensure that the materials you’re posting on Canvas are copyright-compliant and accessible for students using screen-readers or other adaptive technology solutions.

Each instructor will need to identify the course material costs for each course they are teaching. This is as simple as looking up the new price of the textbook online! Then, instructors will report each course’s course materials cost to their course schedulers. Instructors will work directly with their department’s course schedulers to report their course costs as part of the registration process.

Course marking is in development for deployment in Spring 2024 for Fall 2024 courses.

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. VandalStore staff may be able to identify lower cost versions of a book (such as unbound versions) or source enough previous editions to meet enrollment. U of I Libraries provides a number of resources to develop lower cost course materials, including providing support in identifying open educational resources (OER), identifying library-licensed content suitable for meeting learning objectives, and providing hosted library course reserves. U of I Libraries also provides funding for instructors who choose to implement OER in their courses, with awards for OER adoption to OER development, and provides an open publishing platform, Pressbooks, for instructors interested in adapting or developing their own OER.

Many instructors have reduced and even eliminated costs for their course materials. 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.