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OER & Low Cost Course Marking at CU

Course Marking


Beginning in Spring 2022, CU Boulder's class search includes an indicator that allows students to filter by courses that have low cost, no cost, or open educational resources. This guide details some of the benefits and functions of this change.


Colorado Revised Statute § 23-1-134 (search the Colorado Revised Statutes Online) requires that students are informed, prior to course registration, which courses and sections use open educational resources (OER) or low-cost materials (defined as totaling less than $20 per course).

See also Course Materials Answers for Faculty


Course markings to indicate that a course is low-cost and/or uses OER provide students with additional information for their financial planning and contribute to student awareness of open educational resources as an existing and growing category of learning material. Course markings to indicate that a course is low-cost and/or uses OER contribute to CU Boulder educator awareness of OER. Additionally, markings facilitate analysis and reporting of OER use at CU Boulder for purposes such as grant applications for funds to support OER adoption, adaptation, and creation at CU Boulder.
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. This 2008 law reauthorized the Higher Education Act of 1965 and that governs the nation’s college and university policies, including course material costs and price transparency.

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.

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.

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.
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.

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.

The markings may inspire some instructors to adopt open and affordable course materials in their classes. If they want help with this process, they may contact the University Libraries OER Leads, to help them identify and evaluate existing resources or create new materials.


Largely adapted from Marking Open and Affordable Courses: Best Practices and Case Studies 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.