Open and Affordable Course Content Initiative moves forward

June 30, 2020

VCU Libraries' Open and Affordable Course Content Initiative supports instructors as they transition their courses to zero textbook cost courses, using either Open Educational Resources (OER) or library content. The initiative began its fourth year with a newly-arrived dedicated Open Educational Resources Librarian Jessica Kirschner, who worked with other library staff to enhance and expand VCU Libraries’ support for textbook affordability. 

New Programs

In 2019-20, the Open and Affordable Course Content Initiative expanded support for faculty using library resources, especially ebooks, as course materials. While library ebooks have always been a viable option for use in classes, this year saw the addition of explicit guidelines for evaluating which ebooks should be considered for use as course content by reviewing the number of users, type of access and more. The OER Librarian worked the Collection Analysis and Investment Department and others to develop these guidelines.

Another avenue of expanding support for library ebooks as course materials was through the Virtual Library of Virginia (VIVA), Virginia’s academic library consortium. VCU Libraries piloted an ebook purchasing program. In conjunction with the bookstore, VCU Libraries and VIVA staff reviewed lists of textbooks assigned for Spring 2020 to identify books available for purchase through VIVA’s portal for open and affordable ebooks. VIVA purchased these titles for VCU Libraries for use in VCU classes in Spring 2020 and beyond. VIVA opened the pilot to all institutions in the state, and VCU was selected to extend their participation to the 2020-21 academic year.

VCU Libraries staff also worked with the Office of the Registrar and the Office of the Provost to update existing VCU textbook policies. The Textbook Adoptions and Sales Policy, which was approved in March 2020, reduced redundancy from the previous policies and incorporates Virginia legislation on affordable course content, including marking low- and no-cost courses in the course schedule. VCU Libraries is also listed as a resource on the new policy.

Other VCU Libraries initiatives, such as support for Open Educational Resources, continued in 2019-20. A third cohort of the Affordable Course Content Awards was named and a fourth award cycle, with funds to be awarded in late 2020, was launched. Ongoing work focused on building support for the program, including running workshops for awardees, sharing  newly created resources and exploring extending publishing support for new OER.

New Directions

Alongside the growth of programs and services, the Open and Affordable Course Content Initiative worked to expand partnerships across campus. The initiative partners with a number of programs similarly focused on course materials, pedagogy and student success, such as the ALT Lab and CTLE. 2019-20 saw these partnerships continue to solidify and expand, such as beginning work with the VCU Financial Success Center over the shared goal of assisting VCU students with the high financial burden of higher education.

Since the initiative’s work aims to benefit students, including students was a priority this year. This began with the hiring of an Affordable Course Content Student Ambassador, Stephanie Jones, who developed outreach efforts and communications aimed at students. Led by Jones, the initiative developed social media campaigns, tabling events and resources for students to learn about the initiative and to give feedback to help shape our interactions with faculty. 

New Public Face

The Open and Affordable Course Content Initiative ensured that these new programs and directions were effectively communicated to the VCU community and beyond. As a part of the VCU Libraries’ website relaunch, the initiative launched a redesigned web page. The new page connects users directly to information based on their questions or interests, such as finding OER or the VCU Affordable Course Content Awards.

Much of the content users are directed to from the website is part of a new suite of resource guides on open and affordable topics, providing in-depth information to anyone wishing to learn more. From these guides, users can learn about:

In addition, the initiative created a series on Scholar’s Compass, VCU’s institutional repository, to share open course content generated by the VCU community. This includes materials, from textbooks to syllabi, created by Affordable Course Content Award participants, but also anything else from the community which can be used in classes. Having a central collection will help promote VCU content beyond the VCU community; some items in the collection have already seen worldwide use.

For more on the impact of these projects from the fourth year of the Open and Affordable Course Content Initiative.

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