Eight diverse projects awarded Affordable Course Content Awards

July 28, 2021
A zoom screen capture of the panelists from the Affordable Course Content Awards.

Eight faculty projects have been selected for VCU’s fifth round of Affordable Course Content Awards. This grant program supports faculty who wish to enhance the learning experience for students at VCU through free and/or open course materials.  

Despite the extraordinary circumstances of the past year, the program received a record number of applications this cycle. As a result, the application review committee had to be especially selective when reviewing applications. Each of this year’s awardees will create or customize open materials with a potential for large impact at and beyond VCU. The awarded projects have the potential to save more than 750 VCU students $75,000 annually.

This year, awards were split into three categories: seed, spread and sustain. The introduction of these new categories acknowledges that projects are often at different stages of development and have different breadths of impact. This framing aims to best support projects no matter whether they are piloting the development of one resource for a small class or are finalizing a department-wide textbook, and allows projects to apply for additional funding as needed to ensure they can produce the best resource(s) possible.

Projects in the seed category are in the early stages of planning and/or have a smaller implementation (e.g. one section of a class). Many may be testing out processes and workflows with an eye towards larger expansion in the future. Four projects were awarded at the seed stage: 

  • Jesse Goldstein, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology, Frankie Mastrangelo, Ph.D., instructor of sociology, and Emily Tomasik, research assistant and recent VCU graduate (BS SOCY 2021) will create a repository of process-based, scaffolded learning modules for use in multiple sociology courses. This seed project will be exploring the creation process of such modules and student reception for the possibility of additional modules following the grant period.
  • Carolyn McCrea, director of the Virginia Credit Union Financial Success Center, and Joseph Stemmle, CFP, adjunct instructor at the School of Business, will identify, combine and customize open materials for FIRE301, Personal Finance Planning, which will soon be included in the VCU general education offerings.
  • Beth Rubinstein, M.D., associate professor, Fnu Nutan, M.D., assistant professor, Julia Nunley, M.D.,  professor, School of Medicine, and medical students Mavra Masood, Sindhuja Koppu, Sarah Shapiro, and Julianna Kang will create dynamic modules focusing on the identification, diagnosis and workup of different dermatologic manifestations of rheumatic diseases, with an emphasis on utilizing examples in skin of color (SOC).  Medical students will play a key role in project management, content creation and maintaining and updating the project.
  • Rebecca Shields, adjunct instructor in art history, will create an open video resource in partnership with a local historical site highlighting African American art history, a topic absent from most art history textbooks. This seed project will be exploring the process for partnering with local sites and creating a resource to potentially lay the groundwork for the creation of additional modules.

Projects in the spread category are large-scale projects expanding on existing projects or newer projects with larger implementation (such as department-wide adoption).  Two projects were awarded: 

  • Natalia Boykova, assistant professor of Russian, with Kathryn Murphy-Judy, associate professor of French, and students Victoria Crouch and Maria Lavrentyeva will build on previously funded foreign language OER models to create a textbook for Russian 101/102.  Students will play a key role in the development of the resource.
  • Shruti Syal, Ph.D., assistant professor of Urban and Regional Studies and Planning, will create highly scaffolded, applied learning assignments as the core learning component for weekly modules for URSP650, Natural Resources and Environmental Planning. She will also replace any existing commercial texts with free resources. 

Faculty recipients in the seed and spread categories will be working on their projects starting in summer 2021, with implementation expected in fall 2023. 

The last category, sustain, describes projects already under development or completed for which additional funds are needed to help finish, revise or expand the resource. This support for longer-term project sustainability is often a gap in programs that fund the customization and creation of free and open course materials. Both awardees in the sustain category previously  received Affordable Course Content Awards: 

  • Dana Lapato, Ph.D., instructor, and Timothy York, professor and director of the Data Science Lab, from the School of Medicine, were awarded a 2020 Affordable Course Content Award to create an open resource teaching R programming and research/data ethics and reproducibility for HGEN611 and 612 (Data Science I and II). This sustain grant will support honorariums for peer review by students and faculty and compensate students for content contributions.
  • Valerie Robnolt, Ph.D., associate professor, and Lisa Cipolletti, M.Ed., assistant professor,  from the School of Education, with help from Elizabeth Morris, children’s librarian at Richmond Public Library (Main Branch), were awarded a 2019 Affordable Course Content Award for the work creating an open textbook for Children’s Literature I (TEDU386). This sustain grant will support the addition of graduate student Kasey Dye to the project team to assist in finalizing importing and formatting content in their online platform.

About the Affordable Course Content Awards

The Affordable Course Content Awards provide financial and project management support for faculty as they adopt zero-cost resources or create or customize openly-licensed alternatives to expensive course materials.  By removing the financial barrier to access, free course materials increase the possibility that students can succeed in their academic careers. Course materials with open licenses also allow faculty to tailor materials to their specific classes, creating engaging learning experiences for students.  While many resources resemble traditional textbooks, supported course materials can take a variety of forms, including interactive websites, videos, or ancillary materials. 

The program has supported 22 projects across the four previous cycles, including Digital Histology, Atelier RÉEL, and Language and Culture in Context. Through Summer 2021, funded projects have impacted 141 sections of 35 courses and 42 professors and saved 23,600 students (duplicated headcount) $2.5 million.

The Affordable Course Content Awards program is a partnership of the Office of the Provost, VCU Libraries, Online @ VCU the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence, Academic Technologies, Barnes and Noble @ VCU, Inclusive Excellence, and Friends of the VCU Libraries.  

Learn more about the Affordable Course Content Awards or VCU Libraries’ support for open and affordable course content.


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