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Faculty: Apply for a 2021 Affordable Course Content Award by May 20

April 20, 2021

VCU Libraries, the Office of the Provost, VCU Online, the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence, Academic Technologies, Barnes and Noble @ VCU, Inclusive Excellence, and the Friends of VCU Libraries announce that the 2021 round of the Affordable Course Content Awards is now accepting applications. The program supports faculty adoption of zero-cost resources and customization and creation of openly-licensed alternatives to expensive course materials. 

Deadline is May 20 for a required intent to submit form, which is followed by a pre-submission consultation to help applicants begin thinking through their project. Completed full applications are due June 6. 

“[The Affordable Course Content Awards] have provided a unique opportunity for refreshing intellectual/pedagogical autonomy and instructor-student collaboration." said Laura Middlebrooks, Ph.D, assistant professor of Spanish and recipient of a 2019 award, who is creating an interactive, student-driven open educational resource for Spanish 202.

Faculty members are invited to apply for awards in three categories:

  • Adopt: Redesign your course to incorporate open or free educational resources with little to no editorial changes made to the resource.
  • Customize: Modify an open resource, combine and/or modify multiple open resources, or create ancillaries for an existing resource.
  • Create: Create a substantially new openly licensed resource, where it is possible to demonstrate that quality resources are not currently available to meet learning objectives. 

Resources can include textbooks, but also any other materials used for teaching such as videos, podcasts, or supplementary materials. Faculty who created resources for remote teaching and are interested in formalizing and/or sharing them widely are encouraged to apply.

The awards can inspire faculty to begin a new project or provide the support needed to implement a long-considered project. Each type of project will also be evaluated on the scale of the project, which evaluates the project stage and impact:

  • Seed projects are in the early stages of planning and/or are for a limited implementation,
  • Spread projects are expanding on seed projects and/or projects beginning with larger implementation, and
  • Sustain projects are close to or have completed a first draft of the resource or implementation, where additional funds are needed to help finish, revise, or expand the resource.

Support is both financial and project-focused, such as publishing support from VCU Libraries. Award cohorts are provided instruction and resources in topics including accessibility and open licensing and engage in conversations with past recipients to ensure they have the needed tools to adopt, customize, or create free resources for their students.

Full guidelines and application materials are available on the affordable course content awards page. Faculty who want to apply must indicate their intent through a brief online form by May 20, 2021, and participate in a required pre-submission consultation. Completed application forms are due June 6, 2021. Project timelines may vary but must be implemented by Fall 2023 at the latest.

Faculty who are interested or have questions can also reach out to Open Educational Resources Librarian Jessica Kirschner

“We are excited to offer another round of the Affordable Course Content Awards,” said Kirschner. “Especially given the strangeness of the past year, it’s important to remove as many barriers to student success as possible. This awards program allows faculty to find, customize, or create resources that best benefit their classes and students, both pedagogically and financially. I look forward to building another cohort of faculty invested in their students’ success by providing free teaching materials.”

A 2018 survey of more than 21,000 college students in Florida found that textbook prices led to 64 percent of students not purchasing a required textbook, 40 percent not registering for a specific course, 36 percent earning a poor grade, and 23 percent dropping a course. Free course materials remove this financial barrier to access, increasing the possibility that students can succeed in their academic careers. Studies (e.g. Colvard, Watson, and Park, 2018) have shown that this impact is even more significant for students who are minorities or from socio-economic backgrounds. Course materials with open licenses also allow faculty to tailor materials to their specific classes, creating engaging learning experiences for students. 

The Affordable Course Content Awards support faculty who wish to follow this path to enhance the learning experience for students across VCU. The program has supported 22 projects across the four previous cycles. Through Fall 2020, those projects have impacted 75 sections of 29 courses and 28 professors and saved 21,000 students (duplicated headcount) $2.3 million.

Visit the affordable course content awards page to learn more about the program and previous recipients. 

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