Affordable Course Content Awards support free textbooks for eight new courses

July 27, 2022
A zoom screenshot of the panelists from the 2022 Affordable Course Content Awards.

Eight faculty projects have been selected for VCU’s sixth 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.  

The program received a record number of applications this cycle, showing faculty remain committed to student success even when faced with the extraordinary circumstances and demands of the past two years. The application review committee was especially rigorous when evaluating applications.

Each of this year’s awardees will create or customize open materials with a potential for large impact at and beyond VCU. When implemented, these projects are estimated to save VCU students more than $165,000 annually, with the potential to save more than $325,000 upon expanded adoptions. In the initial implementation, these projects will impact more than 2,000 students annually, with the potential to reach more than 7,500 students annually upon expansion.

Awards are divided into three categories: seed, spread and sustain. These categories acknowledge that projects are 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 toward larger expansion in the future. Three projects were awarded at the seed stage: 

  • John M. Aughenbaugh, Ph.D., associate professor of Political Science, with Nia Rodgers, M.A., M.L.I.S., Public Affairs Research Librarian, will develop an open textbook on constitutional law. Organized by topic, each section of the book will include audio introductions; written overviews providing political, historical, economic, and sociological context; and condensed Supreme Court decisions. This seed project will lay the foundation of this work, which will possibly be expanded to support other public law courses.
  • Caroline O. Cobb, Ph.D., associate professor of Psychology with Psychology faculty David Chester, Ph.D., associate professor, Natalie Dautovich, Ph.D., assistant professor, Jared Keeley, Ph.D., associate professor, and Fantasy Lozada, Ph.D., assistant professor, will identify existing OER to assemble into a comprehensive open resource for a graduate course on the biological basis of behavior. Project team members represent different psychology programs to ensure the resource is applicable to all doctoral students. 
  • Vicki Pallo, Ph.D., associate professor and Julianne Guillard, Ph.D., associate professor of Focused Inquiry will lead a team of Focused Inquiry faculty in gathering OER of various formats (e.g. text, multimedia) and original works from faculty to create a resource repository for a redesigned UNIV200 course, a required course in the general education curriculum. The repository will collect materials representative of VCU’s diverse student population and faculty expertise while leaving room for customization by individual instructors. This seed project will begin the creation process and see the project implemented in a subset of Focused Inquiry classes for beta testing.

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

  • Rebecca Shields, Ph.D., adjunct instructor in art history, will create an open video resource in partnership with local historical sites highlighting African American art history, a topic absent from most art history textbooks. This project was originally awarded a 2021 Affordable Course Content Award in the seed category, which they used to create a video on Wilton House (currently undergoing finishing touches) and solidify the research and recording process. The spread grant will expand the project to additional Virginia historical sites. This progress perfectly exemplifies the seed to spread trajectory.
  • Holly Jackson, Ph.D., instructor of Business will update an open textbook previously created specifically for VCU’s Foundations of Business course. Some of the four OER sources were created approximately a decade ago, and this project aims to update data, links, and images to ensure the textbook provides current and relevant information, with an eye towards diversity/equity and inclusion (DEI) and ensuring accessibility for all students. 
  • Garreth Blackwell, Ph.D., instructor, and Matt Woolman, M.F.A, M.B.A., executive director of the VCUarts Center for Creative Economy (CCE) will expand upon a textbook supported by a 2018 Affordable Course Content Award. The new work will ensure that the book is ready for wide sharing and adoption at other institutions by making it publicly available, creating introductory videos for each chapter, and recording an audiobook version to aid with accessibility. Alongside the work on the core text, a workbook will be developed to create a cohesive learning experience for all adopting instructors and students. 
  • Heather Nunnally, Ph.D., assistant professor of teaching in mathematics, with Hilary Cassil, M.S., assistant professor of teaching in mathematics, will redesign a math course to use both an OER and customized corresponding assignments in MyOpenMath, an open source courseware platform. Math131 is a terminal math course for most non-STEM students, which causes many to not purchase the book or have need of access following the course. This project will test a section of the redesigned course in limited sections in Summer 2022 before expanding adoption.

Faculty recipients in the seed and spread categories will be working on their projects starting in summer 2022, with implementation expected in fall 2024. 

The last category of awards, sustain, describes projects already under development or completed for which additional funds are needed to help finish, revise or expand the resource. One project was awarded.

  • Beth Rubinstein, M.D., associate professor, Fnu Nutan, M.D., assistant professor, Julia Nunley, M.D.,  professor, School of Medicine, and medical students Julianna Kang, Sindhuja Koppu, and Sarah Shapiro 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. This project was originally awarded a 2021 Affordable Course Content Award that funded the creation of two modules. This sustain grant will support the students as they develop additional modules.

Funding for the 2022 Affordable Course Content Awards was provided in part by the The Barbara Ford Endowment of the 21st Century Fund. 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, Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success, and Friends of the VCU Libraries.  

Application Review Committee  

  • Jessica Kirschner, Open Educational Resources Librarian, Affordable Course Content Awards Program Manager (ex officio)
  • Julie Arendt, M.S.I., Science and Engineering Research Librarian 
  • John W. Bigbee, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology; Past Awardee
  • Erica Brody, MPH, MSLS, Research and Education Librarian
  • Michael Forder, M.Ed., Director of E-Learning, College of Health Professions
  • Jackson Hoch, VCU Libraries, Research and Education Intern 
  • Stephanie L. Holt, Friends of VCU Libraries President-Elect
  • Dana Lapato, Ph.D., Instructor, Department of Human and Molecular Genetics; Past Awardee
  • Katherine Maynard, Assistant Director, Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence
  • Sarah McCall, Programs Manager, Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success (IES) 
  • Laura Middlebrooks, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Spanish, School of World Studies
  • Aryan Venkanagari, undergraduate student (sophomore, Business)
  • Lisa M. Yamin, Ed.D., Academic Affairs Coordinator, Office of the Provost

About the Affordable Course Content Awards

The Affordable Course Content Awards provide financial and project 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 27 projects across the five previous cycles, including Digital Histology, Atelier RÉEL, and Language and Culture in Context. Through Summer 2022, funded projects have impacted 233 sections of 52 courses and 61 professors and saved 32,330 students (duplicated headcount) $3.5 million.

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


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