VCU Libraries

Research Guides

Open and Affordable Course Content

What is Affordable Course Content?

Affordable course content describes any educational resources that are free to access, low-cost, or openly licensed. Affordable course content can include syllabi, course modules, textbooks, videos, tests, journal articles, assessment tools, and any other materials used to support learning. ‚ÄčZero Textbook Cost is commonly used to refer to the subset of affordable course materials that are freely available to students.

Most affordable course content still retains traditional copyright licensing, including restrictions on how a resource can be used or shared.  The exception is open educational resources, which are free of cost and most copyright restrictions, allowing them to be freely used, edited, stored, and distributed.

Why use Open and Affordable Course Content?

  • Equitable, day-one access for all students
  • Faculty freedom to customize materials
  • More engaging learning experiences for students, especially from using customized materials
  • Improved student success, especially for those who are from historically underserved groups, first generation, part-time or Pell grant recipients

Top Tips to Lower Textbook Costs

  • Adopt open or freely accessible course content. Talk to the Open Educational Resources Librarian if you need help.
  • Search the libraries' collections for any books you assign, as they might be available as ebooks. Learn more about using ebooks as course content.
  • Place copies of course materials in VCU Libraries' course reserves for students who may be unable to purchase them.
    • IMPORTANT UPDATE: Please note that due to Covid-19, course reserve lending will be restricted. In an effort to protect student health and safety, all Course Reserves items will be quarantined (therefore, unavailable for checkout) for up to 5 days after each use, per CDC recommendations. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the course reserves team at
  • Explore library databases to find course materials, including ebooks, online video, images, data, articles, and more.
  • Get your textbook adoptions to the bookstore as soon as possible. The earlier the bookstore has this information, the more used copies they can make available for students. The VCU Textbook Adoptions and Sales Policy sets the adoption deadlines:
    • Fall semester adoptions by April 1
    • Spring semester adoptions by October 15
    • Summer session adoptions by March 1
    • In the case of a late appointment of a course instructor, as soon as practical
  • Create a customized course pack instead of using a whole textbook. Barnes and Noble @ VCU partners with XanEdu to help faculty create customized print course materials. Materials can be a combination of openly licensed or copyrighted works--XanEdu helps faculty license permissions for copyrighted content. There is no cost for faculty to use XanEdu.