VCU Libraries

Research Guides

Affordable Course Content Awards

Overview of the VCU Affordable Course Content Awards

Current Guidelines

We are planning a fifth round of Affordable Course Content Awards in 2021. Check back for guidelines and links to application materials.

In the meantime, sign up to schedule a consultation or be notified when the guidelines are available on the "Sign up to learn more" tab.

Additional questions?

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Jessica Kirschner
(804) 828-2105
Cabell Library, Room 121-U


What type of projects do the Affordable Course Content Awards fund?

The Affordable Course Content Awards support faculty adoption of zero-cost resources and creation of openly-licensed alternatives to expensive textbooks. The awards are guided by the goal to assist faculty in reaching zero textbook costs for their classes, so resources use can be open, no-cost, or library resources. Projects fall into three categories: 

  • Adopt: identify an open or free resource and redesign your course around the new resource
  • Customize: modify an open resource, combine multiple resources, or create ancillary materials
  • Create: create original content

What if I've already started working on my project?

Yes. We welcome submissions from faculty who have both just begun thinking about their projects and ones who have already begun to implement their projects. The program can offer support to get you started or get you over the last hurdle to creating a finished, sharable resource. We also encouraging faculty who created resources for the switch to remote teaching and are interested in formalizing and/or sharing them widely to apply.

Because we understand that different projects will be at different stages, starting in the 2021 cycle, we're instituting new project scale types to help determine funding amounts:

  • 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.

What is the timeline for completing the project?

As a part of the award, we will ask you for the project to be implemented in classrooms in the fall semester one year after the grant was awarded. However, this does not necessarily mean that your project has to be complete, but rather just that materials must be used in your class and cost savings going into effect. You could be beta testing the text in class or working with students to create the text or additional materials. We do also ask that you perform some sort of assessment by the end of the first or second semester of use.

See a cycle's project guidelines for additional information about the timeline. 


What does the application involve?

Starting in the 2019 cycle, we ask applicants to first complete an Intent to Submit form, expressing interest in the program The Open Educational Resources Librarian will then schedule a meeting, often with partners from the ALT Lab, to discuss your project. Applications from faculty who have not completed the Intent to Submit form and attended a consultation will not be considered.

The full application will ask you to think about your project more in-depth: narrative description, timeline, assessment plan, and budget. Plenty of guidance will be provided both on the application form and on this FAQ to ensure that applications can confidently complete the narrative portion. An accompanying form will collect basic information about the project, course, previous course materials, and departmental support. Both of these aspects will be considered when evaluating your application.

The application asks me to identify which resources I'll use [adopt, customize] or prove that no other similar resources exist [create]. Where should I look for these resources?

Our Open Educational Resources and Library Resources as Course Materials guides provide a good overview of where to begin your search for affordable course materials.

For library resources, you can search the VCU Libraries' catalog or the VIVA Faculty Textbook Portal. The  Library Resources as Course Materials guide provides additional guidance on which ebooks serve as good options for course materials.

For OER, the "Find OER" portion of our OER guide provides a good overview of potential sources. We recommend using one of the search engines at the top of the page because they provide the most comprehensive search. When looking for existing OER, we also recommend reviewing all types of OER, not just textbooks. You might find a chapter that would fit great in your new resource, making that one less piece of content you have to author yourself. 

Your pre-submission consultation will help you start thinking about existing materials, where to find them, and how to perform a suitable evaluation.

How are applications evaluated?

An evaluation committee composed of grant partners and faculty members from both campuses will review the applications for: 

  • Potential impact of the project (e.g. cost savings, potential for future adoption)
  • Quality considerations (e.g. accessibility and support)
  • Scale of project
  • Feasibility of project 

Applications will be reviewed holistically across these categories with the aim of funding projects that can make a significant impact at VCU and beyond. This could include higher-level classes with only one section but no available resources for that specific field.

We urge faculty considering applying to articulate a project that would best serve the pedagogical needs of them and their students while also reducing course materials costs to zero. 

Who evaluates the application?

Applications will be reviewed by a committee composed of program partner representatives and VCU faculty and students. All committee members have experience with course content development and/or OER, or can speak to teaching and learning at VCU.

I am interested in applying. When is the call for proposals open?

The call for the 2020 Affordable Course Content Awards will open in May 2020.  If you are interested in the awards, please contact Jessica Kirschner, Open Educational Resources Librarian, at for additional information.


What are the requirements of the awards?

Full requirements are laid out in the cycle's award guidelines, but basically, they fall into four categories:

  1. Application requirements (e.g. complete all required parts of the application)
  2. Licensing requirements (e.g. assign a CC-BY or CC-BY-NC license to all resources)
  3. Project requirements (e.g. meet accessibility standards)
  4. Timeline requirements (e.g. implementation and assessment deadlines)
  5. Participation requirements (e.g. attend a kick-off meeting and regular check-ins and share updates)

Can you expand on the licensing requirement?

While this program's main goal is to help VCU students, we also want the projects created through this program to help the greater higher education community. To do this, we ask that you assign any of your materials with a license that allows others to share and edit the resource at their institution, specifically a creative commons attribution (CC-BY) or attribution-noncommercial (CC-BY-NC) license (you choose!). Project partners can discuss with you which license would be most appropriate for your project.

Starting with the 2020 cycle, the licensing requirements applies to: 

  • For create and customize projects, this includes any newly created or revised materials, whether the main resource or any ancillaries, from test banks to powerpoints
  • For adopt projects, this includes the syllabus for your course.

What if I don't know anything about accessibility or some of the other project requirements?

It's ok if you're not an accessibility expert! The program will provide instruction on all project requirements through our cohort meetings or other venues, as needed. We're here to help you work on all the technical, etc, aspects of the project--your main focus should be the content.

What if I am unable to attend one of the required meetings?

The pre-submission consultation meeting is a required part of the application. We will work with you to schedule this meeting.

At least one person from your project should be able to attend the kick-off meeting, which will provide an introduction to the program, expectations, and available support. If this is not possible, please let the Open Educational Resources Librarian know as soon as possible.

Additional may be organized with the cohort of awardees, and these will be scheduled to accommodate all participants schedules as best as possible. 


Are there general guidelines for how much funding I should request in my budget?

For the 2021 cycle, we have instituted new funding estimates: 

  • Seed projects
    • $1,000/person (adopt/customize)
    • $2,000/peron (create)
  • Spread projects
    • $2,000/person (adopt)
    • $3,000/person (customize)
    • $4,000/person (create)
  • Sustain projects
    • $1,000/project

These guidelines are based on the available budget and are intended to help guide budgets and personnel requests, which previous applicants have found hard to calculate. However, if you feel you have an explicit need for a funding amount larger than listed for the corresponding category or additional direct expenses, we invite you to request the full amount you feel you need and explicitly justify such need in the budget of the narrative portion of the application. 

While we would like to be able to support larger ticket items, like course release, current limited budgets may prevent us from doing so. For any asks over $5,000 per person, we request that the applicant’s home department provide funding to cover the remaining amount needed. Guarantee of such matched funds should be submitted with the application.

What can be included in the budget?

The budget should include anything you think you'll need to complete the project. Most projects' budgets will primarily--if not exclusively--include funding for the faculty undertaking the work. That's why the funding estimates are based on funding for project team members. However, anything else which is integral to the project's success can also be included. This should not include items which are provided as a part of the grant by VCU grant partners (e.g. technical assistance, instructional design, DOI assignment). Consider:

  • Do you need any new equipment? E.g. camera for a project focused on images.
  • Will you need any additional support not available from VCU grant partners? (See project support) E.g. a graphic designer, student assistant

Publication fees, professional memberships, and travel are not typically funded through this grant. Requests for funds in these categories must be specifically justified in the budget section of the application. 

Will you award partial funding?


How is funding disbursed?

Funding is disbursed through interdepartmental transfer. If your project is selected, we will ask for a contact person in your department who we receive and distribute the funds. It is also good to note that since funds will be disbursed via your department, they will be subject to any other spending guidelines stipulated by your department. 


What type of assessment would meet your requirements?

The purpose of the assessment is to evaluate the reception and impact of the new course materials with your students:

  • What did students think of the new resource?
  • How did it compare to a traditional textbook?
  • How did it impact students' grades? Learning outcomes? Course-level retention (drop/fail/withdrawal)?

Some of these questions can be answered by surveying the class, while others may require a comparison between sections or years of the class. 

The award program does not mandate which or how many of these aspects you should explore in your assessment. However, we suggest, at the very least, to evaluate students' perception of the new resource. 

If selected, you can review assessments more in-depth with the Open Educational Resources Librarian, including a sample survey used by previous grant recipients.  We also recommend reviewing the Open Education Group's OER Research Toolkit for additional guidance and best practices for research on open and affordable course content.

How detailed should my assessment plan be on the application?

We ask about assessment in the application because we want you to begin thinking about what aspects you'd like to study, although this could change as the project develop. It is especially important to start thinking early if you conduct both pre- and post-tests using earlier semesters or if you need to apply for an IRB.

For the application, please include: 

  • what type of assessment you wish to undertake (e.g. survey)
  • what you hope to study (e.g. grades and/or perceptions). 

Exact details and assessment instruments do not need to be developed for the application. 

Do I need IRB for the assessment?

For the purposes of the grant's assessment, you do not need an IRB. However, if you wish to share the results of your assessment more widely, we recommend obtaining IRB approval. 

These recommendations come with the caveat that we are not IRB experts and we recommend reviewing the VCU IRB Guidelines.

Do I need to share my assessment with the program?

As a part of the program requirements, we will ask that you share a copy of the results of your assessment with the Open Educational Resources Librarian. 

Sustainability and Continuing Support for Projects

The grant requirements say that the project has to be implemented approx. 1 year from awarding. What happens after that?

While you must implement and assess the project in the fall a year after the initial award, we understand that the project will likely not be completely finished at that point. We'll still be here to help in the various non-financial avenues of support as long as you need them. 

If you need additional funding to help complete the project, you can apply for another round of Affordable Course Content Awards, or explore other avenues of financial support. VCU Libraries is happy to help identify and apply for outside funding for your project.