Focusing on 4-VA Progress at Mason 
Greetings!  Welcome to our inaugural issue of Aperture.  Our goal is to provide you with important information regarding how 4-VA at Mason is making a difference for Virginia's students, faculty, and citizens.  This state-funded program is guided by several central principles, among them: to create greater access to higher education, to provide avenues for collaboration among Virginia's universities, and to identify opportunities to pass along cost savings to students.  Essentially, 4-VA supplies the seed money to bring "good to great."   We think you'll be impressed with the results. Look for "Aperture" in your inbox four times each year and get a snapshot of how we're innovating education in the Commonwealth...In the meantime, we welcome your thoughts and comments! 

Janette Kenner Muir, PhD,
4-VA Campus Coordinator,
Associate Provost, Academic Initiatives and Services


Changing the Course: 
Bringing OER into Mason Classrooms

Course redesign – specifically utilizing Open Educational Resources (OER) – is a hot topic on college campuses nationwide, generating discussion about context, scholarship, and source materials.  What's more, thanks to recently-adopted Virginia code  23.1-1308, creating and utilizing OER content for higher education has received a strong push via the Commonwealth's goal of  "Providing Affordable Access for All."

Yet, as has been discovered on those same campuses, moving from conversation to completion can prove to be a challenge. 
With lofty goals of incorporating technology-enhanced classroom activities, integrating the latest in research data, and affording self-guided learning, while at the same time reducing or eliminating textbook costs, course redesign sounds like a godsend.  A cautionary note though: there’s a devil in the details.
However, for faculty interested in digging in to those details at George Mason University (and the five other Virginia University’s in the 4-VA system), there is help.   Development grants and support are available via the state-funded program.
Founded in 2010 upon the recommendation of the Governor’s Higher Education Commission and the Governor’s Commission on Economic Development and Job Creation, 4-VA provides the universities within the system funding for a variety of programs, including course redesigns.
Considerations and criteria for a 4-VA OER grant include:  classes with high enrollment; classes required for a major; Mason Core classes; and classes with high textbook costs.  
For Professor Catherine E. Saunders, who teaches English 302, she saw course redesign as a necessity.   
English 302 is composition course for undergraduates about the rhetorical conventions of research and writing in their academic disciplines. As part of the Mason Core, it is also a required course. This discipline-focused composition course is rare among American universities -- at Mason, English 302 is a point of pride.
This unique distinction, however, means that it is nearly impossible to find a comprehensive textbook for the course.
Given the scarcity and cost of textbooks appropriate for English 302, instructors in the Composition Program at George Mason have long created many of their own materials, and have shared the results of their labors in a variety of informal ways.  Such sharing among the community of over 60 instructors is especially helpful to graduate students and new hires who find themselves teaching a course they may not have taken, let alone taught. 
Recently, Saunders and her team of nine English 302 instructors applied for and received a 4-VA OER grant and got to work  Their goal was to expand and formalize the existing culture of collaboration, and make their free instructor-created, classroom-tested curricular resources more widely and easily available. 
“The 4-VA grant allowed us to compensate team members, all of whom are full- or part-time contingent faculty, for the time spent revising their own materials, locating supporting material in existing OER collections, writing instructor’s notes, and reviewing colleagues’ contributions.  In addition, we found that creative commons licensing allows us to give credit and trace the evolution of assignments and activities as we revise and rework the materials.” 

Thanks to 4-VA, eleven OER projects were successfully accomplished during the recent academic year.  Nine additional OER projects are currently underway, with more coming in the pipeline.
Course redesign grants are awarded by 4-VA annually.  Requests for proposals for the 2019 calendar year are now being considered.  For more information and to view the application, visit
Collaborative Research Grants:
Where Bright Ideas Create Brilliant Results

         Harnessing Crowd-Sourcing and IoT Technology to Create Real-time Flood Alerts

In a lab tucked into the back of the Nguyen Engineering Building on the George Mason campus, a group of undergrads, grads, and PhD candidates from a wide range of disciplines — engineering, geography, and computer science — tackle a joint effort and shared passion:  Flood Hazards Research

This 4–VA funded project team, led by Assistant Professor in Water Resources Engineering Dr. Celso Ferreira, is working in collaboration to create a pioneering system to predict floods and create flood threat alerts in real-time throughout the Chesapeake Bay region.
Water Power:  A Personal, Professional, and Property Takeaway
Brazilian-native Ferreira initially became interested in the flow of water as a surfer growing up near the coast of the Atlantic.  However, his focus on water flow grew by several chance turns in his career path — the first when he arrived at Texas A & M University as Hurricane Ike slammed through Galveston in 2008; and again in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast shortly after he began his career at Mason.  Those fateful encounters offered Ferreira a front row seat to the powerful effects of nature’s greatest resource.
“In addition to loss of life, flooding can have devastating economic consequences,” explains Ferreira.  “Superstorm Sandy caused an estimated $50 billion in damage, and more recently, Hurricane Matthew resulted in extensive flooding throughout Virginia.  Understanding more about flood waters is critically important for the Commonwealth.”
The Necessary Science
Ferreira’s vision to revolutionize the way citizens along the Chesapeake Bay receive essential flood alert warnings necessitates that a variety of elements be brought to bear on his project from numerical models forecasting storm surges to incorporation of a smart mesh network for data collection from Mason’s five existing field site stations in the Chesapeake Bay. (Currently, securing the data necessitates travel to the sites for retrieval and downloading.) 

Once these and other important elements are in place, Ferreira explains that the next phase of the project is the development of Internet of Things (IoT) mobile sensors. Through these sensors, to be deployed in recreational boats scattered throughout the Chesapeake, statistics on water flow can be collected and disseminated in real time, providing data critical to predicting storm surges. “Through hundreds of monitors throughout the Bay, rather than a single or a scattered few portals, we will essentially be employing crowd-sourced and resourced information,” notes Ferreira.
“Using IoT technology opens this project up to millions of data collection points and provides not only scientists, but residents of the Chesapeake Bay, the opportunity to get valuable life-saving indicators that can protect people and property,” adds Ferreira.

Learn More About Team Ferreira and Their Research

In the Works – 4-VA Projects Now Underway

“ReSounding the Archives” is a unique, collaborative project between Mason, University of Virginia and Virginia Tech which delightfully brings the music of World War I to life and opens the door to the power of the message behind America’s most popular songs of the time.

Keep Reading

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