Tuesday, October 27, 2009

E-learning courses save no teacher time

My students have just about completed the first COMP7310 Green ICT course at ANU. In terms of education it appears to have been successful, but was it cost effective to use e-learning? My conclusion is that the staff cost for this form of Mentored and Collaborative e-Learning for Postgraduate Professional Education is about the same as for conventional lectures and face to face tutorials. The time saved in not giving lectures and tutorials is taken up in feedback to students on the e-learning course. The time and cost for assessment is about the same as both use conventional manually marked assessment (and about the same proportion of the overall cost of the course).

Obviously there will be savings in not having to provide lecture theatres and tutorial rooms and extra costs in providing an e-learning system (the e-learning system is likely to be much cheaper than building costs). In addition there is the cost of the course materials used for conventional and e-learning courses (with e-learning material costing considerably more). Also there will be differences in the quality of the experience: students in a lecture rarely, if ever, get individual attention from a lecturer and get only a few minutes individual attention from a tutor per semester. But with an e-learning course each student gets hours of individual attention.

Calculating course cost

A typical ANU postgraduate course, such as "COMP6341 IT in e-Commerce" has three hours of lectures per week for ten weeks and seven two hour labs.

ANU Casual Sessional Rates range per hour from $95.44 to $238.61, depending on the amount of preparation required. Tutoring ranges from $69.15 to $122.95 per hour. The bottom end of the scale assume that the teacher has to spend an hour preparing for a one hour lecture or tutorial, thus taking two ours for one hour of student time.

Assuming that a lecture contains 100 students and tutorials have 24 students in each, there will be 4 tutorial groups. So there will be:
  • 3 lectures x 2 hours x 10 weeks = 60 hours, plus
  • 4 lab groups x 4 hours x 7 labs = 112 hours
  • Total = 172 hours teacher time
The course also has two assignments and a three hour examination (the ANU complex marking rate is $40.98 an hour). Assume it takes one hour for each assessment item: 3 assessments x 100 students = 300 hours.

The course also has to be administered, so let us add one our per week, for 12 weeks: 12 hours. At the ANU "Other required academic activity category this is" $40.98 per hour.

Assuming that a flexible course, such as COMP7310 requires 15 minutes of time per student per week for 12 weeks, plus 1 hour for each of two assignments and the same 1 hour a week of administration, the total hours and cost come out to be very similar:

Conventional E-learning Difference
Total Cost $31,983.96 $29,770.80 -7%
Total Hours 484 512 5%
Per student $ $319.84 $297.71
Per student H 4.84 5.12

Some of the interesting things about this are that 38% of the cost of the conventional course is from the assessment, which is about the same as the e-learning course.

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