The economic implications of using simple approaches in distance learning

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Mulligan, B., Schroeder, R. “The economic implications of using simple approaches in distance learning.”, Discussion Workshop, US Distance Learning Association National Conference 2011, St. Louis, 1-4 May 2011

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  • Click for “Evening Classes” Click again for ‘online’ Just imagine you could come in and teach evening classes and that people could join in without driving in. So what was involved (in putting these evening classes online)
  • So you don’t have to cover everything in class Sounds obvious – but lots of people think that if you have a distance learning programme you have to type everything up – this is expensive – would never do that for a night course.
  • Handouts can be uploaded into a VLE (Blackboard, WebCT, Moodle) – even easier than using the photocopier. Even better – use many free resources on the web – give them the link.
  • Get them to do some work – learn by doing – help them with it (VLE queries) – let them know how they are getting on.
  • Send out notices, answer queries, let them talk to each other using ‘bulletin boards’ or forums. How do we know this whole thing works? – students say they like it – it is very convenient – they tell their friends and they sign up. Next slide – bit by bit.
  • It has important characteristics, both pedagogically and financially. Like a new manufacturing process.
  • We can use the spreadsheet to illustrate this – using faculty led (evening classes) as the benchmark, compare that approach to the other 2 separately. What we are trying to show is that the breakeven point may be much higher than we would assume and thus the applicability of faculty led online learning is more than we would originally imagine.
  • Explain the concept of fixed and variable costs (part of the learning outcomes for the workshop) – give examples Must also explain “Fixed per delivery” and “Fixed /Investment” Fixed/Investment needs to be spread out over number of deliveries, this brings up the question of how many years you can spread it over. What do the audience think? Spreadsheet 1: Title – “variable costs” Bear in mind that in a changing environment your product can go out of date quickly, OR you must maintain it. (If you have a long life you must have significant maintenance) – six of one half dozen of the other. So if we spread out investment, add it to maintenance and then these become fixed costs per delivery, where do the variable costs in each delivery come from? Is it the teaching extra teaching hours you must allocate if the groups get bigger? Suppose a manager says double the class size but do not give any extra teaching hours? Will this half the unit cost? Demonstrate that no extra hours for extra groups does show extra costs. Where are these coming from? Well what are the additional activities that the university has to do when they enrol extra students? Demonstrate the estimation of overheads and the splitting between student activity and staff activity. If we attribute it all to staff activity – it shows no marginal costs when adding extra students to a class. However, more realistically, if we attribute the overheads to student activity, this changes significantly. How do you estimate overheads? Explain the simplistic method of applying a % to teaching costs. What happens if you reduce contact hours? Over-estimation of cost reduction. Explain activity based costing And calculation of unit overheads related to student enrolment and staff allocation. Demonstrate how varying the overhead attribution to enrolment levels vs staff activity leads to different predictions on cost. Explain how this is necessary because of the need to estimate the impact in institute resources/activity from scaling up operations
  • Explain the concept of fixed and variable costs (part of the learning outcomes for the workshop) – give examples Must also explain “Fixed per delivery” and “Fixed /Investment” Fixed/Investment needs to be spread out over number of deliveries, this brings up the question of how many years you can spread it over. What do the audience think? Spreadsheet 1: Title – “variable costs” Bear in mind that in a changing environment your product can go out of date quickly, OR you must maintain it. (If you have a long life you must have significant maintenance) – six of one half dozen of the other. So if we spread out investment, add it to maintenance and then these become fixed costs per delivery, where do the variable costs in each delivery come from? Is it the teaching extra teaching hours you must allocate if the groups get bigger? Suppose a manager says double the class size but do not give any extra teaching hours? Will this half the unit cost? Demonstrate that no extra hours for extra groups does show extra costs. Where are these coming from? Well what are the additional activities that the university has to do when they enrol extra students? Demonstrate the estimation of overheads and the splitting between student activity and staff activity. If we attribute it all to staff activity – it shows no marginal costs when adding extra students to a class. However, more realistically, if we attribute the overheads to student activity, this changes significantly. How do you estimate overheads? Explain the simplistic method of applying a % to teaching costs. What happens if you reduce contact hours? Over-estimation of cost reduction. Explain activity based costing And calculation of unit overheads related to student enrolment and staff allocation. Demonstrate how varying the overhead attribution to enrolment levels vs staff activity leads to different predictions on cost. Explain how this is necessary because of the need to estimate the impact in institute resources/activity from scaling up operations
  • I will explain the diagram and then draw attention to the assumptions: That the replacement of faculty contact with course materials generates satisfactory courses. That content is the major cost in learning. Next slide data from UBC (Tony Bates)
  • Chat about these figures: Draw attention to the non-teaching costs, and ongoing costs Spreadsheet 2: Investment in Content – 100,000 investment - starting with very little teaching/tutoring – 2 nd column – evening classes Then I will use the live spreadsheet to show what happens when you add the following: Tutoring and assignment feedback. (let them suggest the amount) Administration (some figures from Tony Bates) Maintenance (from Tony Bates) Show what happens to the breakeven enrolment point. (slope rises considerably on upper line)
  • The economic implications of using simple approaches in distance learning

    1. 1. The economic implications of using simple approaches in distance learning. Brian Mulligan Institute of Technology Sligo, Ireland Ray Schroeder University of Illinois at Springfield
    2. 2. A little story about a low-costapproach to developing online learningInstructor-led online learning “faculty-centric” Evening Classes online
    3. 3. Live classes over the Internet• Listen and watch live• Ask the instructor questions• Recorded
    4. 4. textbook
    5. 5. Handouts + websites
    6. 6. Course Webpage for asynchronous work
    7. 7. independent learning Assignments, support, feedback
    8. 8. Assignment Submission
    9. 9. Good online communication
    10. 10. Peer Support
    11. 11. Bring ‘em in if you have to!
    12. 12. Characteristics of this model• Minimal investment (and risk) – Significant running costs (currently) – Viable at low enrolment levels• Agile and Responsive (short lead time)• Attractive to instructors and students – Convenient, social, effective, autonomous• Versatile (can be augmented)
    13. 13. If we give faculty the freedom to innovate...• What low cost tools are available?• Will they respond creatively?
    14. 14. Web 2.0 Teaching Tools(free unless otherwise indicated)Diigo – Web highlighter, sticky notes, bookmarksWikispaces – Robust wiki for education usersTwitter – Messaging students / micro-blogBlogger – Effective class bloggingPrezi – Better alternative to PowerPointVoiceThread – Modest annual cost – effective audio/video/text for online classes
    15. 15. Web 2.0 Teaching Tools (2)VUE – Visual Understanding Environ (mind map)SharedSpaces – 50 cool tools from Google LabsText-the-Mob – Clickers on cell phonesVimeo – Includes super video editorYouTube – Includes awesome auto captioningJing – Free version of camtasia video screen capture
    16. 16. Faculty Creativity /ResponsivenessGiving control to faculty members often results in some spontaneous, highly-relevant and “authentic” learning experiences.Rather than designing a class in its entirety prior to the start of the semester – faculty members draw upon new research, news events, moments of opportunity
    17. 17. Examples of Faculty Creativity• Incorporating analysis of the environmental disaster at the nuclear power station sites into an environmental studies class• Utilizing the iPad 2 as a case study in a human – computer interface class• Assigning students to identify current business case studies and to produce blogs that include their comments/predictions on the studies
    18. 18. Further Examples of Faculty Creativity• Reviewing a newly released online art exhibit, then skyping an interview with the artist• Studying the federal budgeting process, then skyping with the Senator about to cast a vote• Groups report on technology use and plans in school districts – both rural and urban – with groups comprised of in-service teachers from Chicago and from downstate Illinois
    19. 19. Costing 3 approaches• Faculty-centric• Content-centric• Designer-centric
    20. 20. A model for costing• Spreadsheet• Used to estimate breakeven enrolment• Assumptions for today – 20 students per section – 1st section taught by tenured faculty – Other sections taught by adjuncts (50%) – 10 year lifespan – 13 weeks – Academic course load: 9 – No labs, materials etc.
    21. 21. Fixed and Variable Costs• Investment costs – Amortised over several years• Fixed costs per delivery – Variable costs per student enrolled $ Enrolment
    22. 22. Where do variable costs come from?• Teaching / Tutoring• Overheads / Administration – How are these calculated $ Enrolment
    23. 23. Content-centric online learning• Diagram of main view of the economics of e- learning content: Invest in content and increase the number of users. $ Enrolment
    24. 24. Design-centric Courtesy of Tony Bates www.tonybates.ca
    25. 25. Common assumptions
    26. 26. The merits of teamwork – vs. Individual work
    27. 27. • The impact of sophisticated pedagogical approaches – vs. simple good teaching practices
    28. 28. • The impact of high investment – on operating and maintenance costs
    29. 29. • The reliability of deterministic approaches – vs. continuous improvement approaches in changing environments
    30. 30. • The merits of high quality“Excellence is the enemy of the good!”
    31. 31. • The value of content – vs. Communication – “Content is King?”
    32. 32. • We have the right people. – Distance learning experts – Educational researchers – Instructional designers – Information technologists – Multi-media specialists
    33. 33. What further research do we need to do? Thank you for your attention! Brian Mulligan mulligan.brian@itsligo.ie Ray Schroeder rschr1@uis.edu

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