Whilst models and theories abound, what is of most interest to many managers and practitioners is the experience of other institutions in applying these models. The section on Cost Modelling Tools has links to some case studies and some further references are noted here.
A very interesting piece of work, and still relevant despite having been published in 2002, is the Trial of Activity Based Costing at Sheffield Hallam University (Bacsich & Heginbotham 2002). This followed on from an earlier study (Bacsich et al 1999) discussed below which concluded that ABC was the best means of determining the true cost of technology-enhanced learning. One interesting aspect of the approach was the identification of non-value added activities that were priority areas for reducing costs. The project concluded that ABC could be applied in a university setting without significant change to the basic model and, although some iterations of the model are generally needed to obtain satisfactory result, it provided a “viable and extremely effective way forward.”
Included in this section on experiences, as it generates requirements for a model rather than offering a specific tool, is Diana Laurillard’s (2006) work on Modelling benefits oriented costs for technology enhanced learning. This is aimed at creating a prospective rather than retrospective cost-benefit model and it recognises the complexities involved in assessing ROI on innovations that take time to prove their worth. The model focuses solely on costs linked to staff and student time and on benefits related to the nature of the learning process rather than, for example, benefits derived from offering more flexible learning opportunities. This work forms an interesting bridge between research on the costs of IT service delivery and work on demonstrating the pedagogical benefit of innovation. This paper is influenced by Carol Twigg’s (2003) work in the US on Improving learning and reducing costs: new models for online learning.
The Costs of Networked Learning (Bacsich et al 1999) is very dated in terms of the technology context and the status of user-owned devices but it is nonetheless a comprehensive piece of work and some of its findings remain relevant. The main aim of this Jisc funded project was to identify the unrecorded or “hidden” costs involved in what we would now term Technology-Enhanced Learning and to produce a Planning Document and Financial Schema. The research noted “the lack of a consistent, detailed and acceptable method of recording staff time and effort and assigning it to different activities.” It also found that students were encountering “hidden course costs” not apparent before enrolment including: printing, photocopying, art materials, year abroad costs, IT costs, laboratory equipment, studio levies, compulsory field trips, hand outs, equipment hire and study packs. Such costs remain a source of complaint and will come under even greater scrutiny as fee costs increase.
In 2008 Edge Hill University and Reading University combined their efforts to research the costs and benefits of e-learning as part of the Higher Education Academy Pathfinder programme. The result of this collaboration is a very useful costing metrics wiki site that includes a literature review, an analysis of some existing costing models, a checklist for considering costs and case studies from both universities.
Many institutions are looking to exploit synergies between reducing their carbon footprint and reducing costs. Examples include the work of Queen Margaret University which has made significant cost savings by greening infrastructure and Liverpool University which has made savings by implementing automatic powerdown of PCs.
A case study by Coventry University describing its EA Journey gives some detailed figures for projected time and cost savings in moving from a set of “As is” business processes to new, improved processes.
Contrary to many ABC accounts, which report that academic staff are sceptical about the exercise and afraid of the results it may yield, we found that though most were initially sceptical, most of our staff put aside their initial scepticism to become increasingly enthusiastic once they understood what was to take place.
BACSICH & HEGINBOTHAM 2002
The student survey showed that there is a disjunct between student beliefs – in essence, students believe that Networked Learning increases costs to them – and student behaviour – that coming to campus (and the time and cost it takes) is less and less attractive. Students seem to believe that, and act as if, time has an opportunity cost to them.
BACSICH ET AL 1999
The cost of switching from traditional to TEL [technology-enhanced learning] methods, will not necessarily involve significant equipment costs in a well-equipped institution already making extensive use of ICT systems. … The more significant cost driver in the switch to TEL is that teachers, support staff and students spend their time differently. … None of the existing models include a parameter for student time, and yet this will be particularly important as post-school learners find their time constrained by the need to be in paid employment.
… many participants had completed the Activity Dictionary but not added up their percentages to see how close it was to 100%; upon inspection, one Dictionary from a manager added up to 324%.
BACSICH & HEGINBOTHAM 2002