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Computer Based Tutorials: Cost Functions & Software Durability

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



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Page Numbers

3.151.1 - 3.151.5

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Paper Authors

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C. Faye

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N.W. Scott

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B.J. Stone

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2520

Computer-based tutorials: cost functions and software durability C. Faye, N.W. Scott & B.J. Stone The University of Western Australia

Abstract parameters (such as important lengths, velocities and so on). The answer to each problem was a number with units e.g. A computer-based tutorial system (UWA-CPCS) has been “3.2 m/s”; these answers had to be typed on the computer developed which is diagnostic, monitored and networked. At screen. If an incorrect answer was entered the computer system the time of writing, this system had been used in three was programmed to try to give a diagnostic response rather academic years of teaching: 1995–1997. This tutorial system than a simple “right/wrong” reaction (Scott 1994). These satisfies many common student needs and allows greatly diagnostics were based on observations of typical student error reduced staff numbers in the classroom. The detail of the form in past years. The computer system provided tools for staff to of this system and its educational outcomes are the subject of monitor the progress of the whole class as well as individuals another paper in these proceedings (Faye & Scott, “Cost- (Scott 1996a). There were regular deadlines and the work effective computer-based tutorials”). The purpose of this paper counted for 20% of the year mark in the unit. The lecture is to compare the costs of setting up and running the sequence and style were not changed: there were still two one- computer-based tutorial system to the costs associated with hour lectures per week. traditional tutorial methods. In 1996 and 1997 the computer system was extended to 1 Introduction include an integrated messaging system (Scott 1996b). To evaluate any new innovation in education we must Students could attach a question to a problem, and staff (who consider both the ‘input’ to the innovation (for example the were on-line) would often respond within a few minutes. A dollar cost of setting it up and operating it), as well as the database of comments, queries and responses was thus built ‘output’ (the educational outcomes). It will be appreciated that up for each of the 200 problems. This meant that staff would it is usually easier to quantify the costs than it is to quantify, only have to answer a given student question once, a great or even rank, the outcomes. In this paper we ignore the issue saving of time. This messaging layer was called “the forum”. of whether the studied tutorial system was an effective It was observed that students approved of the new tutorial educational tool, and concentrate on cost issues. system, giving it good reviews in anonymous surveys. 2 Brief description of the innovation Performance in the formal examinations was also equivalent to, or better than, that of previous years. These results were This paper describes educational development in a particular encouraging enough that the system was used again in 1996 course at The University of Western Australia, Engineering and (in a Web-based form) in 1997 (Scott 1997). 100 (Dynamics). For many years tutorials in this course were of the traditional 3 Costs small-group form: about 20 students with one tutor. In some In determining the dollar cost of setting up and running a years up to 15 staff and postgraduate tutors ran parallel tutorial method it is not always possible to be precise. For tutorial classes. Students had two one-hour lectures and two example, although ‘on paper’ staff might be expected to spend one-hour tutorial classes each week during the academic year. 3 hours per week in the tutorial class, it is possible that Students were expected to solve several exam-standard additional hours are needed to print course materials, keep questions each week in the tutorial classes. These were to be student records, satisfy visiting students and so on. In the case handed in to the tutor who would mark them and return them of a computer-based tutorial system there are significant costs the next week. No formal credit was given for completing the which are hard to quantify. At UWA the computer room used tutorial problems, although the marks were recorded and were was a joint facility with another department. How should the occasionally used as evidence of student diligence in purchase and running cost of the computers be shared between examiners’ meetings. It was observed that attendance at the the two departments? The analysis presented here is thus tutorials was good at the start of the year, but gradually fell meant to be indicative rather than authoritative. away to a very low rate at the end of the year. Presumably For clarity a tutorial method (for example traditional small students did not see the tutorials as a valuable study aid and class tutorials or the computer-based tutorial system) will be were choosing to invest effort in other activities. called here a program. In this paper the economic analysis is In 1995 Scott & Stone replaced these traditional small class intended to be representative of 1996, although some data is tutorials with an innovative computer-based system taken from other years where necessary. (Devenish 1995). This system was networked, monitored and Opportunity costs are used to give a clearer indication of the diagnostic. Each student was set a sequence of 200 differences in costs between traditional and computer-based engineering problems during the year, with unique problem tutorials. Costs can be divided into start-up costs and




1998 ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings EN




Faye, C., & Scott, N., & Stone, B. (1998, June), Computer Based Tutorials: Cost Functions & Software Durability Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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