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Cost Effective Computer Based Tutorials

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.170.1 - 3.170.7

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Paper Authors

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C. Faye

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N.W. Scott

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Session 1620

Cost-effective computer-based tutorials C. Faye & N.W. Scott The University of Western Australia

Abstract outputs need to be measured on a relative and subjective scale. Put simply, the problem of measuring efficiency arises when In this paper we examine the cost effectiveness of a particular a concrete measure, such as the inputs, needs to be related to a sort of computer-based engineering tutorial developed at The fuzzy concept of output. University of Western Australia. This computer system sets the student a sequence of engineering problems and requires The evaluation model presented in this paper has been numerical answers as solutions. The software tries to provide developed in the context of a specific unit taught in the diagnostic help in the case of wrong answers, which relieves Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of the teaching staff of a great deal of repetitive teaching. There Western Australia: Engineering 100 (Dynamics). Up until is also a built-in messaging environment that collates 1995, traditional tutorials had been used in this unit, however, messages about specific problems, and this becomes a by 1995 a computer-based tutorial had been developed and put cumulative database of comment about specific engineering in place. This computer tutorial system is called the UWA issues that the students may access - again relieving staff from Computer Problem-Class System (UWA-CPCS). In this having to answer the same query many times. This type of paper the 1996 form of the UWA-CPCS is investigated and tutorial has been used in several engineering subjects at UWA compared to traditional tutorials in the same unit. The since 1995. evaluation model developed does not attempt to combine the cost and quality of a tutorial into one measure but treats them We have found that student learning and student satisfaction separately. The tutorials can be compared in terms of quality while using this computer system are arguably better than in or cost and decisions made based on these comparisons. previous years. The issue of cost is not so clear-cut because of the expense of developing the software; however we believe it 1.1 Traditional tutorial method is possible to demonstrate real savings in the recurring cost of Traditional tutorials consisted of groups of about 20 students running the course. This conclusion is supported with who completed problems with one tutor present. Students financial data, examination results and a student survey. were allocated two tutorials each week. Tutorials could last up 1 Introduction to one hour. The questions to be answered were selected from a text book used in the unit. Tutors were expected to be free Computer aided learning (CAL) has become quite a common for consultation with students outside these allotted tutorial feature in the teaching of engineering in lectures, tutorials and times, however, set times were not given and it was up to the laboratories. Great interest has been generated regarding the students to fit in to the tutor’s often busy schedule. The tutors quality and associated costs of the different computer-based were typical about 70% postgraduate students and 30% tutorials that have been devised by groups all over the world. academic staff. It is known that some of the postgraduate However comparatively little work has been done which students were not among the best teachers. integrates the cost and quality of a program into one evaluation. In each traditional tutorial students were expected to work on two exam-standard problems. Students were asked to submit The aim of this paper is to measure and compare the solutions to these, and tutors were asked to mark and return efficiency of a traditional tutorial and a computer-based such solutions. However these marks did not contribute to the tutorial. The efficiency of the tutorial method is the ratio of final mark for the unit and, after the initial few weeks of the ‘input’ to ‘output’. The ‘inputs’ to a tutorial can be seen as year, few students took advantage of this service. the monetary costs of operating, updating and maintaining it; these qualities are relatively simple to measure since there is 1.2 UWA-CPCS in 1996 one common scale of measurement, dollars. This Formal computer-based tutorials, ie. in the presence of a tutor measurement is absolute and objective: once the costs to be (always an academic staff member or high-quality postgraduate considered have been decided upon, estimating their dollar tutor), were held twice a week and again could last for up to value is a relatively simple exercise. one hour each. About 50 students were allotted in each It is when considering the ‘outputs’ of a tutorial system that session. The computer terminals could be accessed by students problems arise for they are difficult to identify and even harder at any time the computer laboratory was open and a terminal to measure accurately. Some outputs can be measured with an was free. Scott (1996) described the essential features of the objective and absolute scale, for example, academic computer-based tutorials as follows: performance reflects the competence of a student and can be a) Students log in using a password. measured by the student’s exam marks. However, other




1998 ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings EN




Faye, C., & Scott, N. (1998, June), Cost Effective Computer Based Tutorials Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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