Friday, 17 May 2013

The ScHARR MOOCS Diaries: Part X - The cost of developing a MOOC

The cost of developing a MOOC

So by now, we have got the idea that MOOCs are (usually) free for students. But what about the costs of developing them? How much does it cost to create a MOOC? And what benefits (financial and otherwise) do they bring to ScHARR?

By Isabelle Grosjean ZA (Self-published work by ZA)

The most obvious cost to ScHARR is the amount of staff time that is being devoted to the MOOCs. But what counts as MOOC development time? Some things are obvious- time spent in planning meetings, time spent scripting, setting up and recording audio and video resources for the MOOCs. Other activities are more debatable- if I spend a bus journey to work looking for MOOC-related tweets, and retweeting interesting ones, should this be included in calculations? What about time spent by staff actually studying on other MOOCs? Time spent chatting about MOOCs with University colleagues here in Sheffield? Time spent writing “ScHARR MOOC Diary” blog postings...?

We asked staff members to decide what activities should and should not be included, accepting that the final figures may end up being approximations rather than accurate measurements of time. We then needed a simple process for recording these hours. Rather than recording time on separate activities, we invited staff to keep a note, on a weekly basis, of time spent on “any activity which contributes directly to the development of our 3 MOOCs”. In addition, we made the decision not to keep the 3 MOOCs separate, because so much of the development work has involved all 3 courses, or has been done as one larger group of staff. To make this an open and collaborative process, we set up a google form, with data shared amongst all the MOOC staff- hopefully no-one has felt threatened by sharing details of their input in this way. When it became apparent that it was difficult for all staff to keep the google form up to date, we decided that at our fortnightly MOOC meetings, an iPad would be passed around at the start so people could update their figures then if needed.

Interim figures are shown below- names have been anonymised, although you can see, bottom left, a highlighted table with the contributions thus far of different staff groups. Whilst we would currently treat these figures with some caution (and after this blog is published, I imagine there might be some retrospective updating of the numbers!), the data so far collected suggests that it is the two members of staff leading the forthcoming MOOCs (“Healthy sustainable diets” and “Health Inequalities”) who have put in the most work so far (around 30% each of total number of hours recorded).

Logging the hours

In due course, we will be able to put some figures against the recorded hours, based on staff salaries, and to arrive at an overall figure for developing and running our 3 MOOCs. How closely this corresponds with other estimates remains to be seen. The University of Edinburgh’s MOOCs, run in early 2013 via Coursera, cost an estimated £30,000 from development to delivery whilst  the University of Pennsylvania’s MOOC courses (also developed on behalf of Coursera) cost $50,000 each to develop.

There is plenty of ongoing discussion about the costs and benefits of running MOOCs, and much speculation about different models for monetization. At ScHARR, we will only be able to make an informed comment on these issues once the first courses are complete, and we’ve had a chance to estimate how many MOOC participants converted to postgraduate study at ScHARR, and what value the other benefits- such as the networking opportunities for ScHARR and the impact on our reputation- might have. Nevertheless, we are quietly confident that the investment we are now making will bear financial and educational dividends, for students, staff and ScHARR.

Sign up for the ScHARR MOOCs here.

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