IT benefits 'may not save cash'

January 10, 1997

Information technology can enhance education but does not always save money, vice chancellors and other policy-makers will be told at a meeting in London on January 22.

The decision-makers will hear the results of the Information Technology Assisted Teaching and Learning research project, carried out at three universities during the latter half of last year.

The research project was commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and involved teams at the universities of Bristol, Exeter and Warwick.

The researchers studied the costs and benefits of technologies such as computer conferencing, computer-assisted learning and the World Wide Web, in use at six universities.

Niki Davis of Exeter's school of education said: "We have been able to identify cases in which IT benefits teaching and learning in higher education.

"However, the research study cannot make a general case for an economic saving through the use of IT. The use of IT depends on context and changes in teaching and learning style as well as the institutional infrastructure."

When the researchers presented their results to the IT working group of the Dearing inquiry on December 9, Professor Davis characterised the IT dilemma as "damned if you do, damned if you don't".

Investment in IT is costly, but without it institutions fear they would lose their competitive position and become unattractive to students.

Another of the researchers, economist Adrian Boucher of the University of Warwick, said: "It is quite difficult to make general recommendations from six case studies. The work had to be done very rapidly. As any academic would say, there is more work to be done."

Electronic teaching materials are usually more expensive to develop and maintain than conventional course materials. Courses often need to be updated after two to three years, at a cost which is difficult to predict.

By comparison, Dr Boucher said, "it is relatively costless to update conventional lecture and seminar materials".

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