Online courses are more time-consuming for academics to prepare for than traditional teaching, according to an Australian study.
Analysing the responses of just over 2,000 academics to a survey conducted by the National Tertiary Education Union, John Kenny and Andrew Fluck from the University of Tasmania found that it took academics 10 hours to plan an hour’s lecture for online students compared with eight hours for a traditional hour-long lecture.
It took six hours to plan an online tutorial, as opposed to five hours for an in-person one, and 100 hours to plan an entirely new unit for online students compared with 96 hours for a course delivered on campus.
It also took significantly longer to substantially review or update teaching materials for online courses, while student consultation and assessment moderation for online students was more time-consuming, says the study, published in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management.
Dr Kenny, a senior lecturer in science education at Tasmania, told Times Higher Education that the results exploded the myth that online education – a growing area of delivery – was less time-consuming than on-campus courses.
“In our experience...the prevailing pressure from administrators is that online students take less staff time to teach, [but] staff indicate that the materials take longer to prepare,” Dr Kenny said.
Interestingly, the study found no evidence that it took more experienced academics longer to complete tasks related to online teaching compared with younger, more tech-savvy scholars.
Dr Kenny and Dr Fluck argue that their findings could have significant implications for the caps on annual academic working hours implemented by Australian universities, since they believe that the current workload models do not take into account the extra hours that it takes to prepare tutorials and lectures for online students.
The Australian academics who responded to the NTEU survey worked an average of 50.4 hours a week, but some claimed to work up to 100 hours in a typical week. Sixty-two per cent of respondents claimed that they regularly worked on evenings or weekends.
Dr Kenny said that Australian universities needed to adopt a more uniform approach to workload allocation that took into account detailed evidence about the time it took to complete certain tasks because staff were often working large numbers of “invisible” hours.
“It is well-known that academic work is complex and difficult to quantify [but] with the lack of clear time-based standards to work with, we have noticed a managerial tendency to pile more duties, particularly compliance duties, on to the desks of academics without assessing the associated workload impact,” he explained.