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JILT 2003 (2) - Abdul Paliwala

Reducing Costs, Improving Access and Quality:
The Promise of Technology?

Professor Abdul Paliwala
Professor of Law, University of Warwick

The initial promise of information technology in education that it would reduce costs has not been fulfilled as yet. There is insufficient data comparing costs of IT based teaching with traditional teaching. In the United Kingdom, such an exercise to do just that produced indecisive results (Basich, Ash and Heginbotham, 2001). A recent paper by John Fielden concludes that 'in general online instruction costs more than traditional instruction and, if development time is fully costed, the full extra cost will be substantial'. However, 'cost savings are achievable if courses with large enrolments are carefully redesigned to accommodate online learning' (Fielden 2003). In the US the Technology Costing Methodology Project (TCM) concludes on the basis of case studies that technology mediated delivery is more expensive than face-to-face instruction within normal course delivery. However, scale matters- there may be conditions under which technology-mediated delivery is less expensive than traditional classroom instruction. Continued efforts must be made to identify those conditions (WICHE 2001, Paliwala 2002).

It is in the context of this perspective that the US Center for Academic Transformation asserts on the basis of a study of 30 projects funded by itself at a cost of $6 million that it has been able to achieve significant cost savings while improving quality and access. The Center, a charitable foundation, aimed to encourage colleges and universities to redesign their approaches to instruction using technology to achieve cost savings as well as quality enhancements (Twigg 2003). Institutions bid competitively for funds on the following principles:

  • Redesign the whole course unit, not just a single class

  • Emphasise active learning including greater student engagement with the material and one another

  • Rely heavily on interactive software used independently and in teams

  • Provide on-demand, individualised assistance

  • Provide 24 x 7 access to online learning resources

  • Reduce costs.

There was no ideal course model other than the above instructions. Thus, some courses used IT to supplement traditional learning, for example through the provision of learning resources. Others replaced some traditional classes by IT; others replaced onsite class room teaching completely with IT learning labs; others went on fully to online learning; and others developed a smorgasbord system under which students could determine the type of learning system they wanted.

The cost reduction could take place on a number of bases including maintaining constant enrolment while reducing resources, increasing enrolments while reducing resources or reducing course repetitions by students. Significantly, unlike all funded projects in the UK, the bidders were provided with detailed financial planning models to indicate how they would save costs. Successful bidders were expected to comply with the financial models in their reporting which would include the following:

  • Determine all personnel costs expressed as an hourly rate

  • Determine the specific tasks associated with offering a course

  • Determine ho much time each person spends on each of the tasks

  • Calculate total instructional costs

  • Redesign the course by task and re-calculate the costs.

On this basis the Center claims that the 30 projects resulted in annual savings of $3.6 million for the 30 projects. Two features stand out in determination of how the savings were achieved. The most significant is that not only was the achievement of recurrent savings a key condition of award, but that a detailed academic accounting procedure was developed to ensure that the savings criteria were satisfied. The insistence that there should be a complete course redesign including methods of teaching and learning and staffing meant that there was a holistic process which did not specifically focus merely on information technology or on savings but on a broad set of objectives. Yet, much of the savings were achieved through changes in the geography of learning. For example, where traditional teaching involved two course streams with two senior (and expensive) course teachers assisted by part timers or students, the redesigned course would use appropriate technology to develop a structure with a single senior course leader assisted by part timers or graduate students. Yet, under the redesigned system the students had more individual and interactive contact because whereas previously they merely had personal contact in a streamed classroom, now they would have similar personal contact in a larger classroom, but enhanced small group contact with part timers or graduate students together with managed electronic discussions in which most of the issues would be dealt with by the part-timers and graduate students and the course leader would intervene in relation to key issues. There was also greater strategic use of electronic assessment.

It is difficult to prove whether there was real improvement in quality, but the data produced suggest improved student performance and improved retention rates. Significantly, the senior course teachers showed high levels of satisfaction with the changes saying things like:

  • 'It's the best experience I've ever had in a classroom.'

  • 'The quality of my worklife has changed immeasurably for the better.'

  • 'It's a lot of work during the transition - but it's worth it.'

Of course, one should not end without entering a few caveats. Firstly, most though not all of the projects were in smaller colleges and universities, this may affect those of you who think ivy league is different. Secondly, there was no law example. However, there was enough variety in the examples selected to suggest that the overall approach could be applied to law. Thirdly, and more significantly, many of the redesigns were based on Japanisation of teaching and learning, that is increased use of temporary, part-time and student teachers. Unfortunately, much current teaching in law schools involves forms of Japanisation. The question is whether the redesign approach involves educationally more coherent structures or does is it just a further push down the slippery slope.

Can something of the kind be done in the UK legal education context? The lesson seems to be that careful attention to costs can achieve results. Paul Maharg's Glasgow Graduate Law School programme involves many aspects of a complete redesign. Rigorous pedagogical principles are key to the project but significantly by careful consideration to staffing structures and use of part-time tutors, it is possible to produce an economically viable programme (Maharg and Paliwala 2002).


Basich P et al 2001. The costs of networked learning. Report 1 <>. Report 2 <>. (Accessed August 2003).

Fielden J 2003 'Costing e-Learning: Is it worth trying or should we ignore the figures?' in Seminar Proceedings Balancing Quality, Access and Cost: Using ICT to Redesign Teaching and Learning. The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education and Center for Academic Transformation. Westminster May 2003.

Maharg P and Paliwala A 2002 'Negotiating the Learning Process with Electronic Resources' in 81-104.

Paliwala A 2002 'Space, Time and (e)motions of Learning' in Burridge R et al eds. Effective Learning and Teaching in Law Kogan Page, ILT and Times Higher, London and Sterling Va pp 184-204.

Twigg C 2003 'Improving Learning and Reducing Costs: The Program in Course Design' in Seminar Proceedings Balancing Quality, Access and Cost: Using ICT to Redesign Teaching and Learning. The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education and Center for Academic Transformation. Westminster May 2003.

WICHE 2001 Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education Web Site. Technology Costing Methodology Project <>. (Accessed August 2003)

For Resources on Costing see: Telematics in Education Research Group 2001 <>. (Accessed August 2003)

This is a Commentary published on 15 December 2003.

Citation: Paliwala ,A 'Reducing Costs, Improving Access and Quality: The Promise of Technology?', 2003 (2) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <>. New Citation as at 1/1/04: <>.

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