Costing Out a Project


Posted to DEOS-L 16 April 1999

John Spiers wrote:

wow..I must be doing something wrong...I have a 9 week course with pretest, posttest, website, quizzes, 2 hours per week of live irc chat in a private dedicated channel on a server, plus a 244 page text in .pdf downloadable in ftp, a listserve for communication..and the course is highly rated by students and word of mouth. Total cost? about $410 so far...about $300 of that to convert my text into .pdf. $15000 for an online course sounds like the educational version of the Air Force's $5000 toilet seats. Something is wrong.

>From Spier's description, above, other than text conversion, his course cost $110 to build. Something is indeed wrong.

That something is, of course, Speir's allocation of costs. Let me highlight a few points:

  • Designer salary: either Speir did not include his development time, or he was paid at the rate of about two dollars an hour. One assumes that either Speir or someone else took the time to create the various tests, quizzes and web pages.

  • Text: Speir talks about the $300 cost of converting the text. He is silent about the cost of writing the text. Presumably he wrote it himself; otherwise he would have had copyright and or royalty costs to pay. But if he wrote it himself, he is not including that time in his calculation.

  • Internet and Software Support: Speir clearly has a web server and FTP at his disposal. Is he using his AOL site to host the course? This will work fine for a while, until the course becomes commercially viable, at which point AOL will ask for a cut. Or perhaps he is piggybacking on an initial investment his institution made. Either way, he has not included these costs.

I am reminded of the student once who told the Minister of Education that he was easily able to support himself on student loans, and that other students like myself who were pushing for increased funding were being unreasonable. Upon further questioning it transpired that this student received regular gifts - including clothing and a computer system - from his parents.

The same applies here. I don't think that anyone has ever doubted that it is fairly inexpensive to convert an existing course, especially when employing free access to software and other support. But for the rest of us, who have to create from scratch and pay for goods and services we receive, the $200 per page figure is rather more accurate.

(p.s. notice that I haven't touched on quality. It would have been nice to actually view what Speir created for $110, but sadly, he does not provide a link.)


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