With the advent of the Internet administrators used to allocate release time or summer salary for making online course content. The pandemic made a Sal Khan out of most of us and making online content became more of a routine activity. Now administrators probably face a dilemma of how to allocate resources between the online and on-campus courses. Math departments used to witness resource disputes between pure, applied, and statistics, or full-time vs part-time, but now there is a new category "online".

What are the guidelines and policies you use or you think should be used to allocate resources for the online component of a department? Online courses usually have a substantially higher production cost than the on-campus version of the same course. How should faculty's effort in this area be recognized?

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    $\begingroup$ In my university the administrationhas solved this problem by estimating the marginal labor costs of online teaching at 0. The professors already work for the university ... $\endgroup$
    – Dan Fox
    Mar 9 at 12:24

2 Answers 2


I can answer a small part of this.


The most important part of the costs that administration overlooks during these kinds of efforts is the cost of maintenance of the online course content that is created. Online courses are like cars; they require care and maintenance which is sometimes expensive. Here are some examples of events that require maintenance work:

  • At some point, some of the graded content of the course can leak to Chegg or a local student group; that needs to be replaced.
  • While using the course materials, faculty can realize some things are in the wrong order or the pacing is incorrect in certain modules.
  • If the course is aligned to a textbook, the textbook can go into a new edition.
  • If the course is aligned to some software, the software can go out of favor with the faculty.
  • Something surprising can go wrong -- maybe the youtube videos are hosted on an account that is accidentally deleted. Maybe the original, easily-editable copy of the guided notes is lost and someone has to piece things together from a PDF.

As a result, administrators overseeing resource allocation for the online component of a department should think the way they think when purchasing other expensive assets like cars. Specifically,

  • Money should be set aside for "oil changes": small maintenance that, if done regularly, extends the overall life of the online content.
  • The entire project should be depreciated over time: it should be assumed that the material will run out of its useful life sometime in the next 20 years, even if maintained very well.

If administrators understand this analogy while allocating resources, everyone will be less bitter during the natural process of decay and maintenance of the developed materials.

  • $\begingroup$ Is 20 years a best case scenario? Seems like content could go stale much more quickly depending factors such as you’ve outlined. $\endgroup$ Mar 7 at 4:55
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    $\begingroup$ @ToddWilcox it completely depends on the subject. A "statistical basics" class will have quite a long shelf live, while "advanced ray tracing" might be out of date the same year it's produced. 20 years would be more like the maximum though $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Mar 7 at 8:19
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, if you do no oil changes your car will die in much less than 20 years. $\endgroup$ Mar 7 at 23:11

"An online course plays roughly the same role as an interactive textbook."

If we treat the above as a guideline, then some things become clear.

  1. We are willing to spend more on the production of a textbook than on the production of course notes. Similarly, a course taught online, with some additional cost can be converted into an "online course" (in the sense above).

  2. A textbook can replace actual instruction only when a student cannot have direct continual access to the instructor. Similarly, an "online course" cannot take the place of regular university instruction except in the context of (severe) resource constraints.

  3. In many subjects, textbooks become outdated. As Chris Cunningham has pointed out the same applies to online course content which is not updated.

(1) says that we should be prepared to spend money on the generation on online courses. (2) says that we should not expect these costs to reduce the cost of actual instruction. (3) says that we should expect to incur regular costs for upkeep of online courses just as we need budgets for libraries.


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