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The Cost of Homework

Some preliminary findings from our research on homework systems used in British Columbia.

Post by Clint Lalonde, Project Manager, Open Homework Systems project

A key component of the open homework systems project is examining usage patterns for homework systems within the British Columbia post-secondary sector. Over the past several months, BCcampus has been working with a researcher to study the prevalence of these systems, focusing on these four questions:

  1. What are the most used commercial homework systems in B.C.?
  2. How many students are using these commercial systems?
  3. What is the retail cost to a student wanting to access the homework system?
  4. What subject areas have high users of homework systems in B.C.?

The intent for this research is to identify the types of technologies currently being used within the system and what disciplines are high users of these systems so that we may address their specific needs with an open homework system. Additionally, we hope that this research may be used by both open and affordable education advocates to better understand the cost implications of commercial homework systems to British Columbia students.

Defining Homework Systems

For the scope of the homework systems project, and for the scope of this research, we are defining homework systems as:

A class of education technology that supports student practice, self-reflection, and self-assessment in order to reinforce concepts they have learned in class. Homework systems may also be known as adaptive learning platformspersonalized learning platforms, or digital tutoring systems; contain interactive elementsself-quizzes, prompts for student reflection, and simulations; and offer hints and suggestions.

Our Preliminary Findings

While the final findings of our research will not be available until June 2020, we do have some preliminary findings to share.

Based on an initial analysis of three institutions (two universities and one college), it appears the top three commercial homework systems in high use in B.C. are MyLab by Pearson, Connect by McGraw-Hill, and MindTap by Nelson (Cengage). These, in turn, are divided into a number of tools specialized by discipline. For example, business schools across all three institutions studied appear to be heavy users of homework systems, especially in courses in accounting, finance, economics, and marketing.

Drilling down into a single academic program area (business finance) at a single small institution (defined as under 5000 FTE for the purposes of this research) and looking specifically at spring 2020 course offerings that required students to use a commercial homework system, we can begin to see the potential financial impact of homework system on students.

System# of Students UsingCost Per StudentTotal Cost
MyLab (Pearson)794 $64.12 $50,911.28
Connect (McGraw-Hill)680 $88.04 $59,867.20
Mastering (Pearson)83 $78.40 $6,507.20
Revel (Pearson)36 $81.60 $2,937.60
Sapling Learning (Macmillan)24 $51.70 $1,240.80
WileyPLUS (Wiley)174 $105.90 $18,426.60
Total (including cost average across different platforms)1,791 $78.29$139,890.68

As we can see from this one case study looking at one subject area at a small B.C. post-secondary institution, the cost borne by students adds up quickly, with 1,791 students paying an aggregate total of close to $140,000 in a single term.

Further Research

A final report on our system-wide research with more details and specific information will be released in June 2020. This final report will include information from a representative sampling of eight B.C. post-secondary institutions, including small, medium, and large institutions; both urban and rural institutions; and universities, colleges, and institutes.

Additional Background Information on the Open Homework Systems Project

For several years, commercial publishers have been marketing online tools to faculty that provide curriculum to students. These digital resources include textbooks, ancillary resources, and homework systems. The last of these can impose a significant financial burden on students who are required to use them.

In an effort to reduce the cost to students for access to learning platforms and materials, BCcampus has received funding from the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training (AEST) to explore open source software alternatives to commercial publishers’ proprietary homework platforms.

Project Goals

The purpose of the open homework systems project is to reduce the cost of post-secondary education for students by reducing the cost of access to homework systems.

Our specific goals are to:

  • Replace high-use, high-cost commercial homework systems used within the B.C. post-secondary system with open source alternatives.
  • Develop discipline champions and communities who can further steward open source options once the project ends.
  • Educate the B.C. post-secondary system about the financial burden of homework systems on students.

To achieve this, BCcampus will:

  • Explore the barriers institutions and faculty face when considering open source options.
  • Analyze existing open source homework systems to understand their technical capabilities and limitations.
  • Contribute to the technical development of open source homework systems to improve their functionality and make them more attractive to faculty.
  • Collaboratively create assessment content to support open homework systems.
  • Explore ways in which existing open textbooks can be combined with open homework systems to develop open digital courseware.

Learn more:

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