For many years, information technology (IT) has been used to find ways to “add value” for customers to entice them to purchase the products and services of a business. This article examines the possibility of translating the benefits of “added value” to the use of the Internet by tertiary educators for subject and course delivery. Many educators use the Internet to supplement existing modes of delivery. Importantly, the Internet is providing a number of “added value” supplemental benefits for subjects and courses delivered using this new, hybrid teaching mode. There are two aspects to subject delivery to where “added value” benefits may be applied, and that is in the administrative tasks associated with a subject and the educational tasks. In both instances, IT solutions can be employed to either fully or partially process some of these tasks. Given the complex and often fluid nature of the education process, it is rare that a fully integrated solution can be found to adequately service both aspects of subject delivery. Most solutions are partial in that key components are targeted by IT solutions to assist the subject coordinator in the process. If we examine closely the underlying benefits gained in the application of IT to these tasks, there is a strong parallel to the benefits to be gained by business organizations with similar applications of IT. While the actual benefits sought by academics depend on the motivation for the IT solution, the perceived benefits can be classified using standard categories used to gauge similar commercial applications. However, from an educational viewpoint online technologies provide educators with new challenges, especially in relation to dealing with issues related to plagiarism and class attendance. These need to be considered by educators when deciding how, and if, to incorporate the Internet into their curriculum.
In order to investigate the benefits of using Web-based techniques to supplement traditional teaching in terms of business efficiencies, the reasons that commercial organizations use IT are examined. The different aspects of subject delivery also need to be considered in order to determine the ultimate benefits to be gained.
Information Technology: Efficiency and Added Value
There are a number of reasons for using IT in organizations (O’Brien, 1999):
For the support of business operations: This is usually to make the business operation more efficient (by making it faster, cheaper and more accurate).
For the support of managerial decision making: By allowing more sophisticated cost benefit analyses, providing decision support tools and so forth.
For the support of strategic advantage: This refers to the use of Porter and Millar’s (1985) three generic strategies as a means of using information technology to improve competitiveness by adding value to products and services.
It has been recognized for a number of decades that the use of computers can provide cost savings and improvements in efficiencies in many organizations. Porter et al. (1985) have generally been credited with recognising that the capabilities of information technology can extend further to providing organizations with the opportunity to add value to their goods. Value is measured by the amount that buyers are willing to pay for a product or service. Porter et al. (1985) identify three ways that organizations can add value to their commodities or services (known as generic strategies for improving competitiveness):
Be the lowest cost producer
Produce a unique or differentiated good (providing value in a product or service that a competitor cannot provide or match, at least for a period of time). If an organization is the first to introduce a particular feature, it may gain a competitive advantage over its rivals for a period. Some ways in which information technology can be used to differentiate between products and/or services are (Sandy & Burgess, 1999):
Provide a good that meets the requirements of a specialised market
The next sections examine the possibility of translating the benefits of “added value” to a particular application of IT, the use of the Internet by tertiary educators to assist with subject and course delivery.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Value: The amount a “buyer” is willing to “pay” for a product or service. A business can “add” value by being a low cost providing, providing a unique or differentiated product or service, or filling a niche market.
Internet Technologies: That group of technologies that allow users to access information and communication over the World Wide Web (Web browsers, ftp, e-mail, associated hardware, Internet service providers, and so forth).
Class Attendance: In the case of “face to face” classes this refers to the physical presence of students in class. In the case of “online” classes this refers to student participation occurring with the timelines as imposed by the course lecturer.
Educational Tasks: Those tasks directly associated with the delivery of the educational component to students (e.g., lecturers, tutorials, assessment, and so forth).
Efficiency: From an IT viewpoint this usually relates to improvements within the business, so for a business it may mean IT systems that reduce costs or perform tasks more reliably or faster.
Plagiarism: Using the words or ideas of others and presenting them as your own without acknowledgment.