The Real Value of Technology

Canada’s Athabasca University is a world leader in providing on-line education.  Because they are a comprehensive university specializing in distance learning, technology plays a large role in their teaching, research, and day-to-day operations.  Most everyone associated with AU is comfortable with a range of technologies and computer applications.

It’s a neat place.  Advanced technology oozes from most every office.  Video conferencing occurs almost as easily as face-to-face interactions and happens at the drop of a hat.  Remote controlled cameras line conference room walls.

But beyond all the neat gadgets and applications there is something more impressive — the way they view technology’s role in student learning.  Specifically, they don’t view technology only as a way to deliver course content to students.  They don’t attempt to convert traditional college courses into distance education courses by the addition of technology and a message board or two.

Instead, they believe technology can enhance the learning process for students.  They believe technology can fundamentally change the way students learn.  They want students to learn faster, with more precision, and more reliably.  If it takes a student 10 weeks to learn Algebra II in a traditional classroom setting, they believe they can teach the same content in 6 weeks.   Technology, they argue, can help the brain take in, make sense of, and remember content more efficiently.

They aren’t using technology to deliver the same courses cheaper.  They are using technology to do something altogether different – create new courses and impact students more meaningfully.

Here’s the point:  When advancement professionals discuss technology – social media, digital materials, mobile apps, etc. – it’s almost always from the perspective of doing more of the same.

  • Facebook?  Oh, that’s about getting our message out to more people inexpensively.
  • Web video?  Oh, that’s about telling our story through another person’s perspective.
  • E-Newsletter? Oh, we’ll use some of the same stories from our print magazine.

But what if we asked different questions of the technologies we use.  What if we asked:

  • How can we use technology to change the giving habits of people under 30?
  • How can we use technology to shorten the amount of time it takes to move a prospect from cultivation to solicitation to stewardship?
  • How can we use technology to learn more about our major gift prospects during the discovery process?

The real value of technology is not that it allows us to do the same things in different ways.  The real value of technology is that it allows us the  opportunity to change the things we do.

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