The web she is a changing. Audio and video are becoming common…so common that iTunes is partnering with universities to create iTunesU. What is iTunesU? It is a discovery tool, a one-click easy content distribution tool and it even has a content contribution interface for students and faculty to upload their own content. How totally delicious is that?

As my iTunesU t-shirt says…”It is like having a prof in your pocket.”

Standford and Berkeley are already on board. Now, I’d like you to put on your “big dream” glasses and tell me what you would hope to discover in a UT Austin version of iTunesU. Imagine you are a student, faculty, alumni, lifelong learner and/or sports fan. No idea is too big or too small!


  1. Are you guys looking at doing that? Man, podcasts, embedded video and blogging are all the rage in our admin building. My God, they’ve got it bad. And yeah, they’re not sure what the words mean, let alone what the actual implementation of them would be. :-)

    It could be absolutely cool if done the right way, though. For the classroom, you could enhance the in-class time in ways never before possible. The long-term holds great potential as you begin to build up this digital repository of learning modules and devices. With the right architecture, creating a digital course pack could literally be a few clicks away.

  2. This is a great marketing strategy for Apple. Soon, our iPODs will be PDAs as well as musical assistants. I’m looking forward to that.

  3. Humboldt is starting up this summer– I have an info meeting with Apple reps tomorrow.. Should be a fun adventure.

  4. Matt, my apple friends said that iTunesU is first focusing on the U.S. and Canada…but he liked the idea of the UK so I bet he suggests it as a next step.

  5. Regarding iTunesU, I have to put on my skeptic’s hat and say that it’s easy to overstate the value of audio and video capture of educational material. As I’ve griped elsewhere, audio and video are just too damned real-time: text offers direct-access affordances that the fast-forward and rewind buttons can’t touch. Since long before digital capture, students with poor study skills (and/or legitimate learning disabilities) have tried to compensate by recording lectures, a method which often represents a false promise. If they had trouble grasping the material or taking effective notes the first time they sat through it, will an hour-for-hour rerun be any better? Particularly when the replayed lecture has lost the opportunity to ask questions? They might be better off using other strategies, like finding a study partner and engaging with the material interactively.

    Of course, there are times when you couldn’t attend the lecture live and a recording is the only way you can get it. I used to work on Rice’s webcast archive and I can tell you that it was a struggle just to add minimal editing and production value for a high-profile lecture or two a week. Projects which claim that they’re going to capture large numbers of ordinary classroom lectures are blowing smoke unless they plan on a massive investment in production support. Just applying basic metadata to lectures in a timely and accurate fashion is a struggle, and doing simple things like making the camera track a pacing speaker or cut to the PowerPoint or the whiteboard at the right times requires at least an hour-for-hour commitment of a camera operator’s or editor’s time.

    Finally, aren’t there serious accessibility issues for the tiny iPod format? Can you really read PowerPoints and whiteboards on those things?

    One more contrarian point: I would love to see Apple produce a PDA, but to do so they’d have to move beyond the iPod’s scroll wheel. Real PDA functionality requires an efficient way to enter text.

  6. Like Prentiss, I tend to be skeptical about technologizing instruction like this, but I thought of a few cases where iPod might be useful. One would be in history of English or Chaucer classes, where having Middle Engliish read to you is really helpful in understanding the language and meter. I suppose this could extend to Shakespeare and other poetry in Modern English.

    I’m not sure how an iPod would be any more useful than just burning a CD, but music classes are another, more obvious, case where having downloadable class materials might be useful. In the “Intro to World Music” class I took as an undergrad for my non-Western culture, we had a CD with audio selections that helped explain what was going on in the readings. But it “History of Rock,” there was no accompanying CD (probably because the rights were too expensive, it would have been nice in a few cases to know what a band actually sounded like. (This was pre-Napster.)

    I’ve never had a professor talk all the way through a movie, but I could also see a situation where a “professor’s commentary” might be interesting on an iPod. For example, a prof could point out camera, sound, and editing techniques in frequently taught movies like Citizen Kane or The Conversation.

  7. What Chris said. :-) Any instructional material that is inherently audio in nature would benefit by its being made available in MP3 format. My understanding is that a lot of language courses do this already, with how much university support I’m not sure — the one example that a friend pointed out to me is hosted on an instructor’s personal website, not at

    Your post on the Whole Foods tour reminded me of another obvious niche: audio campus tours. Rice invested in some costly radio technology for their campus tours right before cheap MP3 players hit — instead of burying miniature radio transmitters in the bushes and having people check out specialized radio receivers, they could have let people check out MP3 players. And now you could probably even dispense with the checking-out part (although as far as I know the iPod won’t let me walk up to a kiosk and download a podcast without blowing away the music that’s already on it).

    (The force behind Rice’s canned campus tours, by the way, was when they found that the volunteer student tour guides were spicing up the script with a lot of folklore that Public Affairs didn’t approve of. I don’t know whether the experiment stuck. It might be that hearing an enthusiastic junior retell the legendary pranks of yore is exactly what sets the hook for a prospective freshman!)

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