iTunes U Goes Wide

Yesterday, Apple, Inc. launched its updated iTunes & the updated iTunes main site. (see Apple press release)

That includes iTunes Plus, which will allows you to purchase high-quality (256kpbs AAC format) music for $1.29 that DRM-free. Customers can still choose to purchase 99 cent versions of these songs that have digital rights management (DRM) that limits their usage. This initial DRM-free offering is from the EMI catalog and includes their music videos at no additional cost.

But what interests me from my NJIT perspective is that iTunes U is now a link within the main iTunes store, and NJIT is one of the "sweet 16" universities featured in the index. There are rumored to be more than 200 schools associated with iTunes U, though my own links list of public iTunes U schools that I have found is much smaller.

We're in good company. Though most news articles still mention the original schools (Stanford University, UC Berkeley, Duke University), Apple has wisely chosen to feature a variety of schools geographically & by size. So, you have MIT and Concordia Seminary, Penn State and Otis College of Art & Design.

There's a top 10 downloads list (though after one day it doesn't mean much, the existentialists are in the lead).

Our own Tech & Society Forum series is currently a featured podcast program. One of my favorites of that group is Freeman Dyson's talk on "Life After Darwin: The Open Software of Gene Transfer."

Freeman Dyson is such an interesting person to hear. He's a physicist and mathematician, famous for not only his his work in quantum mechanics, solid-state physics, but also his theorizing in futurism and science fiction concepts, including the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. He's Professor Emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton (Yes, that's the place where Einstein spent his NJ days).

Included in the sixteen Forum podcasts is Cynthia Breazeal from MIT talking at NJIT about "Creating Sociable Robots", Michael Oppenheimer on global warming and a talk by NJIT's own Phil Goode who is the director of the Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO) located in California which is operated by the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

NJIT on iTunes U is used to deliver over 30 courses to students. Currently, eight of those are offered free to the public in our Open Courseware area.

Unlike some universities who have professors wearing microphones in class and recording lectures to offer students, we chose for pedagogical reasons not to pursue that course. The majority of our course offerings are polished, edited talks running much less than a standard lecture period. We didn't want the podcasts to be an "alternative" to class attendance, but rather a tool to extend the classroom.

An excellent example of this is Dr. Norbert Elliot of our Humanities department who has 4 courses offered in our public area. He uses the podcasts for face-to-face classes as preparation prior to the class session, and now begins the class at the point where the most discussion and active learning occurs.

Dr. Elliot was one of our earliest podcasters. We began in 2005, a full year before we even applied to be an iTunes U school, creating mp3's, testing video formats and distributing them from our own site starting with the spring 2006 semester. He was already creating screencasts (using Camtasia) and PowerPoint presentations with audio narration, so he made a smooth slide along the learning curve to podcasting. After some instruction, he produced his own podcasts (some audio mp3's, some video, some "enhanced podcasts" - slides with narration). Having our faculty act as content creators was the model we are most interested in encouraging.

Back then, though we were all impressed by the big podcasting projects such as Purdue's Boilercast, we knew that NJIT could not support with our limited staff any effort to podcast every lecture from every course, and, more importantly, we wouldn't want to even if we could. (I notice that Boilercast has also gone into iTunes U.)

I gave a presentation at an Apple podcasting session at Rutgers College in 2006 and an instructor in the audience asked me, "Why should a student come to my class if the lectures are all online?" My answer was to ask that if, in fact, students could get everything from the lecture in a podcast of it, why should anyone come to class? That wasn't the answer he wanted to hear.

My contention is that if your class is just a lecture with no interaction, no active learning, no added value to being there, then you are doing distance learning - but unfortunately, the distance is only from the front to the back of the room.

There is still some value to archiving lectures start to finish and offering them. It's great for a student who missed class, good for students to review for exams etc. But I cringe when I listen to some of these. I clicked on UC Berkeley's CS 61A, a course in computer science, and after 2 and a half minutes of listening in to a conversation about trying to get the lecture hall projector working correctly, I clicked off.

And I know from experience that IT staffers and faculty cannot be recording and editing all these podcasts. One of our instructors, after his initial semester recording his lectures start to finish, realized that the "shelf life" of them was going to be short. The 90 minutes included Q&A (some unintelligible) and discussion about homeworks, grading policy, exam schedules etc. The next semester he chose to record only the first 20 minutes of his class where he had prepared a concise mini-lecture. After that, mic off, he went into discussion, activities etc. Those mini-lectures are now, following the Elliot model, something students download before a class meeting, adding 20 minutes to his in-class discussion time. Not only did he change his recording method, he changed his approach to teaching.

Finally, I can't ignore the marketing aspect of iTunes U for NJIT. I have seen the number of iTunes users run all the way from Apple's conservative estimate of 10 million to the market research firm Current Analysis saying 200 million users. In any case, that's at least a few million new eyeballs that will see the NJIT name, branding and our content.

Our admissions office was amazed after doing their first 5 minute podcast last fall and having it available for only a week before an open house that students attending said they had downloaded it.

Podcasting, like many Web 2.0 applications, is not something that departments such as admissions, communications, public relations, athletics, alumni and advancement take to easily. They have grown as a print, press release, and mailings operation and the transition is tough.

I'm very curious to see how our download statistics change in the next few weeks given the wider exposure of our iTunes U offerings. (I hope to post about that in June.)

Let's try a social networking experiment - Why not click on that Freeman Dyson lecture right now and let's see if we can't send him right to the top of the most downloaded list!

Downloading NOTE: some podcasts are huge files - our Tech & Society Forum series files are video at about 300mb a shot, so if you don't want a big download, you can just doubleclick a title in the iTunes window and it will stream & play without actually downloading the file to your computer. Of course, if you want to transfer a program to your portable player or put it on a CD, you will need to download the file.

Slideshare Contest

Slideshare recently ran a contest for the World's Best Presentation.

There were some categories like "PowerPoint Deck as Leave Behind" and "In-Person Presentation Support" and combinations thereof.

Due to contest law issues, they only accepted entries from the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Israel, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and India. There is a nice blend of cultures in the results.

Teachers and students are always presenting. Every lesson involves some presentation, though hopefully not always formal and not always with slides.

Look at the winners and you'll see some samples you might use as guides for yourself or your students. Not all of them work for me. (There were over 400 entries, so there must be some you can use.)

There's one about Flickr that is pretty pictures and few words. There's something to be said for the Steve Jobs approach to presentations and we have all suffered through the 60 slides with 6 bullets per and no design sense at all.

But there's no way I could judge this "presentation" without hearing the presenter. Companies spend big bucks to have professional presentations created for their staff. For example, the new product PowerPoint that all the salespeople will take on the road. Hopefully, it's "presenter-proof" and just running through it with some guidance should work. We also know that's a dream. Bad presenter; bad presentation. Great presenters do a good job even if they have paper handouts and no technology. I think the same holds true for the best teachers. They make learning happen even without the technology, tools and materials - but give them all of that and they soar.

Another one from the contest called "The 25 Basic Styles of Blogging" would be more my choice. Nicely designed, with lots of good content. Not beautiful though. It's more the "leave behind" category while the previous example is "presenter support."

All of us should be thinking about that distinction when we create a presentation. If your leave-behind materials (or takeaways) will include handouts, spec sheets etc., you probably don't need to put it in the slides.

I've been to plenty of conferences where the presentation had everything I wanted to know & take away - but the presentation wasn't offered to me in any form. I desperately take notes!

I'm currently preparing 3 presentations for this summer season of conferences, so I'm looking and thinking about these things.

The contest judges were Guy Kawasaki, Bert Decker, Garr Reynolds (whose blog Presentation Zen, is on my regular reading list) and Jerry Weissman. Check their sites for some good presentation tips, guides and samples.

Educause Webinar: Webcasting Royalties

This event just came to me by email this evening (yah gotta love serendipity) so I'm tagging it onto today's post.

Matthew J. Astle, Attorney and Wiley Rein LLP
Webcasting Royalties: Where Do We Go from Here?

JUNE 5 at 1:00 p.m. ET (12:00 p.m. CT, 11:00 a.m. MT, 10:00 a.m. PT) (1 hour)

The Copyright Royalty Board of the Library of Congress has recently issued a determination setting royalty rates for the performance of sound recordings via Webcasting. The rates have increased substantially, causing many Webcasters to worry about their future. This session will address the history of the proceeding, review the key terms of the decision, and discuss options available to Webcasters to help them navigate an uncertain future.

This EDUCAUSE Live! Web seminar is cosponsored by The Association for Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education (ACUTA).

The event is free, but registration is required and virtual seating is limited. REGISTER NOW.

Related EDUCAUSE Resources

Follow the link(s) below for articles, conference materials, blog postings, and more from the EDUCAUSE Resource Center.

Strange Bedfellows

I received an email response from my Senator in NJ, Frank R. Lautenberg concerning my interest in the Internet radio issue that I've written about here earlier.

Of course, we all know that these letters are read and answered by staffers - I really don't expect my Senator to spend time doing that - but we also hope that the word actually does get to the politician and that it has some effect.

I'm not a political letter writer. I'm rather apolitical though certainly not apathetic, and I don't see this blog as political at all. But sometimes there are these issues that emerge that really do affect the way we use technology as educators.

This one reaches beyond the idea of listening to Net radio while you are at work and at home into my concerns about the royalties being applied unfairly and in such a way that it stifles digital creativity.

I'm more passionate about copyright issues and there are some similarities. Copyright was designed to not only protect creators but allow for creative uses including copying. Copyright in this Net age seems terribly out of date, and there are more and more cases of both the law being abused by creators (or those who claim ownership) for profit, and examples of users ignoring the law or "reinterpreting" it for their own purposes (see illegal downloads).

I've attended and given workshops for educators on copyright & Fair Use and speakers almost always open with "I am not a lawyer but..."  The strange thing is that even those sessions given by lawyers often include a "disclaimer" that there are no precedents for many situations. If I was to do a 90 minute workshop on this for teachers, I would allow half the time to answer questions, because that's what they want to know. Teachers want "legal advice" - Can I use those photos? Can I excerpt that movie I always use in class and put it in Blackboard? Can I make another copy of the software to use on my other class computer? It's confusing to everyone it seems.

Back to the Senator - his reply is below and I'm encouraged that he mentions the "Internet Radio Equality Act" though it's not clear what Lautenberg's opinion of that bill is pro/con.

I am sure that this post is not of great interest to a good number of my readers. I think politics is a turnoff to many of you, and your interest is more towards using tech in the classroom. I only say that the politics (unpleasant as it is) does affect that in the same ways that No Child Left Behind affects the K-12 classroom. It might not be in your mind as you prepare a lesson on Macbeth or teach it, but it's there.

Here's the Lautenberg email reply:

Thank you for contacting me about the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) and its recent determination of music royalty rates. I appreciate hearing from you.

As you know, the CRB issued its decision on new rates for commercial and noncommercial webcasters on March 9, 2007. Under the Small Webcasters Settlement Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-321), Congress allowed qualifying small webcasters to decide to pay royalties as a percentage of their revenue rather than on a "per song, per listener" basis. This solution was temporary, however, and the former rate structure expired in December, 2005. Under the CRB's new rules, webcasters may no longer elect to pay percentage royalties and must pay per song, per user rates established by the CRB.

I share your concern about the ability of small webcasters to afford higher royalties . Recently, Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) introduced the "Internet Radio Equality Act" (S.1353). This bill would overturn the CRB's March decision and apply royalty rate-setting standards from the satellite radio industry to commercial Internet radio broadcasters. Please be assured I will keep your views in mind should the Senate consider this legislation .

Who Are You and Where Should We Seat You?

Memorial Day Weekend and an extra day to be a bit lazy and frivolous. Steve Smith emailed me a link to this online quiz called "Which science fiction writer are you?" This is a very unscientific piece of pop psychology, but it is a day off. So, I answer some questions online and it compares me me some famous sci-fi writers.

GregI answered the quiz questions honestly and the results say that I am like Gregory Benford - "A master literary stylist who is also a working scientist."
Benford is not a writer I have read, but I will check him out. I don't know that I am a "master literary stylist" but I have a background & interest in literature to be sure - and I do have I real love of science, unattached to any actual degrees in it.

KurtNext, I answered the questions in the way that I would like my answers to be.  And the result was that I came out as being like Kurt Vonnegut. That's someone I have read extensively.
The site says of the late Vonnegut, "For years, this unique creator of absurd and haunting tales denied that he had anything to do with science fiction."
I'd like to think there is some Vonnegut in me, but, if so, it's probably a smaller part of me than I imagine.

Beyond this little exercise being a diversion, what might we do with this in a classroom?

I thought about creating a similar test (though my Javascript skills would make that a slow process) based on Paul's code focusing on poets.

You could do this with a literature class at the end of the year. Have students list the qualities, style, themes of the writers studied that year.

This doesn't have to be a coding project. You could do the quiz with a 3X5 index card for each item with the author's name on back.

Then students would choose the qualities that best match their own answers. Check the names and see if there is one writer that you are choosing multiple times. A good way to get into author style.

My own card choices from the poets pack might be the cards that say: "humor, not formal poetry, everyday life" - which might get me some Billy Collins cards, or "nature, Zen" might get me two Gary Snyder cards, and so on.

You could do this with scientists, literary characters, historical figures, or leave people behind and do historical events or geographic locations.

Sure, Pony likes Cherry but...
I used to do a lesson with my middle school students at the end of the year that had them setting up elaborate table seating arrangements for a big party. All the characters from our year's reading were invited. Their job was to seat them at round tables of 6 so that there would be harmony, conversation, perhaps even a little romance.

Who do you sit Juliet next to? (Claire danes as Juliet)
I discouraged seating people from the same books together. Sure, Romeo might want to sit with Juliet, but might Juliet make a good match for Pony from The Outsiders? And if Dallas Winston from that same young adult novel was seated next to Tybalt, would they find common ground or start a brawl? Sure, Pony liked Cherry, but Cherry liked Dallas. Would Cherry then like Tybalt or Mercutio? It gets complicated. I like that.

Student explanations for their seating arrangements and the classes arguments pro & con made for lively discussion. Sometimes it was the minor characters that got all the attention.

There were lots of issues to discuss - Does it matter that characters lived hundreds of years apart? Do they need to be really close in age? Does Juliet understand English? (Yes, many students forgot it was Italy, having been lulled into English Juliets by Shakespeare, Claire Danes and Olivia Hussey.)

I used this in those difficult last weeks of the school year and wanted discussion and oral presentations rather than more writing for them (and more reading & grading for me).

This is one of several quizzes by Paul Kienitz that you might want to try out: Which Classical Composer Are You?, the much stranger Which House Paint Are You? and Which Office Supply Are You? or the more opinionated Are You A Republican

Continue reading "Who Are You and Where Should We Seat You?"

Teach Basketball With Textbooks

Milton Chen, executive director of The George Lucas Educational Foundation, writes in a piece called "A Modest Curriculum Proposal", that he would like to see schools teach basketball with textbooks.

Why? Because he knows that parents would get upset.

"Science and mathematics education should involve students getting out of the classroom and collecting data in fields and streams, at traffic intersections, and in their larger communities. Having students investigate seemingly simple but very meaningful questions such as "Where does the water in your house come from? Where does it go? Can you measure its quality?" would transform science and math education.

So, I propose a new national campaign to teach basketball with textbooks. If the ensuing parental marches on school board meetings, the outrage, and the debates about what a crazy idea this is also lead to thoughtful consideration about active hands-on, minds-on learning in academic subjects, this brief campaign will have been very worthwhile."