Is iTunes U For You?


I was talking last week to some colleagues at nearby Seton Hall University about becoming an iTunes U school. It prompted me to add a follow-up here to the webinar I did this month as part of a series on podcasting from Higher Ed Experts.

Ryan testing our pre-launch iTunes U in 2006.
One thing that makes it easier now to get a school administration on board compared to when we started podcasting in 2005 is that people will at least have heard of podcasting.

I did a Google search on "podcast" on 9/28/04 and there were 24 hits. Ten months later (7/28/05) it came up with 13.7 million. In May 2006 I did the search again for a presentation I was preparing - the result was 307 million on "podcast" and "iTunes" yielded 266 million. (Oddly enough - due to different Google algorithms - the numbers are actually lower today.)

Still, I would guess that less than 25% of your staff/admin stakeholders have ever downloaded a podcast. When we started building our own podcasting site in 2006 and applied to Apple to join the brand new iTunes U initiative, very few people on campus knew what we were talking about, and most saw little value in NJIT joining.

There was a Washington Post Magazine article by Jeffrey Selingo (now editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education) entitled "Is iTunes U for You?" that came out this month. He interviewed a lot of people, including several of us from NJIT about their experiences implementing and using iTunes U. (Only one quote from NJIT made the article - and the statistic is wrong.) I came across a blogger that linked to the article, and his favorite line in the article was a quote from A. Frank Mayadas, president of the Sloan Consortium (promoters of online learning), who said of iTunes U, "I'm baffled at what universities get out of this."

Yeah, people are baffled. And suspicious. I'm often asked, "What does Apple get out of this?"

For one, they get free content that drives traffic to their iTunes store. They need lots of content to keep the site fresh. The music/movies/TV portion is always turning out new product. For schools, this is not their primary work. In fact, Apple added other institutions (museums etc.) to the iTunes U section recently to add educational content.

Many people know that the profit for Apple is quite low on selling content - a few pennies for that 99 cent song download - but the content also drives hardware sales.

On the non-profit side, iTunes U is good public relations for Apple in the education area. Apple has always had a stronger user base in schools than in business, so they need to care about that community.

Finally, I truly believe that Apple has a continuing commitment to education.

It's probably more important to ask what schools get from using iTunes U.

You can talk about Apple’s lead in innovation, large share and marketing power bringing much wider attention to your school and its public podcasts. (87% of mp3 players are iPods; 25 million iTunes users and growing. Microsoft's second version of the Zune has a podcasting tool.)

There's the free half a terabyte of space + bandwidth and the iTunes infrastructure (RSS creation, uploading, authentication) which may mean even more to some of the smaller schools. (You can host your content locally too if you prefer.)

Still, there is that anti-Apple crowd out there. Hence, some myths to bust: 1) You don't need an iPod or any mobile device to use a podcast. The majority of people still watch/listen on a computer. That's slowly shifting and at some point we won't think anything of using our smartphone to listen to a news or course podcast. 2) You don't need an Apple Mac to create or use podcasts. Macs have some great podcast tools included (like Garageband) and there some good third party products (I like Profcast) but you can do it all with Windows too. (Lots of software to help including Camtasia and the free open source Audacity for audio podcasts on either a Mac or a Windows machine.) 3) The school controls access to "private" content (basically that's courses) through your authentication system on campus. You pass a token to Apple that allows users access to materials based on their course registration. You do not pass any private information about students to Apple at all. 4) You own your content. Apple doesn't own it. You can put it up and take it down. You can post it in other places. Apple can remove it if they have a reason to - copyright infringement, for example - but they can't repurpose it or sell it. You can see that that many iTunes U schools also put their podcast content in places like YouTube (check out the channel for UC Berkeley) or on their own websites as embedded media without using iTunes. The NJIT homepage always features links to at least 3 podcasts that are available on our iTunes U launch page but that don't require additional software or a download. We also feature other podcasts along with features on students, faculty and programs.

That last point deserves a bit more detail. Copyright is on the school's responsibilities list. Apple will want to know that you have a a digital copyright policy in place, but you enforce it. We always ask content creators (especially teachers) if they want their content made public. Only about a third of our courses are public. Professors are often concerned about their intellectual property, but those of us in instructional technology are often just as concerned about the copyright or IP infringement issues that some courses might generate if they were public - images used, video clips etc. You know, taking the PowerPoint slides that came with your textbook (or the textbook you used last year or got on a preview) and changing some things does not make them your intellectual property. I worked with a prof who had changed the slide template and deleted all the publisher identifications and he actually believed he still had "fair use" on his side if we put them online.

We were happy with our little podcasting initiative in 2005-2006. Our audience was pretty much just the campus community - though anyone who found the site could download since we had no way to authenticate downloads. We also had a staff of just 2 instructional technology people and 3 media staffers who were doing everything in addition to their regular jobs. Podcasting was a "hobby" but with increasing interest, we knew we couldn't continue recording, creating, encoding, uploading, writing XML files for RSS feeds etc. So iTunes U gave us a much-needed support system.

Don't expect Apple to be your podcasting IT department though. You are pretty much on your own with that. There is a good online community in the Apple iTunes U support discussion areas (Thank goodness for Duncan Bernhardt!) There's even a iTunes U Assessment Support Project now.

When we launched our iTunesU site in January 2007, we were delighted with the increased visitors and downloads, but the numbers went up 10 times after we were one of the first schools to be featured by Apple in the iTunes in May 2007 and those numbers have more than doubled since then.

If I wrote a novel, I'd want Oprah to select my book for her show. If you have a podcast, you want it featured in iTunes U.

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