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Learning, Working and Podcasting Spaces

microphone
Image by Daniel Friesenecker from Pixabay

I recently changed one of my categories here, "Learning Spaces," to "Learning & Working Spaces" because I'm seeing greater overlap in those two places. We know learning has always been occurring outside of traditional spaces, such as classrooms, but it is more formalized now than ever before.

Spring 2020 certainly moved a lot of learning online from pandemic necessity. But other learning spaces have emerged in recent decades.

Co-working spaces are formal places for people needing office space but not wanting an office full-time. WeWork is one of the better-known commercial spaces. Colleges are opening virtual campuses, micro-campuses, but informal work and learning is happening in Panera Bread stores, Starbucks, and many local cafes and coffee shops.

I saw recently that Staples stores have been giving some of its retail space over to podcast recording booths. They partnered with Spreaker for recording spaces in six Staples stores in the Boston area. These booths are part of a new Staples Connect model, in which the retail stores offer coworking and community event spaces. The soundproof Staples Connect Podcast Studios are being developed in partnership with iHeartRadio. They provide professional equipment (RODECaster Pro control board, RODE microphones and SHURE headphones) and space for up to four people.

I don't know if most people would consider podcasts as a learning space but a lot of informal and some formal learning is happening through podcasts. 

When I started podcasting at NJIT back in 2006, our initial audience was prospective students and we were clearly doing marketing. But that potential audience quickly grew when we saw that downloads were coming from a more general audience that was interested in research from the university.

In 2007, NJIT became part of the original sixteen colleges to launch Apple's iTunes U. That's when we started thinking about podcasts as a learning space. (The term "coursecasting" was briefly being used by some schools.) 

Apple has changed how it offers podcasts but iTunes U still exists and as they state "iTunes U provides everything an instructor needs to bring the classroom together on iPad—build lessons with apps and your own materials, collect and grade assignments, start class discussions or talk with students to answer questions and provide feedback."

bookMy virtual friend, Kristen Meinzer, recently published So You Want to Start a Podcast, a very comprehensive how-to guide to getting started. There's a lot more to starting a podcast than buying a good microphone and installing some software. Though those things are necessary, having great equipment is hardly at the top of the list of reasons why podcasts succeed.

Kristen knows podcasting having been a commentator, producer, and former director of nonfiction programming for Slate’s sister company, Panoply. She has also hosted several successful podcasts, reaching millions of listeners and continue to create shows.

Is she an educator? Not in the formal sense of a teacher or professor, but you can certainly learn from the programs - and be entertained, which is a combination that some educators have not mastered. 

I would include podcasting as a learning and working space that should be considered by individuals, businesses and schools.

 

 

An Open and Shut Educational Case

OER knife
Open Source "Swiss Knife" - illustration by Open Source Business Foundation - licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Here are some concepts that I see used as hashtags, which is a sign that they have a following: lifelong learning, lifewide learning. open education, open learning, open universities. Around 2012, when MOOCs went large, the open of Massive Open Online Courses was a really important part of what defined those courses. Today, the open part has been lost in many instances where you see the MOOC term applied to an offering.

I created a category here in 2006 called "Open Everything" as an umbrella term for what I saw as a trend which would include MOOCs, OER (Open Educational Resources), open textbooks, open-source software and other things used in "open education" and beyond what we traditionally have thought of as "education," such as training, professional development and unsupervised learning.

It's not that this openness started in 2012. In 2006, I was posting in that category about a conference on interoperability, iTunes U, podcasts, Creative Commons and other open efforts. It wasn't until 2008 that I used the term "Open Everything" in a post as a movement I was seeing, rather than just my aggregated category of posts. 

That 2006 conference brought together schools using different course management systems (CMS such as WebCT, Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai) to see if there might be ways to have these open and closed CMS work together. Moodle and Sakai were open-source software and schools (including NJIT where I was working) were experimenting with them while still using the paid products. At that time, a survey of officials responsible for software selection at a range of higher education institutions responded in a survey that two-thirds of them had considered or were actively considering using open source products. About 25% of institutions were implementing higher education-specific open-source software of some kind.

On a much larger scale, there were open universities with quite formal learning, such as the Open University in Great Britain. There were efforts at less formal learning online, such as Khan Academy. There was also the beginning of less formal learning from traditionally formal places, such as MIT’s OpenCourseWare.

The MOOC emerged from the availability of free resources, such as blogging sites, that were not open in that you probably could not get to the code that ran it or reproduce it elsewhere but were freely available. 

The Open Everything philosophy embraces equity and inclusion and the idea that every person has a right to learn throughout their lives. It champions the democratization of knowledge. 

In the 14 years since I started writing about this, we have made progress in the use of OER. Open textbooks, which I literally championed at conferences and in colleges, are much easier to get accepted by faculty than it was back then.

Unfortunately, some things that began as open - MOOCs are perhaps the best example - are now closed. They may not be fully closed. You can still enroll in courses online without cost. You may or may not be able to reuse those materials in other places or modify them for your own purposes.

In 2017, I wrote that David Wiley makes the point about "open pedagogy" that "because 'open is good' in the popular narrative, there’s apparently a temptation to characterize good educational practice as open educational practice. But that’s not what open means. As I’ve argued many times, the difference between free and open is that open is “free plus.”

Free plus what? Free plus the 5R permissions." Those five permissions are Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix and Redistribute. Many free online resources do not embrace those five permissions. 

I view the once-open doors are mostly shut. I hope they won't be locked.

3 Questions for a Higher Ed Blogger (me) from 2006

logoBack in 2006, I was asked to do a session for a webinar series for Higher Ed Experts titled  “Podcasting Made Easy.” My session was titled “To be or not to be an iTunes U(niversity)?

At that time, I was working at NJIT and we had recently become one of the "sweet 16" universities that launched Apple's iTunes U. In the bio I used then I was the Manager of Instructional Technology at NJIT. For the previous two years, I had led the podcasting efforts at NJIT including the school’s launch that summer of our public and private use of Apple’s iTunes U. 

Looking back at that webinar, I found in my files that Higher Ed Experts owner, Karine Joly, has included me in her blog series "3 Questions to a Higher Ed Blogger" where I talked about this Serendipity35 blog. Here are those 3 Q&A's. How do they hold up more than 13 years later?

1) You’ve been blogging at Serendipity 35 since last February [2005]. Why did you decide to blog at that time? Can you tell us a bit more about your experience with blogging?

Ken Ronkowitz
Ken Ronkowitz, 2006

The Serendipity35 site originally was created as a way for Tim Kellers and me to try out open-source blogging software for our division at NJIT. This particular blog uses Serendipity software and our division at the university is #35, hence the title.

The first few entries were really just tests and I never intended to keep it going except as a demo site. I have a poetry site called Poets Online and I was already blogging for that using Blogger. I had also started a site within our department website at NJIT on Emerging Instructional Technology [EIT] where I intended to keep information on products and services we were testing. Unfortunately, I was never able to keep up with that website on a regular basis. However, blogging is easier (and I find more enjoyable) so that Serendipity35 has replaced that website as my way of keeping the NJIT community aware of new products, services, trends and the pedagogy of using them.

In addition, it has taken on a life of its own and gets many more views than the EIT site ever did and from a much wider audience than just NJIT. Getting comments from readers is an important part of the blogging experience too.

2) You blog a lot about new media (blogs, social networking websites, podcasting, etc.). What impact do you think these new technologies are going to have on higher ed?

I’m glad you ask what impact they are “going to have” because, unfortunately, I don’t think they have enough of an impact right now.

I see more penetration of Web 2.0 applications in K-12 teaching than in higher ed. It may be easier to implement some of these things at that level because you have districts, schools, grade levels and departments that can require their use through mandated curriculums. That’s rare in universities. “Required” and “faculty” are not words that go together easily at colleges. You’ll hear the much used (and abused) phrase “intellectual freedom” in response to attempts to require faculty to do many things. I’m not talking about having every faculty member have a blog, but it’s tough to get every faculty member to post syllabi online for each of their courses.

I think that students may be the drivers for the use of these applications as they have been in their desires and expectations to see course materials online, podcasting, 24/7 access, wireless campuses, etc.

I can’t see many educators being opposed in theory to the read-write version of the Web that is being called Web 2.0 and wanting to have students remain merely consumers (readers) of the web. All the tools like MySpace, blogs, video sites and other things that I write about have wide acceptance with students at all grade levels already. They won’t abandon them when they enter college, and they’ll be surprised and disappointed if they are not being used in their college classrooms and used or at least understood by their teachers.

Many faculty members were opposed to using email ten years ago, but those few who still are have to be seen as dinosaurs, and if they look up, they will see that an asteroid is headed towards them.

3) How is your blogging received by your administration and the rest of your campus community?

My director, Bill Reynolds, is always very enthusiastic and supportive of the department jumping into new technologies. For example, I wanted to pursue podcasting with faculty last fall so we jumped in and created our own podcasting site for NJIT and produced “coursecasts” for the fall and spring semesters. When we realized it was going to take off and that we needed greater support and infrastructure and heard about Apple’s iTunes U, we applied. We have been accepted and are building our site to launch this summer.

Our division’s Associate Vice President, Gale Spak, was the person who originally asked Tim and me to put together a day-long seminar on podcasting, wikis and blogs because she thought it had great potential for our academic community and for corporate clients, like those in NJIT’s own Enterprise Development Center. We did offer that day of workshops this past spring, but Tim and I actually ended up presenting the section on wikis using our own open-source wiki project.

I’ve heard nothing but positive comments from those on campus who have looked at the blog, though I’ll be first to admit that a large portion of the NJIT community still doesn’t know it exists. A number of faculty members who read it have asked to have blogs for their courses. We’re also looking at open source course management systems like Moodle which is offering blogging tools within a course itself. We have a web redesign project for the university that started this summer and they are using a private blog to keep the many team members up to date on developments and to get feedback asynchronously.

I see our blog as narrowcasting rather than broadcasting. The audience for what we write about is not the general public and that’s fine with us. I can tell by the site metrics that we have far more readers than those who actually comment on the site. In fact, just to illustrate the newness of this with educators, I have to say that I have been really surprised at the number of them who have emailed me comments about a piece rather than posting them on the blog itself. It’s not a question of being anonymous (you can do that on the blog) but more that they don’t quite get what a blog is all about.

Though blogs have been around for years, in education I think we are at a tipping point this year and that we’ll see much wider acceptance and use in 2007 and beyond. 


How do my answers hold up in 2020? Pretty well, in my humble opinion. I certainly feel the same way about where we were in 2006 and some of my concerns and predictions are still valid. 

I came to reexamine this old interview because I was looking at the Higher Ed Experts site which has been offering webinars and content for all these years. Their Higher Ed Social Media Conference has become an annual online higher ed conference.

Karine is still doing her interviews with her expert speakers. One response that caught my attention was a question posed to Emily Phillips, Social Media Coordinator at the College of William and Mary. 

Where do you think higher ed social media is heading in 2020?

Emily
Emily Phillips, 2019

Whenever I’m asked the “what’s next” question it inevitably conjures up in my mind the 1994 clip of Katie Couric & Bryant Gumbel trying to figure out the @ symbol and asking, “what is the internet, anyway?” At the risk of earning the amused derision of future readers, I’ll say that I see a lot of potential for “creator” spaces like YouTube, podcasts and even Twitch, which lend themselves well to Higher Education content. I’m also keeping an eye on VSCO and Tik Tok, which are obviously popular with a huge chunk of our audience, but I’m not yet sure enough that our current and future students are interested in seeing or engaging with our content in those spaces to warrant diverting our resources in either of those directions.

 


I remember using that Today Show clip (below) when I started at NJIT in 2000 as a way of showing how much had changed in just those 6 years since it was recorded. I agree with Emily's sense of risk in predicting the future of anything in technology and especially its use in higher education. One way to limit risk is to avoid talking about specific tools. Rereading my answers, that MySpace reference really dates the response. She may be safe mentioning YouTube, Tik Tok, and Twitch in 2020, but I suspect that if she looks back on her answers in 13 years she will chuckle at those references.

The Online Learning Perfect Storm

online learnerAwhile back, edX CEO Anant Agarwal wrote in Forbes "How Four Technologies Created The 'Perfect Storm' For Online Learning." The four technologies are cloud computing, video distribution at scale, gamification, and social networking. A commentary by Stephen Downes doesn't question the impact these four have had on online learning, but he does question Agarwal's claim that each is a part of edX.

For example, he notes that the claim that "social networking" is present is because it uses a discussion board. That is certainly a stretch. For gamification he cites "simulation-based games, virtual labs, and other interactive assignments," none of which is integral to edX.

Downes considers the article "lightweight" but though there may not be a perfect storm it is worth noting the impact of those four things beyond edX.

Cloud computing has allowed exponential scalability in many sectors including online learning. Online learning platforms (Does anyone say learning management systems anymore?) became more responsive and faster.

Scalability was certainly key to the emergence of MOOCs. When some colleges tried their own MOOC offerings they realized that they couldn't handle the jump from courses with 25 or 100 students to ones with thousands of students. Of curse, even if you are still offering smaller online courses, the cloud allows all students to benefit from faster, more responsive platforms.

Video has been a part of online learning for 40 years if you go back to ITV, videotapes, CDs and DVDs. Broadbandallowed video to stream and sharing and distribution really hit about the same time as MOOCs were starting to gain initial momentum. YouTube and Vimeo allowed some smaller institutions a way to distribute high-quality videos.

When I was at NJIT, I got the university to sign on in 2007 as one of the first of 16 universities to use Apple's iTunes U. That gave us a much larger presence in online learning. I wrote about it extensively on this blog. But iTunes U didn't grab the market share the way MOOCs and YouTube did. The interface was not friendly to universities or to users. You don't hear it mentioned much by educators now and I doubt that it will exist in 2020.

iTunes U was important for sharing university lectures and some supporting documents. It was more open than what we would expect from Apple because the content was opened up by the institutions (colleges and also educational institutions like museums). I consider it an early tool in the MOOC movement. 

Gamification has been a buzzword for a long time, but it still hasn't made its way into most learning platforms by for-profits or in colleges. There's no doubt that instant feedback and more active engagement in the learning process produces better success, but I find faculty still back off at the word gamification. Some of that fear or disdain is because they associate it with videogames and gaming sounds less "educational." This is a misconception, but one that has persisted. I always used to say that just say "simulation" instead of gamification and you'll get more buy-in from faculty. Sometimes that worked.

Simulations that use game strategies and components can be used in virtual labs and many interactive activities, knowledge checks (graded or not) and assignments in order to promote higher-order thinking tasks such as design, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. The "fun factor" shouldn't be ignored although that is part of the hesitation from faculty. There is this sadly persistent idea that learning is supposed to be difficult and not fun.

Social networking came on strong in the era of Web 2.0. Today it comes in for a lot of criticism. I believe that many educators who were using Twitter, Facebook and other social sites in their teaching have backed away. part of that is the criticism and privacy issues on such sites and part of it is that there are some tools built into platforms that allow for a more private social experience. However, posting your thoughts in an LMS for the rest of the class really doesn't duplicate or approach the experience of posting it online for a large part of the world. Twitter boasts 330 million monthly active users (as of 2019 Q1) and 40 percent (134 million) use the service on a daily basis (Twitter, 2019).    The chance to interact and possibly collaborate across the globe is no small thing.

What will create the next perfect storm in online learning? Agarwal suggests that the next four high-impact technologies will be AI, big data analytics, AR/VR and robotics.