iTunes: new study tool

iTunes offers univer-sities the chance to partner and share lectures remotely.

Karlee Weinmann

A new online trend gives some colleges a hip, new sound.

Technology pioneer Apple parlayed the popularity of its iTunes program into a tool for educators to transmit lectures via electronic files to audiences of unlimited proportions, rather than those confined to lecture halls.

The advent of a process called podcasting – offering audio files on the Web for listeners to download – has been key in the online presence of some universities.

The University’s Technology Enhanced Learning coordinator Amanda Rondeau said technology is essential to the University’s goal of excellence, but is not being implemented for its own sake.

Instead, Rondeau and her colleagues assess the University and pinpoint areas where implementation of specific technology could enhance the learning experience.

“That’s the goal when we use technology,” she said. “Hopefully we’re doing things that allow student access to what they need to be learning and be more efficient.”

In January 2006, Apple launched iTunes U, a program specifically tailored to universities.

With podcasts, students can hear lectures without stepping foot inside a classroom, or study by listening to a professor for the second time instead of reading notes.

The University of California at Berkeley was among the initial group of institutions to podcast lectures and become an official iTunes U school.

Ben Hubbard serves as co-manager of the webcast.Berkeley program.

“Our primary audiences are our students, and our program is really meant as a study tool,” he said. “But there is a side benefit of all these lifelong learners being able to learn from us as well.”

Hubbard said the largest number of hits on the school’s Web site come from within the United States, with China and India falling in a distant second and third, respectively. People in other countries, like England and Singapore, have also visited regularly.

“This is the idea of a digital bridge around the world,” Hubbard said.

Within the TEL office on campus, there has been discussion surrounding podcast lectures and iTunes U for the University.

Rondeau said concerns with the program include content ownership, and debate surrounding the issue took place within TEL and among faculty members around campus.

Currently, University faculty members can podcast lectures through their own independent Web sites, or through blogs set up through the library Web site.

Associate professor Murray Jensen began converting his anatomy lectures to podcasts last fall.

While concerns about decreased student attendance due to learning exclusively from podcasts are valid, Jensen said he considers his podcast “a way to rehearse what’s going on in lecture.”

“The fear, and I think it’s real, is that some students are going to flunk your class because they think they can just listen to the podcast,” he said.

There wasn’t a noticeable drop in attendance since he made lectures available online, Jensen said.

To generate a podcast, Jensen transports and sets up recording equipment to record his lecture, then downloads the recording so he can send it to a TEL representative, who uploads it and puts it online.

Peter McCauley, video and media specialist in the College of Education and Human Development, said iTunes U could be a way to ease podcast production access.

While he said some faculty members have been expressing interest in using the program, Rondeau said the University has no current plans to partner with iTunes.

Finance first-year student Sam Shaw said he isn’t a regular podcast listener, but would be receptive to standardized University podcasting, especially in cases of class absences.

“People view stuff differently, take different notes and interpret things differently,” he said. “With a podcast, getting to see it firsthand is better than seeing it secondhand in someone’s notes.”