University professors go mobile with iTunes U

The Apple-operated Web site allows students to download course podcasts.

Brent Renneke

A survey David Arendale gave his students on the first day of his introductory world history course told him podcasting was basically unknown. By the end of the semester, more than half of his students were subscribing to his podcasts and receiving them on a weekly basis. âÄúNow I got students saying they are listening to them waiting for the bus or walking to class,âÄù said Arendale, associate professor in post-secondary teaching and learning. The University of Minnesota is one of more than 200 colleges and universities around the world that is a part of iTunes U, an Apple-operated Web site available through the iTunes Store that provides educational podcasts for download. Professors are able to request a section for their course on the UniversityâÄôs iTunes U site and post content, such as class lectures and supplemental material, as podcasts. Students can then download the podcasts to their personal library and add them to an iPod or iPhone. âÄúWith iTunes U, you can sync it automatically. You can watch it at the desk or take it on the road with you,âÄù said Hope Johnson, an information technology professional. Johnson added that with this being the UniversityâÄôs first full academic year using iTunes U, it will take some time to be widely accepted by professors, who already devote a great deal of time to their course Web sites. âÄúPeople are just getting used to the idea. It is like, here is yet another tool,âÄù Johnson said. Some instructors, however, have already embraced the technology. âÄúI used to run a very traditional and somewhat boring class,âÄù Arendale said. âÄúI would get up and do the transparency thing and have group meetings before exams.âÄù Arendale said he now co-creates podcasts with his students that range from study guides and chapter summaries to students interviewing Iraq War veterans. âÄúWe were just trying to make it more interactive for them,âÄù he said. âÄúItâÄôs not easy, however,âÄù Arendale added. âÄúYou have to kind of make a commitment to this thing.âÄù The amount of time needed for this commitment is a concern for professors. âÄúItâÄôs daunting when you have a professor looking at a whole course,âÄù said David Brown, vice chair of veterinary biosciences. âÄúThey think about just how much time this would take to put together.âÄù Lack of knowledge of these kinds of technologies adds to the amount of time it takes professors to incorporate iTunes U into their courses, says Jude Higdon, managing director of technology-enhanced learning for the College of Liberal Arts. âÄúStudents come from the Net generation. They are comfortable with these technologies,âÄù he said. âÄúWe are non-digital natives; itâÄôs different from our experience.âÄù The general trend for iTunes U is posting video recordings of class lectures, according to Johnson. Besides the technical difficulties, some professors express concern that lecture recordings will cause their class attendance to decrease. Students are not mandated to attend class, and podcasts would be a valuable tool to still obtain the missed material, said biomedical engineering junior Kyle Konze. âÄúStudents donâÄôt have to come to class already, and if they do miss, they would at least have that,âÄù Konze said. Higdon said he has talked to professors who have voiced concerns that nobody will attend, but he also talked to some faculty who see class-capture as an opportunity. Some instructors like the idea of posting a compilation of lectures on iTunes U, so they can do something more interactive in class, Higdon said. âÄúIf we give students something valuable for the learning experience in face-to-face time, then students will come,âÄù he said. Brown said he looks at podcasting on iTunes U as something that could provide supplemental material to the lecture. âÄúItâÄôs kind of like the entrée is the lecture and the side dish is using the technology to do a podcast,âÄù Brown said. Regardless of an instructorâÄôs decision about iTunes U for his or her course, Higdon said, instructors take their teaching responsibilities seriously, and there is a sense of caution in moving into a new technology like iTunes U. âÄúWe have to think how we are going to best serve students walking through that door,âÄù he said.