Early Adopters of iTunesU

Back in 2008 Jeremy Speller and Nicolas Watson ran a workshop session on “Podcasting and iTunes U: Institutional Approaches to Scaleable Service” at UKOLN’s IWMW 2008 event. In the session Jeremy, Head of Media Services at University College London and Nicholas from the Open University described how “The Open University and UCL have been pursuing projects to deliver on-demand audio and video podcasting recording and distribution services primarily via Apple’s iTunes U service. In this talk, Nicholas and Jeremy will discuss how the different approaches of two very different institutions impacted on the nature of the two projects, how challenges were addressed and how solutions were developed.

Two years later how has iTunesU developed across UK higher educational institutions?  Are the Open University and UCL feeling slightly embarrassed, like the institutions which decided in 2003 that the future lay with Gopher, or feeling pleased that their institutional commitment had identified an important technology, as was the case when Leeds University set up its institutional Web service in January 1993? There is much that can be learnt from the experiences of early adopters.

Who’s Using iTunesU Now?

Using the iTunes software you can see a display of Universities which have an iTunes U presence. These can be selected by country as shown below. From this we can see that there are currently 16 UK universities and colleges which provide multimedia resources which can be accessed via the iTunes software.

Using a Google search for “itunesU university uk” I looked in some more detail at the information provided by a number of these institutions. A summary is given in the table below.

1 The Open University on iTunes U “In 2008 The Open University joined iTunes U, making available a range of high quality audio-visual assets used in the courses. Featuring over 280 albums with content from over 136 courses, the OU on iTunes U reflects the diversity of the university’s curriculum and the strength of the academic brand. A fantastic learning experience on offer”
2 The University of Oxford on iTunes U “Oxford has had over 3 million downloads from its iTunes U site”
3 Warwick on iTunesU “This free service allows you to access interviews with academics, programmes about research at the University, lectures, teaching materials and content from our student community.”
4 UCL on iTunes U: FAQs “Is iTunes U free to use? Yes. All UCL audio, video and PDF content is free to download. The iTunes software is also free to download.”
5 Welcome to Cambridge University on iTunesU “In October 2008 the University launched its iTunesU site, from which you can download educational multimedia resources free of charge. There is a wide choice of both video and audio, which will grow on a month-by-month basis.”
6 iTunes U – The University of Nottingham “With The University of Nottingham on iTunes U, you have access to hundreds of free educational video and audio podcasts. Anytime. Anywhere!”
7 Coventry University on iTunes U “Coventry University was among the first universities in Europe to distribute multimedia content in conjunction with Apple’s iTunes U service for education resources. The Coventry University iTunes U site launched in June 2009. It now has more than 400 audio and video podcasts from around our campus for you to download for free.”
8 Experience the University of Hertfordshire on iTunes U “Download videos and podcasts of University lectures, public talks, conferences and tutorials for free. You can also download pdf documents and find out more about studying at the University of Hertfordshire. Content can be accessed on a PC or Mac and synced with your iPod, iPhone or iPad to be connected anytime, anywhere.”
9 Birmingham City University on iTunes U Where does Birmingham City University fit in?
Birmingham City University has collected a wealth of audio and video material from across the University that can now be accessed via iTunes U and through http://www.bcu.ac.uk/podcasts. 
Does it replace internal sharing systems such as Moodle?

No, at present Birmingham City University’s iTunes U area is public-facing and accessible to people both inside and outside the University.”
10 Introduction: iTunes U, University of Edinburgh “We have our own iTunes U channel where we host video and audio files about the University and the city of Edinburgh.You can watch and listen to lectures with world-leading thinkers and subscribe to our podcasts to receive previous and future lectures, seminars and events.”

It is interesting to read how these institutions are described their use of iTunesU: a number of institutions are highlighting the amount of content which is being provided (“over 280 albums with content from over 136 courses“,”more than 400 audio and video podcasts“) or accessed (“over 3 million downloads“) whilst others point out that the content is available for free (“This free service allows you to access interviews with academics, programmes about research at the University, lectures, teaching materials“, “you can download educational multimedia resources free of charge“, “you have access to hundreds of free educational video and audio podcasts“, “Download videos and podcasts of University lectures, public talks, conferences and tutorials for free“) or combine the quantity with the free availability (“more than 400 audio and video podcasts from around our campus for you to download for free“).  Interestingly one institution points out that “You can also download pdf documents“. And whilst another answers “no” to the question “Does it replace internal sharing systems such as Moodle?” this is qualified with the words “at present“. Might iTunesU in the future have a broader remit than simply providing public access to podcasts and vodcasts, I wonder?

What Next for iTunesU?

A more important question will be the impact which iTunesU could have across the UK higher education sector in the future. The institutions which have been early adopters cover a range of institutions: we shouldn’t be surprised that a distance learning organisation such as the Open University being one of the first two institutions (who launched their presence on the same day as UCL) to make use of iTunesU. But we also see high profile and well-established institutions such as UCL, Nottingham and Edinburgh Universities in the list of early adopters alongside a number of newer universities and former polytechnics.

At the recent FOTE10 conference  I was involved in some discussions from institutions considering institutional use of the service. On the iTunes Web site I read about the financial benefits which the service can provide:

Apple provides your institution with a free iTunes U site, complete with templates you can customize with your own branding.

How the interface can be tailored:

Your institution creates its own iTunes U site that leverages the familiar interface of the iTunes Store, so it’s easy to build and even easier to use. Once your site is live, faculty members need little additional help from IT. They can start posting content right away — lectures, lab demonstrations, historical footage, and whatever else they choose to help bring their subjects to life.

and the levels of access control that can be applied

Your institution can decide whether to make its iTunes U content available only to members of your educational community (internal access) or to the world at large via the iTunes Store (public access). With an internal iTunes U site, user access is controlled through password protection. A public iTunes U site — such as those created by Yale, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Oxford, Cambridge, MIT, and broadcasters like PBS — distributes material for free on iTunes U. And there’s always the option of creating both an internal site and a public site for the best of both worlds.

Now I suspect that the reality of providing institutional use of iTunesU isn’t quite this simple. But neither will be use of an in-house service for providing access to audio and video recordings – especially on mobile devices. After all, which application are students (and staff) be more likely to be familiar with: iTunes, a home-grown synching application or a synching application provided by a CMS or VLE vendor?

Are the institutions listed above to be applauded for providing a user-friendly and cost-effective solution at a time when cost-efficiencies, in particular, are the order of the day? That seems to have been the feeling at Oxford University judging by the notes taken of an “iTunes U briefing on podcasting and mobile learning – a day at Apple” held last year: “Downloads have been enormous, iTunes U is global. Good ‘metrics of success’ 150 feeds of mostly 1h lectures“. Or will institutions which choose to make their content available by a commercial company eventually regret this decision, with perhaps a lack of flexibility in integrating multimedia content with other institutional services?

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