Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

The Growth of iTunes U

iTunes University

iTunes U is a great way to sample the goings-on at a host of well-respected institutions.

Don’t get the wrong idea; Apple Inc. has not yet begun to provide full-fledged university courses, nor to disseminate any form of recognized credential.

Three-and-a-half years after the launch of iTunes U, Apple’s repository for education-related media does not threaten to shut down university registrar offices (the way iTunes did many CD outlets), but it does provide a great way to sample the goings-on at a host of well-respected institutions all over the world.

Since its inception, iTunes U has grown from hosting a smattering of audio and video podcasts to offering content from over 800 universities worldwide (nine of them Canadian). A few months ago Apple announced that iTunes U had surpassed 300 million free downloads.

If you have yet to follow the iTunes U link while visiting the iTunes Store, what you will discover is an interface that allows you to locate material by an institution’s name, type, or location, as well as by subject matter. Each university has its own page and method of categorization. They each provide some combination of promotional video, lecture footage, class materials, and sampling of student work.

Should you be so inclined, you can listen to the audio lecture and follow along with the PowerPoint presentation of Dr. Tina Fetner’s SOC1A class, given last year at McMaster University. You can watch MIT professor Gilbert Strang chalk-and-blackboard his way through a full 35 classes of first-year linear algebra, and follow it up by taking the final exam. You can admire how Queens University’s Film250 student Rachel Little employs recently learned cinematic devices in her short “All You Need is Love is a Lie”. Or, you can explore mini presentations like the one titled “Confucian Values” provided by UK-based Open University, in order to give you a taste of their Business and Management program.

More than likely, some of you have been misled by the name iTunes U, expecting to find a source of traditional educational materials or comprehensive course offerings. It’s also possible that if you have ever taken a proper online course, some of you may have envisioned iTunes U as a sort of virtual campus with live web-casts and real-time or asynchronous discussion boards. Unfortunately, though some profs do use the service to distribute class-specific files, interactivity is for some reason not yet incorporated.

Still, there are many ways that current students can take advantage of iTunes U. For instance, watching previous lectures for a given course (should you be lucky enough to find it archived) is the best way to get caught-up or to review and concretize difficult concepts. If you are concerned with receiving the widest range of perspectives possible, you can observe classes from other institutions and see how your faculty compares. In addition, iTunes U is a great source of work produced in different film, media, and journalism programs throughout the world.

Yet another branch of iTunes U is the collection of featured talks, lecture series, and other presentations provided by a number of associated “distinguished entities”-museums, think tanks, galleries, media networks-which include institutions such as MoMa, the Perimeter Institute, the National Gallery of Victoria, ForaTv, etc.

Of course, the greatest utility of iTunes U for the student lies in the fact that it allows those who are planning their next academic move (choosing a new class, a new program or an entirely new school) to audit courses, observe professors, and compare schools. And while it has grown quickly and may strive to be a portal to the world’s lecture halls, classrooms, and seminars, iTunes U, though extensive, still functions mainly as a sample of what the providers of post-secondary education have to offer.

Wesley Scheer-Hennings
Author: Wesley Scheer-Hennings
Wesley Scheer-Hennings is a freelance writer for STUDY Magazine.
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