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Students, faculty to consider ‘iTunes U’

Rohan Anand | Wednesday, January 23, 2008

With the tagline “the campus that never sleeps,” Apple, Inc. launched “iTunes U” last spring, a program that looks like the regular iTunes store but offers students, professors and the public free access to downloadable classroom lectures. And while more than 250 institutions across the nation are registered, Notre Dame is still in the process of examining the technology.

“My description of it would be a way of distributing media – namely video clips, audio clips, pictures, and even documents – to share what is going on in classrooms with the public,” said senior Patrick Finnigan, the undergraduate representative to the University Committee on Academic Technology.

Schools that are already affiliated with iTunes U use it to distribute course content to its students, but some even take it a step further by turning it into a public relations medium. It can offer prospective high school students guided tours of campuses, Finnigan said.

Finnigan and senior Mariana Montes, the residential life committee chair, are working on a proposal to the Student Senate promote the idea of adopting iTunes U.

Currently, Notre Dame has a similar system known as OpenCourseWare, which was launched in the fall of 2006. The site offers an open digital publication of course materials with the sole task of spreading knowledge and education materials to the public for free.

That site offers materials from 29 courses within the College of Arts and Letters and some from the School of Architecture. While the system is growing and well organized, Finnigan believes iTunes U has “further benefits to offer.”

“iTunes itself reaches out to a wider audience because it is such a popular medium to download interactive media,” Finnigan said. “It also takes care of some of the technical issues you would have to tackle by designing your own public domain. With iTunes U, we do not have to worry about formatting because they have their own templates to simplify the process of uploading course content.”

One University professor has already tapped into iTunes U and has been very pleased with the results. Surendar Chandra, a professor in the computer science engineering department, set up an independent channel on iTunes U’s shared network for his Operating Systems Principles class.

He currently video- and audiotapes his lectures for various courses and posts them online for student use and – is therefore in support of iTunes U as an easy way to get technology out to the classroom.

“The benefit of iTunes U is that it allows the students to easily find the course contents,” he said. “They can go to ND-iTunes – Apple advertises iTunes U prominently inside iTunes – and navigate through the department [or] course listing to directly find the particular lecture. iTunes U lectures are still podcasts; the instructor can post audio, video and PDF files.”

Additionally, Chandra sees iTunes U as an excellent reference tool, especially for test preparation and for review during subsequent courses, as well as for those students who miss a lecture.

But the program is not meant to replace attending class.

“It enhances, rather than supplants a lecture,” he said.

With compatible devices such as the Apple iPhone and the video iPod, which can be used as hard drive storage space, students can easily download these lecture clips and play them back wherever they go.

“The only real challenge is to let students know where the contents are posted,” he said. “I can either post them on my course Web page [on open courseware], as a podcast or on Google video.”

Once a college or university registers with iTunes U, it can either host the software locally or allow Apple to do it for them, which will be a major decision for Notre Dame when and if that time comes, Finnigan said.

“If we were to choose the latter, then we would be charged,” he said. “Ideally, we would allow Apple to host the media for us and we would just have to pay for storage. We would be allowed large amounts of space, but it would still be expensive.”

And for people for whom privacy, and not money, is the main concern, Apple allows users to apply privacy settings to restrict all public audiences from viewing their posted material.