Through a collaboration between the ITS New Media Lab (NML) and University Communications, Wesleyan now has a presence on iTunes U, the academic sector of Apple’s digital media player application, iTunes.
According to the Apple website, iTunes U features free lectures, language lessons, and audiobooks with over 100,000 multimedia files from top universities, museums and public media organizations.
In the spring of 2008, President Roth suggested the creation of a podcasting pilot project to the Academic Media Studio, which is now called the New Media Lab, and to University Communications. At the time, a podcast page was launched on wesleyan.edu in order to give the community a taste of what being an iTunes U member would entail, said Associate President of ITS Ganesan Ravishanker.
“We were doing a pilot to try to show everybody how it [the University on iTunes U] might work,” Ravishanker said.
Initially, the NML had difficulty in securing Wesleyan a spot on iTunes U. According to Ravishanker and Melissa Datre, Director of the New Media Lab, Apple’s stringent requirements contributed to the delay.
“Apple has very strict requirements,” Ravishanker said. “There are a basic number of audio and visual podcasts you need to get on [iTunes U.]”
The NML did not encounter these problems in acquiring a presence on YouTube, which is owned by Google. The video sharing website has long offered a space for academic institutions to upload a variety of material.
“Getting started with YouTube was far different than Apple,” Ravishanker explained. “They leave it up to you to manage your space. Apple has a very different philosophy.”
Following discussions with Apple regarding the specifics of their requirements, the NML and University Communications were able to secure a presence for the University on iTunes U. At this point, it was the responsibility of the NML to set up the page.
“New Media’s Lab was to handle the technological set up of the site,” Datre said. “We’ve now seen growth in our requests [for posts on iTunes U].”
Currently, both the NML and University Communications oversee the University’s iTunes page and decide what material may be uploaded for podcasts and videos. The page separates the audio-visual material into four categories: Talks, Academic Life, Campus Life and Athletics. However, there is not yet an established procedure for evaluating submitted material.
Posting lectures on iTunes U can lead to a number of complications, especially concerning permission approvals and copyrights. This can limit the ability to posting on various events, such as lectures and musical performances.
“It would be a great venue for music, but it goes back to permission and copyrights.” Ravishanker said. “[The process is] much more complicated than it appears. Sometimes these lectures use materials that are copyrighted. [Material in] PowerPoints might be copyrighted.”
As NML becomes more familiar with iTunes U and Apple’s policies, Datre and Ravishanker hope to expand the range of material that can be posted.
Universities featured on iTunes U have the ability to provide class podcasts, where only students enrolled in the class can access the podcast. While the University’s iTunes U page does not currently offer this as option, Ravishanker and Datre said that this might be a potential in the future.
Some professors have already experimented with bringing more technology into the classroom. Steven Horst, professor of Philosophy, began posting the PowerPoint slides from his lectures on Blackboard. Last year, he tried to record voice-overs for his PowerPoint presentations. However, this proved to be very tedious, he explained.
“This didn’t last long, because it meant a lot of extra hours doing the recording,” Horst wrote in an e-mail to the Argus. “I hope to come back to recording lectures, and will probably continue to do it with audio over PowerPoint. Students are likely to get more out of seeing the text clearly than watching video of me walking around the classroom.”
Alex Levin ’12, who is enrolled in Philosophy 202 with Horst, feels that this technique allows students to focus more on the material in class, instead of worrying about note-taking.
“It makes things easier because we can take notes about what he says without having to also write down every point on the slide,” Levin said. “Less note taking and more listening. Which I guess is better for a class on philosophy.”
Horst thinks that there are potential drawbacks to having courses fully recorded as podcasts.
“I worry that there will be students who will decide they don’t need to attend class because they can listen to the lectures at their leisure at home,” Horst wrote. “I also worry that at some institutions—presumably not Wesleyan—having an archive of recorded lectures may present a temptation to cut costs by deciding it is not necessary to have a tenured faculty member to give lectures ‘live’ when there are already perfectly good ones recorded once and for all.”
Even with the potential for misuse, Ravishanker is excited for the variety of benefits the University’s presence on iTunes will bring. He suggests that it will be a valuable tool for public relations.
“The whole idea is to show the YouTube and iTunes audience what’s going on at Wesleyan,” he said. “It’s another vehicle for us to show who we are.”
Overall, Ravishanker said, the ubiquity of iTunes also contributes to the appeal of iTunes U as a vehicle for the University.
“Who doesn’t have iTunes this day?” he said.