I’ve been unusually quiet about Apple’s iTunes U release given my previous postings … there is a reason — we are looking very closely at it. Now that I am involved with these kinds of things it makes me feel a little freaky commenting on it all. Here is my overall take (and I share some of the thoughts being discussed elsewhere) on the iTunes U service:
- I think Apple has done an amazing job of building something that we all need in education (not just HE) … a simple way to store content and more importantly a simple way to access content.
- Apple’s standard iTMS is an amazing thing — clean, elegant, and simple … giving institutions the ability to tap into an interface as well designed as that is a major plus for the people we serve — students, friends of the Univeristy, and other alumni.
- The backend to the system just works and that is amazing. Posting this stuff to sites is not an easy task, but the iTunes U service makes that painless.
- I don’t share the idea that these are walled gardens … look at Stanford as an example. But, we need to be able to provide faculty with the ability to say with confidence, this needs to be protected. That is just the way it is.
- I am not a fan of a proprietory file format that locks out the 20 or so percent of students on our campus that own other types of music players. That is just bad news. It will kill it on our campus if it is iPod-only. Update … I got an IM from someone in the know and iTunes U can handle anything iTunes itself can. That means MP3, AAC, M4A, MOV, PDF, AIFF … maybe more. Now we’re talking!
I have other thoughts, but I am reserving judgement. We all know that there are no less than three pieces to the podcasting universe for us in education … these three challenges are what make this stuff so hard. There is creation … and let’s be clear iTunes U does NOTHING to help us there. We are left to figure that one out ourselves … and that means our faculty are left to figure it out unless we do something about it (which we are). There is the storage and indexing of the files … good open source blogging software (and other CMS tools) makes this a little more straightforward, but is still a pain to setup, maintain, connect to authentication systems, scale, and keep organized. Finally there is the distribution piece … a place where faculty, staff, students, friends of the University, etc can show up and FIND this stuff. If you’ve ever used a multi-blogging platform with a lot of people you know this stuff gets lost very easily. Feeds are feeds, but getting mere mortals to subscribe the right way isn’t as easy as you’d think.
So, at the end of the day iTunes U helps lower the barrier on the last two pieces. Creation is still tough, but can be overcome. Its those last two that put a lot of strain on the end-users … that is why iTunes U is a good thing. Not the perfect thing, but hey what V 1.0 is perfect? We shall see as we move down the path.