iTunes U vs Roll Your Own

Yesterday I did a quick post on iTunes U here at Penn State — really it was a plea for help on meta data management … but, since we have not really announced iTunes U in a formal way I think it has started an interesting question, what do we do with our own Podcasts at Penn State site now? I had originally posted this as a reply to the comment on yesterday’s post, but it got me thinking about the question of iTunes U vs Rolling Your Own …

It is a good question and one that we are constantly tossing back and forth. On one hand, having developed our own space gives us the opportunity to innovate on our terms — that is a good thing. On the other hand Apple is good at this stuff and is likely to continue to create new thinking in the space that we may be just playing catch up to. If I did a balanced score card — not a bad idea — I think at the moment it would come out tipping towards iTunes U. The lure of not having to maintain and grow yet another service (YAS) for my team is a very attractive alternative.

At the moment the Podcasts at Penn State site does not give us an authenticated podcast space … in other words, if you post it in our space anyone can see it. That doesn’t matter to me, but for the vast majority of faculty that doesn’t fly. iTunes U is by nature a secure podcasting platform — obviously we can control the public v private content, but it is much more like a CMS/LMS toolset. Some have criticized Apple for creating a “walled garden,” but in the realities of higher education it is the model people are used to and seemingly prefer. I see a day somewhere in the future where we can open this stuff up, but we aren’t there yet.

Our vision for the Podcasts at Penn State site are to move it to a “podcasting hub” of sorts — a place where faculty, staff, and (eventually) students can go to learn how to podcast, get equipment recommendations, listen to sample podcasts, collect lesson ideas, discuss how they are using podcasts, and other applied things that support the appropriate use of the technology. When our Fall pilot is over, I envision posting the final report there as well. Could it grow into a home for a community of practice? I also see it as a space that will evolve into a directory to highlight the best content at Penn State on iTunes U. I wonder what others would like to see?

Can it be compared to where we all were 10 years ago with the LMS/CMS decisions that we were facing? A lot of people set out to build their own, a lot of people just sort of hung back and waited, and a lot of people went out and bought WebCT, FirstClass, or whatever at the time. I’m not sure it is the same thing, but I have been through the, “let’s build our own solution” cycle too many times and with something as potentially complex (and popular) as this I have to ask myself if it is worth it. I would much rather be in the business of inspiring and supporting the appropriate use of technology for teaching and learning and leave the heavy lifting of designing, developing, and supporting enterprise applications to the big boys. At the end of the day I just hate it when something jumps up and bites me in the ass — for either building or buying. What is the right long term move? Good question …

4 thoughts on “iTunes U vs Roll Your Own

  1. With something like the Organic Groups module, your Drupal site can support user-created or institution-created groups as well. Want a podcast to be visible only to a class? Create a group and have all students enrolled in it… There must be a way to tie users and groups into your central user base so you don’t have to reproduce things.

  2. I find that ‘build your own’ solutions seem to work best in a smaller, more flexible environment than Penn State’s. It’s too big – you have various groups each doing their own thing and they overlap and conflict.

    There is also the issue of blindspots. While it might be nice to be able to develop exactly the app you want, you run the risk of missing bugs, security issues, etc. Not to mention having to pass that app from developer to developer as time goes on.

    Eric Aitala

  3. I really like the emphasis on “supporting the appropriate use of technology for teaching and learning” and your vision for Podcasts at Penn State. The community of practice is especially appealing for me — my inspiration for trying new approaches often comes from interacting with colleagues around problems of practice. Having an involved community — a committed group of faculty collaborating around an initiative — is a powerful mechanism for influencing meaningful change at a big place like Penn State. Looking forward to seeing where all of this goes. As always, your leadership and foresight are appreciated.

  4. Great post, great question. At UC Berkeley we do both. But our local podcast/webcast system ( has been running for 5 years so it’s a well-established project. I can appreciate you concern about YAS (btw, here we call it NAP: Not Another Project) at this early stage. If we didn’t already have our local site would be bother building one? Possibly not. iTunes U provides a major leg-up. Look what it’s done for Stanford and the other pilot schools.

    My opinion is that if you can afford the resources it’s worth having a local site as well. It allows for experimentation and innovation. You don’t rely on the release cycle of an external party. Some folks might feel more comfortable hosting/mirroring content on a local server. YOu have flexibility to integrate with other systems. Politically some might appreciate your being vendor or format agnostic (a minority perhaps, but vocal). Then there’s the self-reliance factor: not waiting on release cycles (though a great excuse to faculty and clients!) and what if, heaven forbid, the service goes away?

    Your local site has a darned good start, imo. It’s about having options. And room to play. Yeah, that’s it… play.

    Speaking of, dead-on about how it galvanizes a campus. Our iTunes site has created the “media gateway” we’ve always wanted. Technology aside, the iTunes platform is darned cool. Here’s another reason it’s nice to have both, they can be symbiotic.

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