It’s Showtime at Apple, but …

There are reports all over the web about the iTunes Music Store being down in advance of Apple’s media event today … I’d discuss the rumors, but what is the point? We’ll know soon enough. What I am finding interesting and a little disturbing is that our Penn State at iTunes U space will not open either … I couldn’t get into Duke’s Fuqua on iTunes U site either, so I am assuming it isn’t local to us. Looks like while the real iTMS is down, so is access to our content.

I can understand at some level, but when you go to the standard iTMS you get some sort of message telling you it is down … our login doesn’t open iTunes at all … it just sits at the browser. Interesting. Some unsolicited advice on usability, provide some sort of feedback to the users that the site is down. It would also be appropriate to articulate the reason and the expected down time. With information like that faculty and students alike can understand.

Other than this, we have been extremely happy with our iTunes U site so far. All the credentials are working and faculty are starting to get their access emails. With that in mind, I hope Apple puts on one hell of a show today so that I can have a reason for the downtime to share.

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 …

iTunes U and ID3 Tags

We are getting closer and closer with our iTunes U implementation here at PSU.  We are a little late with it all, but will have a nice sized pilot for the Fall semester.  As we discovered last Spring, faculty are very interested in being able to protect their podcasts so only their students can see/hear them.  I wonder how much of this is thinking based on the years of LMS/CMS utilization?  At any rate, iTunes U gives us the option of making content open to the world, closed to a specific class, and a few other options in between.  It should make for an interesting pilot.

One thing we are doing as we get ready to open the doors is collect existing content from all sorts of sounrces all over campus.  We are talking to both Colleges and Administrative Units to make sure our iTunes U space doesn’t open as an empty shell.  It is actually a very good process as it requires us to go out and touch all corners of the University in an effort to get the best digital media out there.  Pulling in content has posed an interesting challenge however …

What we are discovering is that iTunes U uses the ID3 meta data for naming once you have completed uploading a file.  This makes it a pain as very few people actually attach meta data to the file before they hand them to us.  So once they hit the iTunes U space they have ugly file names and we can’t alter meta data once it is in there.  This has created an extra step in the process that is annoying to say the least — it requires us t obounce out of iTunes U, then import the files into iTunes itself to first add meta data, then locating the edited version, then renaming it, then returning to iTunes U, then going through the iTunes U form based upload process … it isn’t fun.

So, the big question I have is what is the best way to edit these tags without using iTunes?  Are there tools people are using to do this?

iTunes U List

iMixes for Education

Not too long ago I blogged about a great research briefing on how social preference was going to change the way people decided on and purchased songs in the eWorld. Tonight while chatting with Chris Millet, I started wondering how an iMix would work as a digital reading/watching/listening list … I think it is time to add a new question to the list.

New question to think about … can/do iMixes work in an iTunes U space? Are they exposed as links just like songs and podcasts? Would be great if it worked that way … I tried creating an iMix with video, podcasts, and a PDF file from the iTunes Podcast Directory and I got the message below:

iMix Sorry

Not promising, for now. If I could quickly create a playlist that turn into an iMix that can be easily linked in an iTunes U space I could do quite a bit. I did try exposing a URL from one of my iMixes and it seemed to work. See for yourself. At the end of the day, this could be a feature that could make this space even more promising.

iTunes U Follow Up: An Answered Question

The other day I posted some thoughts about where we are heading with both our podcasting and the iTunes U projects here at Penn State University. I haven’t gotten comments (other than 1), but I have gotten some email from people asking more about some stuff. One of the items we immediately set out to answer was the private and public content in the same iTunes U instance … we discovered that thankfully you can do both from one space!

As an example, if you jump over to Duke University’s School of Business you’ll see something interesting … when you click the link to launch iTunes U you’ll notice you come into the site a couple of steps down the breadtrail. If you try to follow the breadtrail back out to the “main” Duke iTunes U space you are kicked back out the web to authenticate with your Duke credentials. That is very cool. It makes our lives on campus so much easier — we get to run one instance and expose some materials we’d really like to share widely without putting our private content into the wrong hands. So, there is one question answered.

Duke iTunes U

Podcasting at a Big Univeristy and iTunes U Thoughts

Podcasting at Penn State is getting closer and closer … we’ve worked very hard since January to provide an end to end podcasting opportunity that supports both in and out of the classroom activities. In the last few weeks we’ve gotten quite a few pieces of the puzzle figured out … our podium machines are getting Audacity, LAME encoder, and potentially ProfCast (for the Macs). That is in addition to the standard and growing suite of audio tools currently installed in all of our classrooms and labs. Wireless microphones are coming in to support this activity as well. We are launching a call for participation program next week that we hope will get faculty engaged. Both our Faculty Multimedia Center and student centered, Studio 204 are gearing to help get people moving as well. All in all, things are moving fast as we race towards Fall.

In addition to all that, we are getting closer and closer to testing iTunes U here on our campus. With that in mind, I thought I’d jot down some of the major questions I am getting as I am sharing the news with people. I get asked some basic questions from faculty and staff every time I start the iTunes U discussion. We will be maintaining our public podcasting site as a portal to open and free PSU content as well as a big front door to iTunes U on our campus. The big questions I hear going in look something like:

  • Can we have both public and private content in our our single iTunes U implementation? You know, I have heard a couple of different takes on this and am very interested in seeing this in action. There is so much content that we would want open to the public while keeping a bunch of other items closed. We did a very limited pilot this past Spring and there were some serious concerns about posting lecture-based podcasts in the open. The single biggest concern was that the microphone would pick up some sort of private conversation between instructor and student — a real concern. I am hopeful that we can simply designate certain areas open and certain areas private … that would make life much easier.
  • How will iTunes U play with our CMS, ANGEL? For now I am telling people that every space in our iTunes U space can expose a URL that will allow instructors to easily provide a direct link to the space itself. I think for the first few months that is the direction we’ll explore. After we get our ideas straight and really understand how it all works, I am guessing we’ll explore a greater level of integration with ANGEL. Imagine tools in ANGEL that allow instructors to manage much of their iTunes U spaces without jumping around different environments.
  • How easy will it be for faculty to use? I have no idea … I am assuming it is very easy, but time will tell. I’ll be able to report on that soon enough. For now, from what I have seen there will be a small learning curve, but once it is climbed we should be OK. We have amazing adoption of ANGEL on our campus, but that took time. I am expecting that this will take time as well. I doubt we’ll have explosive use of the service without solid programmatic initiatives in specific Colleges and disciplines. In the early going that is what we will focus on — getting specific partners moving and see what we learn from there.
  • What kind of content can be delivered? This to me is the exciting part of the whole thing … instructors can use the space to deliver audio, video, and PDF documents. When I get to that part in my discussions with people I can see light bulbs going on. Once they get the whole subscription model, the next thing they get is that things they want their students to get just show up. If managed correctly, this could have profound effects on efficiencies in the classroom. Imagine not having to worry if your students get their feedback, assignments, or whatever it is you currently push around via email or LMS/CMS? That is a powerful thing … it also gives us the chance to look at how an iTunes U space can be a dynamic syllabus environment.
  • Does it support teams? No idea, but I seriously doubt you can make certain tabs and spaces private to sub-groups within a class. We shall see.

So there’s a quick brain dump to get me back on the blogging bandwagon. I have been off for a week or so … been crazy busy and dealing with some things that have sapped my writing energy. Any thoughts from people out there about these questions or have questions of your own?

ProfCast Thoughts … The Podcast

After I posted about the missing podcasting link last week I got a couple of comments asking for my ProfCast thoughts … I am not going to do an all out review, but instead thought I’d share my thoughts as a Podcast … surprisingly not using ProfCast. Not that it isn’t a good tool, its just I needed to edit it a bit and that is the big hang up with that tool for me right now. I did have a chance to speak to the founder of the company that makes ProfCast and he assured me that good things are coming.

At any rate, take a listen to the podcast … it is only about 13 minutes long and weighs in around 7 MB.

iTunes U … Finally … Almost

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.