Singing the Praises of Education

Singing the Praises of Education

For years, many UC Davis faculty members have recorded their lectures onto trusted, albeit now outmoded audiocassettes and made them available for students to check out. New technology and emerging corporate partnership options are presenting new opportunities for how lectures-on-demand, via the Internet, might benefit education.

At the beginning of this year, iTunes U, a partnership between Apple and a handful of universities around the country, began distributing lectures and other academic recordings online exclusively through Apple's iTunes. Around the same time, the pilot program began acquiring national attention, Bob Ono, UC Davis' IT Security Coordinator, made an inquiry to Apple regarding iTunes U and the possibility of UC Davis creating its own program.

The iTunes U Program

In the simplest of terms, the iTunes U interface is much like Apple's popular iTunes Music Store, but without the 99-cent fee for downloads. The iTunes U software organizes a university's audio, text, and multimedia files and makes them available to faculty and students at no charge. Using the free iTunes U software, students can download content to their PCs or Macintoshes. They can then listen or view the content from their computers, or transfer that content to an iPod. Everything from slides and PowerPoint presentations to recorded lectures, and videos of featured guest speakers can be made available online through iTunes U.

UC Davis Workgroup

A group of university members met recently to start addressing the pros and cons of iTunes U and ask questions that focus on UC Davis-specific needs. How would UC Davis benefit from a partnership with Apple? How will faculty react to iTunes U? How would students and faculty benefit from iTunes U in ways that pocasting and the MyUCDavis portal may not provide? What are the copyright issues? Are UC Davis students "digital natives," (as a University of Mic higan official called his own university's students) and would they take advantage of lectures online? Will students continue to show up for classes or would iTunes U instigate a drop in attendance? Even though iTunes U is free, would it create incentive and monetary pressure on students to buy iPods?

Evidence suggests that students would welcome and benefit from iTunes U. A pilot project conducted this past fall showed a student demand for audio recordings of lectures online. (See below, left.) Liz Gibson, director of Mediaworks and head of the workgroup, agrees with iTunes U's potential for enhancing teaching and learning. "The ability to easily obtain quality audio recordings of lectures is a tremendous study tool for students. Students often miss key points when taking notes or copying diagrams off the board. To sit back, listen, and absorb the content during the lecture, and then go back and take notes from these recordings is a tremendous learning opportunity that will come to the campus at a minimum cost to us."

Regarding the possibility of a drop in student attendance, Gibson goes on to say, "Those students who choose to skip a lecture on the basis of a recording, will only be hurting themselves, and will quickly learn that it is not nearly the full learning experience that they truly need and should come to expect."

For Bob Ono, an additional advantage to iTunes U's potential educational value lies in its ability to direct students towards choosing legal downloads, like those from the iTunes Music Store, over music and movies obtained illegally.

Stay Tuned...

While a couple of iTunes U pilot programs have been initiated with other campuses, an official agreement drafted by Apple is still in the works, and if UC Davis participates, the campus would be one of the first fully licensed under the iTunes U system. UC Davis has begun the application process, so a final decision on iTunes U still awaits a verdict. Numero us questions and issues need addressing, and the agreement presented by Apple will help shape the group's decision in April. For more information on the iTunes U task force, please contact Liz Gibson at 752-3777 or email her at