preparing for itunes university

The folks from Apple will be on campus on Monday meeting with those of us who are spearheading Cortland’s involvement with iTunes University. It doesn’t seem like discussion on the web has shifted much since I last addressed this issue.

Those who are skeptical or more strongly opposed to the idea reject iTunes U as some kind of profit-generating/advertising/marketing scheme

  • are concerned the service encourages students to skip class
  • believe that recorded lectures are not as valuable as live lectures
  • believe that it makes the mistake of equating course content with teaching/learning

Those who are excited

  • cite tbe convenience for students
  • note the benefits of being able to review lectures, catch lectures they missed for legitimate reasons, and/or access courses in which they are not enrolled
  • recognize the importance of connecting with the technopractices of their students

I suppose both sides have “points.” The whole “corporations are evil” thing is a little trite for my tastes, at least for this post. As for the other business, both pro and con, it all seems to center on some form of coursecasting or another. That is, the presumption is that the podcasts would be recordings of regularly presented lectures.

Coursecasting, then seems to be the primary interest here. In this context, faculty may look to produce relatively polished media and/or integrate published media. These are products that would likely serve as a substitute for traditional course content, either lectures or readings. They would also be fairly labor-intensive to produce. Inasmuch as one imagines students with video iPods, there is some convenience, but that would have to be balanced against the labor of their production and the change in practices it would require of faculty. It is for this reason that coursecasting seems a more attractive (and likely) product: it doesn’t require faculty to do anything different than what they are already doing.

The second obvious avenue for podcasting is in courses where video or audio might already be used and/or where there addition clearly adds value. These would obviously include courses in video and audio production and new media. They might also include foreign language classes, student teaching, phys. ed. (where they are studying body movements), and I’m sure there are others. My courses are included in here as my students are learning to produce and communicate through new media.

In my estimation, the conversation about these two possibilities do little to alter the traditional teacher-student relationship. Overwhelming the flow of media is from teacher to student. There is a modicum of student-to-student sharing, analogous with workshopping rough drafts of papers. And there is student-to-teacher communication for the purpose of evaluation.

However, I am also interested in the idea of the informal media where the flow of information shifts. This shift relies on informality because formal media is too labor intensive for regular communication. That is, if formally produced media are analogous to the lecture or the student essay, then informal media would be the equivalent of a blog post or comment or wiki entry. I am curious to see if this will happen. For example, we read an essay or watch some media, then I post an audio file or a talking head video making some comment or raising a question, just as I might normally do in text. The students then reply in audio or video, equally informally. So here are questions I expect to find some answers to next year:

  • Will they do that?
  • Will they find it interesting or an inconvenience?
  • Will the switch in media make their responses more or less considered?
  • Will students (and faculty) compose and revise in text and then record A/V or will they speak of the cuff? (or will they oscillate between the two modes depending on mood, rhetorical purpose, audience?)

 

5 thoughts on “preparing for itunes university

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  1. Okay, here’s my quick take on the use of podcasting: as you say, the customary, anticipated application would be the delivery of lecture content outside of the classroom. But then that’s uni-directional and not very pedagogically dialogic, as you note the teacher-student relationship or learning dynamic is neglected in that scenario. Yet to make it dialogic, would require students to formulate their own podcasts in response to an exercise — sort of making podcasting technology the new intermediary between student and teacher, as either an alternative or a replacement for pen/paper, email or face/face interactions. And that, as I understand you, inevitably raises issues of efficiency or inconvenience — because if it entails more labor than discussing in a classroom/office or writing, that inevitably defeats the primary purpose of technology in the first place — to make life easier and more efficient.
    Okay, and that summarized, here’s my take: my familiarity with ITunes is that it’s primary purpose thus far has been to deliver *creative* content — and creative/interpretive are collapsible there — and thereby bypass the traditional avenues of distribution such as radio stations, television stations and brick-mortar stores. Itunes potentially renders those venues obsolete insofar as those venues have always been uni-directional when delivering creative content — except for talk radio on occasion and that’s another content — er, product — that is not easily transferrable to Itunes. And part of the attraction of Itunes resides in its time-saving, efficiency potential — no more any need to journey out to the music store or program one’s life around a television/radio program. On the other end, the technology is incredibly attractive to creative artists, including musicians, and oratorial editorialists who delight at no longer being constrained by the traditional venues and their filtering practices. So, insofar as the technology serves human freedom, mobility and creativity, it is attractive — and lucrative for Apple Corp.
    The problem here seems to reside in the reality that like talk radio, pedagogy, insofar as it is dialogic, is much more of an improvised *experience* than it is a *product*, and I cannot help but think of Barlow here and his observations in “The Economy of Ideas” — and the value of that experience exists in the direct and unrepeatable interaction between performer and audience. Thus, the GD will give away their music on the internet while charging for performances — folks still value the opportunity to be in the GD’s presence and experience their performance. And in a way, universities — or the thriving marketing branches of universities — intuitively understand that concept and realize that in order to survive in the internet age of free information, what they must do in order to survive is literally sell an overall educational *experience* — and direct, improvised interaction with professors and other students is the key part of that experience. I mean, the imbalanced, tiered hierarchies of the professoriate serve well-endowed universities really well in that regard — i.e., come to our university and you can learn in the authentic presence of this celebrity faculty member uniquely residing at our institution. And I guess my observation here is that using Itunes to mediate that experience or improvised interaction — or to eliminate the need for direct, spontaneous — *creative* — interaction and presence — is not only potentially inefficient but it also potentially strikes at the most viable remaining selling point of universities — or exposes that selling point — and on the other hand, reveals the irreducibility of learning to a containable product/object and that (hopefully) something more creative and generative happens during the pedagogical exchange that cannot be reduced to information packets mechanically moving back and forth between professor and student. I mean, the concept does seem to hypothetically eliminate the presence of other students from the learning process — and being in the presence of other audience members can be just as valuable as being in the presence of a single performer.
    I guess what I am saying is that shouldn’t podcasts in academia be used in the spirit of what has propelled the public desire for Itunes and its popularity? — not so as to create an oral response for professorial evaluation or to replace other tokens of evaluation/exchange but to actually create a communicative product that exhibits imaginative synthesization of the course materials — not necessarily for evaluation but as an articulation of *perspective* (see Barlow on that) and as contributing to the development and aggregation of perspective through creatively reassembling and framing those materials — in other words, something for the students to bring back into the classroom — not just the professor — like a final, holistic — even performative — project, for other students and teacher to then *experience* and learn from. That would seem to allow students a different, more creative, less tedious/inefficient relationship to the technology.
    Anyway, that’s my too many cents — and just to say, there’s always distribution services like Odeo instead of Itunes. I mean, Apple has always been a savvy marketer to the impressionable young in schools since the 1980’s so nothing new with this ITunes technique.

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  2. Many good points here, c-m.
    1. I agree about universities recognizing that higher education is not about “content.” MIT has been giving away content for some time. Berkeley’s iTunes U site is open to the public. Schools of that ilk realize students don’t pay them for the content, they pay them for the degree. As such, it’s a little different from the relationship between downloading a band’s music and going to a concert. To continue the analogy, college is all about getting the concert t-shirt.
    2. No doubt the “problem” with iTunes model, at least from my POV, is its tendency to reinforce the banking model of education. To the extent that we can imagine good reasons for lectures, I think we can imagine good reasons to record them and make them easy to access for students. So the issue there is with the practice of lecturing moreso than with iTunes itself.
    3. Finally, I agree that we do need to pursue some new mode of student-teacher interaction here, and it makes sense that it should build upon the lessons of podcasting. After all, iTunes U is really nothing more than a way for a college to centralize campus podcasting and make fuller use of the advantages of the iTunes application, the user experience of iPods, and the support of Apple.
    Podcasting, as c-m writes, is an opportunity for expression outside traditional media avenues and the various rules/conditions they place on discourse (much like blogging, after all). If one uses iTunes as a prof to pose a question with the expectation of each student responding orally to the question, then that’s not much better than lecture delivery (from my pedagogic standpoint). It’s also not that different than doing the same thing textually in a blog or on a CMS. Sure, as a prof, you sometimes have to pose questions to try to get discussion moving. But the idea is always that the students will talk to one another (just like in the classroom, right?).
    I like the idea of students producing “imaginative synthesizations” of course materials as c-m describes. That might be a more formal type of project.
    However, I also like the idea of looking on the collective product of “informal” podcasts as a different type of holistic production.
    As with most things online, it’s not about a single post or podcast or wiki entry or comment or tag; it’s about the value that accrues with scale.

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  3. Alex:
    As I’ve promoted the concept of podcasting on my campus, I have consciously steered the discussion away from coursecasting. Not because of any fear that students will all stay in bed rather than coming to hear a 55 minute lecture; I’m sure they do that now if they feel the content isn’t compelling, or that they can pass the class without sitting through endless monologues. Some advocates such as Margaret Maag provide evidence that students do use the coursecasts as a reference aid in studying. I would argue that there’s greater utility in using podcasting to bring in alternate “authority” voices (ie; guest lecturers or subject matter experts) who because of time and distance barriers can’t be in the class in real-time. I also think there are intriguing possibilities in social podcasting – giving the class a collective voice to engage in a dialogue via a group podcast. This may play out well in online courses, giving students the opportunity to give actual voice to their thoughts and understanding.
    There are concerns about this last approach in terms of the cognitive load inherent in figuring out how to use the technology. Alternatives such as AudioBlogger make the process transparent to the student; my primary concern with such a mechanism is that (a)it costs the student money for each phone call/audio post and (b)it creates a rather static archive housed in a blog. There are other approaches such as Odeo’s web-based audio recorder that make the process a bit more transparent to the student. I’d be interested in hearing from other campuses who are grappling with how to make the student a content producer.
    Greg Ketcham

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  4. Thanks Greg. I think you make a great point about using podcasting to bring in other voices. Rather than facing the expense of bringing someone to campus you could record a phone interview or even video if you have the capability. Students who were available could be part of the real time conversation. The rest would have the podcast.
    I share your concerns about the technology. One of the good things about iTunes U is that it is free to the students and uses an easy interface with which many are already familiar. However, that doesn’t solve the problem of content production in the first place. (If they were all Mac users then it would be easy with Garage Band and the Mac’s built-in microphone.)
    I guess my answer in part is to try to look beyond a single class. If I can build podcasting across our Professional Writing curriculum, which is our plan, then the effort spent in learning to produce audio content is paid back in many future courses. On the other hand, if it’s a one-course deal then it becomes a more difficult cost-benefit decision.

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  5. A company called Meedu is offering an automated podcast creation appliance for use in university settings:
    http://meedu.org/
    If there is sufficient resistance to the proprietary lock-in of iTunes U, or the labor involved in creating audio media, Meedu would serve as a good alternative.

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