The meeting with the Apple folks went well yesterday. As you might imagine, iTunes U appears quite simple to use. After all, it is really not much more than a means for distributing media files. The challenge, as always, lies in the production of media. In pedagogic terms that means the following:
- having something to say: this generally isn’t a problem for academics, particularly in the context of a course.
- having a pedagogic strategy: that is, an understanding of how this piece of media contributes to the overall learning experience of the course.
- producing the content: which is clearly different, though related, to the first two. It means having the ability (or support staff with the ability) to produce image, audio, video, and other media.
Apple wisely has a hands off approach to much of this, leaving it to individual institutions and faculty to determine how to use the technology. However, it is clear that the easiest path into this business is recording and podcasting lectures, as I’ve already discussed. Obviously, the professor already has something to say; the production issue is quite simple and can possibly be delegated to a work study student; and if the pedagogy aspect is a little weak, at least something can be said for students having the ability to review lectures.
Now my idea is to produce enhanced podcasts (mpeg-4 files) with slides and audio, as well as video, and perhaps to also podcast more interactive flash media, even though the last would have to be experienced on a computer rather than an iPod. The second part is to have informal audio and video communication. Students can post individual audio/video. We can record a skypecast or an iChat or something similar if we are doing synchronous communication. We can record in-class discussion as far as that goes. While you might not want to listen to every class, a student, for example, might want to revisit a class workshop on his or her short story or poem or whatever. The final part is to have students share more formal productions, likely group efforts.
However, I am beginning to see (which should have been obvious) that the ultimate value of iTunes University, particularly from a student experience, is the scale of its implementation in the curriculum. One course, regardless of how well-produced, will be a curiousity at best, and often an annoyance, especially if students feel forced to purchase an iPod for one class (which we would never do, but they might feel that way anyway). An iPod is never necessary for accessing the content, but it does substantially contribute to the overall experience. And my understanding is that a big part of what students like about iTunes U comes from the integration of the iPod.
So while I will continue to value for myself and my classes the idea of producing quality media and uncovering various new ways to use these tools for learning, it is more important for the institutional success of the program to get a lot of courses on board at whatever level they are willing to invest, with recording and podcasting lectures a virtual no-brainer.
For good or for bad, that entry-level model will not work in Professional Writing because we don’t do much formal lecturing. Our courses often work on the class discussion or workshop format. And I obviously wouldn’t change that, nor do I think it is necessary. I firmly believe new media supports a constructivist pedagogic approach. While, as I wrote earlier, I believe the effort of producing a/v, at least initially, will make it a challenge to adopt, in Professional Writing we have an alternative motive. We recognize that these communicational practices are becoming integral to the cultural and workplace discourses in which our students will pursue their careers. So for us, using these technologies is not simply a means to some other pedagogic end; learning to compose rhetorically effective new media is a primary goal of our curriculum.
As such, though I need to confer further with my two PWR colleagues on this matter, I hope to annouce soon that we will integrate iTunes/iPods across our curriculum, that we can say to our majors that at least half of their courses in our major will include podcast content. Obviously I think it will be an attractive, marketing-type feature of our program. However I also firmly believe that working with emerging media is integral to our discipline. I wouldn’t pursue it otherwise.