Emory Report
August 27, 2007
Volume 60, Number 1

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August 27, 2007
Going Mobile: Becoming an iTunes U campus

Alan Cattier is the director of academic technology services in Academic and Administrative Information Technology.

This past summer, Emory University received an official contract from Apple Inc. inviting the institution to participate in Apple’s iTunes U initiative. Now two years old, this initiative aims to provide higher education institutions with a hosted repository for distributing digital content both on campus and off, depending on the institution’s preference. Emory is considering both.

iTunes U developed out of a program that was initially piloted at six schools: Brown, Duke, the Missouri School of Journalism, Stanford, the University of Michigan, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The underlying premise was fairly simple: given the enormous number of users of Apple’s iTunes software, and the fact that it is already used to manage individual collections of music, video, audiobooks and podcasts by connecting with Apple’s Music Store, why not expand the universe of content available to include types of content created at higher education institutions? This content might include digital recordings of classes, special lectures, poetry readings or play-by-play sports announcements.

The unique challenge presented in working with content from higher education, though, is that it is often appropriate for content to be shared with the larger public but in other cases, it’s completely inappropriate. To accommodate this situation, Apple developed the option of a custom portal for each participating institution. A “public” side of the portal is not restricted to the institution and offers visiting learners the ability to browse the digital material that is being shared. The “private” side of the portal is password restricted, and allows the institution to share content at a granular level: perhaps a class lecture or a key presentation on a strategic initiative. No one outside an approved list of users can see the content.

What the iTunes U portal makes possible is a broad sharing of digitally captured events across a campus where there are many more compelling events than there are hours to experience them in person. Plugging into the iTunes “ecosystem,” for example, a student can download captured class notes from a course when a second review of the material might make a concept clearer. In a similar vein, a faculty member who cannot attend a key lecture has the ability to view it online.

One possible misconception of Apple’s offering is that it is only targeted toward the iPod device. That is not the case. iTunes software functions equally well on PCs and Macs, and the files that are distributed through an iTunes U portal must be in the format of MP3s, MP4s or PDFs — all formats that are supported on any computer and nearly every portable device.

The success of an initiative like this depends on the ability to digitally capture events as they are occurring. Part of this is a technical challenge, and Emory’s Center for Interactive Teaching in Woodruff Library has been evaluating some best practices for simply and effectively capturing lectures and presentation. The other part is a legal challenge of distribution. A pilot group will form this fall to offer a set of guidelines on securing the rights for digital distribution. As it is offered, Apple’s infrastructure is only appropriate for copyrighted material where Emory is the copyright holder or where it has been assigned distribution rights. No digital rights management is available, and no revenue collection will be possible off of shared digital content.

What are other campuses doing with their iTunes U portals? On their public sites, many are offering selected lectures on timely topics that are shared with their alumni, and more broadly, the general public. Others are offering virtual tours where either an audio or video podcast provides a selected tour of a campus or a town. On their private sites, some are sharing musical performances by students where their compositions become available to a larger community. In departments, lab orientations are being filmed so that the material is always accessible for review. Even training materials have been developed that allow an end user to learn specific steps of using new software.

On May 30, Apple formally announced the availability of iTunes U at the iTunes Store. In the top left of the browser window, a new listing of “iTunes U” takes you to a portal where Apple aggregates the content that is being shared by all current iTunes U institutions. A quick glance reveals a fuller list of institutions with current public sites and a sample of their current offerings — Coach K from Duke, the Aurora Forum from Stanford, surgery ICU rounds from Vanderbilt.

iTunes U represents a unique opportunity for Emory. Not only does it offer our community an approach to more fully participate in the range of inspiring and exciting events around campus, but also offers Emory a virtual front door, which, along with the Web site, invites the digital traveler inside to see the best our community has to offer. For faculty and staff who are interested in keeping informed as this initiative develops, please e-mail iTunesU@emory.edu.