A *really* open university

Have you heard of iTunes U? Well, if you are interested in learning in innovative ways, you should have a look. You can read about it here, but the basic concept is that universities can upload content for distribution on iTunes, generally for free. You will need to have iTunes (which is also free), but that’s all. On the front page of the iTunes Store, scroll to the bottom where you will find a link to iTunes U, and after that you are right into the content. I have gone straight into the ‘Saturday Scholars’ programme of Notre Dame University, and am finding it really interesting. And very appropriately there is something from the UK’s Open University being featured there as well.

Right now what you find here is free content, much of it fairly random, that major institutions are making available on this platform. But of course the obvious question immediately is: might this be the future, or at least a future, of higher education? Could this be a platform for online accredited education, so that while today you may just be availing of interesting information and knowledge here, tomorrow you may be using this platform to get a BA (or whatever) degree.

Of course online elearning is hardly new, but what makes this interesting is that it is being promoted by the very market-savvy Apple Inc. Big university elearning initiatives have more often than not failed. But maybe this is different. If it is, we may of course get worried quickly about the dominant status of Apple in such an endeavour, but for now we might just look at the potential.

I remain of the view that the desire of people for a campus, classroom experience will continue to drive students into physical university spaces, though no doubt using more and more new technology while there. But there will always be some for whom that is not an ideal or possible choice, and for them this may be heralding a new framework. We’ll have to wait and see.

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12 Comments on “A *really* open university”

  1. Vincent Says:

    Hmmmmmmmm, but what about those people that have had their study overtaken by events, computers for instance. Surely, having had one three year stint as you so euphemistically put it,’to drive students into physical university spaces’, it might be far safer for all concerned that visits to a campus be kept to a minimum.

  2. Donal_C Says:

    Apple is definitely deepening its relationships with academia. Last year, Joel Podolny left his position as dean of Yale University’s management school to join “Apple University.” Until then, he had been considered a very serious academic, a sociologist by training and previously tenured at Stanford. What’s more, last week I saw a call for submissions to a special issue of a journal. One of the editors of the issue is Podolny whose affiliation is listed as Apple.

    In one of the graduate schools I know, all students are provided with iPods so that they can review their lectures, about 50% of which are recorded.

  3. Iainmacl Says:

    iTunes U is actually the tip of the iceberg for lots of these things. There has been a long tradition over the years of making materials like this publicly available, including Berkeley’s webcasts of interviews with visiting scholars. There are a wide range of sites online which harvest and gather recordings from universities and other organisations and lots of discussion about it in, for example, recent articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education (including last week’s issue which features examples of people using such materials for their own self-education), Educause Review, etc. YouTube also has its own EDU section (http://www.youtube.com/education?b=1 ) which is expanding and even before iTunes U, the normal iTunes store’s podcast section was bristling with higher education content. the U part is mainly used by institutions as a marketing/promotional tool, with more routine lecture recordings, etc, accessible only to registered students.

    Or look at the Indian Institutes’ of Technology lecture series (http://www.youtube.com/user/nptelhrd?blend=3&ob=4 ) !!

    If you want some interesting talks to listen to, also have a peek at the Vision series offered by the RSA. http://www.thersa.org/events/vision

  4. Richard Says:

    Academic Earth (http://academicearth.org/) is another good source for free online lectures – video in this case. Much like iTunes U, I’ve watched a couple of lectures with the best of intentions for self-improvement, but ‘dropped out’ within a week or two. Easy come, easy go, I guess.

  5. Aidan Says:

    I did an MBA where a few modules were on-line and I have to say that I enjoyed the learning experience. It takes away from the social and networking part of learning but it definitely has its place.
    What I like about downloadable content is the portability. Right now I am learning Italian. I have one class a week which is quite slow but it is nice to meet other learners. I don’t get frustrated because I listen to a lot of additional podcast materials on my own which are supported by class notes (normally you have to pay though). I find that the physical class is a focal point that inspires me to learn more on my own, it is also a benchmark for my progress.
    I have reviewed lots of materials from Open Courseware including MIT coures on Materials Science and Japanese. To be honest the materials I have read have not so user friendly. Basically they are not necessarily designed for private consumption. Universities that specialize in direct learning get very good at it and I think that some traditional universities could benefit from teaming up with them.

  6. Niall Says:

    Online learning from the likes of iTunesU can supplement lectures for students unable (or who prefer not) to attend. They can also act as a useful revision aid. Purely distance learning students need to be highly self-motivated to keep studying for a qualification over a long period. While studying iTunesU, MIT or OU materials online may be informative, it does not give you that degree!

    Putting existing lecture materials online rarely provides a good online experience. Materials should be designed for self-study and be supported by online tutors.

  7. Thomas Says:

    The way that elearning is taking is a really good one. Many Universities already started to upload some lectures on their homepage, but with “centralised” systems such as iTunes, they can reach far more people, the “broad-masses” so to say. I am also not worried about the major role that Apple is playing at the moment, because I am sure, when elearning-videocasts start hyping, other major players such as Google or Microsoft will also jump on that train.

    I really like those videocasts because you are able to see whats going on at Universities like Stanford (I do like the iPhone Programming Videocast series) or other “Elite” Universities. But I generally doubt that it will be a useful way to do a degree with mainly elearning because the lecture isn’t interactive anymore. If you have any questions you need to hope that any student will ask that question. But maybe some Universities will set up a Video-Conferencing System (10 years?, 20 years?) where the interaction between students and lecturer is established again, to solve that problem. I think that would be especially fine for guest lectures.

  8. kevin denny Says:

    Harvard have put online a set of lectures on Justice. A really nice production.


  9. [...] 21, 2009 · Leave a Comment Ferdinand von Prondzynski, President of Dublin City University, has a new post on open learning. Von Prondzynski points to [...]


  10. I think that iTunes U really is just one of the things that is starting to get people thinking about how we can re-conceive the experience of university.

    Like many of the better open learning spaces currently being developed it enables people to dip in and out of education as and when they need it. It also enables people to search out the best content that suits them.

    I imagine over the next few years we’ll start to see more people learning for fun and engaging with universities through open content and shared resources. The sharper institutions will recognise this and find ways to reward and accredit people who choose to learn in this way. Given that there are relatively few alternatives to expensive degrees I think that its about time too.

  11. megan Says:

    Peter, Think you hit the nail squarely on the head. Most students get part time jobs ans starve their way through uni, and its a drag, i tunes will not go away and will thrive


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