We’ve quietly gone live as the first public institution in Oregon to have a presence on iTunes U. But I won’t go too far in claiming that we are way ahead of the curve on this one. Other institutions have been up and running for years. Still, it’s an important part of an overall move to expanding our overall Web presence.
iTunes U has a specific function that is different from other online video sharing sites. It is designed to allow users to download audio and video files to a hard drive or device. It’s a different style of video use and programming. For example, a standard iPod comes with an output for television, so files can be played on a large screen. Or some users will take their mp3 player in their car and listen to files during a morning commute or while jogging. Portability is the main difference between this and other video sharing sites.
Another main difference is that iTunes plays in its own client rather than a standard Web browser. While this may be seen as a limitation, the advantage lies in the fact that there are many users who are already using the iTunes client to download their audio. I’ve been using it for years to gather audio for road trips.
One great advantage for iTunes is that it ingests RSS. The upcoming Media Manager tool that CWS is building for collecting and deploying video on our campus Web sites (including Drupal sites) produces RSS that can feed right into iTunes. So you could create an iTunes course and feed it directly by uploading video into the Media Manager tool for your OSU site…you just have one place to upload files.
iTunes U is currently designed for public access. It’s just part of a suite of online video delivery that includes YouTube and the campus Media Manager. But it has paid dividends for other institutions using iTunes. I’ve heard anecdotes about students screening their instructors on iTunes, looking for lecturers that engage them, and thus courses publishing content on iTunes filled up faster. In one case, a generous donor who had been downloading psychology lectures gifted seven figures to the department so that they could put all of their courses online. He was neither an alum or parent, but just someone who was listening to the lectures for his own benefit.
ITunes U is primarily designed for outreach and marketing, a venue for gaining exposure for your content. It can serve a very functional role in allowing you to deliver content effectively to your audience via subscription and an automated download process enabled by the iTunes client. Whatever you need, this service can help you use the Web to make an end-run around traditional media outlets for audio and video, and I’m glad we’re now a player in this space.