iTunes U evolving into teacher resource

Educators are turning to iTunes U for lecture and homework ideas.
Educators are turning to iTunes U for lecture and homework ideas.

iTunes University’s role in higher education has changed from a platform for lecture videos to a source for homework, quiz, and lesson ideas for professors in search of new ways to teach old subjects.

Since its launch in 2007, universities and colleges of all sizes have uploaded audio and video content to iTunes U, which now boasts more than 200,000 educational files. Students at some schools use iTunes daily to watch and review faculty lectures, but professors say the site also has become a critical source for lesson planning.

“It’s a perfect way to look for and find ideas [for lectures],” said Janet Hinz, an adjunct professor at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, where she teaches writing and communications courses. “There’s a lot to search from, and a lot of it helps.”

Perusing through iTunes U lectures, Hinz said, helped her formulate a new homework assignment for a lesson on the history of radio this year. With a little prompting from video lectures, Hinz created an assignment that had students listen to a radio program for 30 minutes and document how the station promoted itself and attracted listeners, how many commercials were broadcast, and what those commercials were advertising.

“You can see how others are teaching the topic” without copying exact lesson plans posted to iTunes, she said. “It can be a fantastic tool.”

While iTunes U has become a cache for professors looking for fresh lecture and homework ideas, experts have seen another way universities have used the site in the past year: as an advertisement for what kind of research is being conducted.

“[University officials] are not so much interested in connecting with a student, but a wider community to let people know what’s going on at a university,” said Tim Lorang, an executive partner for Seattle-based Image Media Partners, a company that consults digital developers.

Lorang, who worked as a production manager at the University of Washington’s UWTV for 24 years, said posting online content touting the latest in campus research–especially for projects that use hundreds of thousands or millions in taxpayer money–has become a common practice for major research universities.

“It gives educators and academics an opportunity to share their knowledge outside of the academy,” Lorang said. “Especially those academics and researchers whose work depends upon public and government grants owe this information to the general public.  It is an opportunity to share with their funders.”

Colleges have begun using iTunes U as an advertising platform largely because officials were finding that lecture videos weren’t getting the tens or hundreds of thousands of hits a YouTube video might receive, Lorang said. And even when users clicked on lecture videos, they only watched for a few minutes before scrolling to the next audio or video file.

“It takes dedication to watch an hour-long lecture online,” he said, adding that despite growing faculty use of iTune U, some educators hesitate to recommend video and audio files because vetting can be a timely process.

“Most teachers do not have the time to search, watch, and evaluate the video content on their own, so they do not recommend videos to their students,” Lorang said.

iTunes U has gained academic credibility since its inception two years ago. The site’s reputation has been bolstered by research that shows students perform better in the classroom when they have the ability to rewind lecture videos and podcasts, rather than furiously jot down notes and miss key points during an in-person lecture.

A study released last March showed that students who watched a lecture podcast–available from the iTunes U online video library–scored an average of 71 percent on a post-lecture quiz. Students who sat through the 30-minute classroom lecture in person scored an average of 62 percent, according to the study.

The study, “iTunes University and the Classroom: Can Podcasts Replace Professors?,” was conducted at the State University of New York Fredonia. It called for some introductory psychology students to watch a recorded lecture available online and others to attend a traditional classroom lecture.

Dani McKinney, the study’s lead researcher, said test scores were most dramatically affected by note taking. Students who watched the video lecture and took notes, McKinney said, scored an average of 15 points higher than their peers in the lecture hall.

Most Fredonia students did not “take advantage of the mobility of the podcast,” according to the research. Only about 20 percent of students said they watched the podcast lecture on a mobile device, while 80 percent watched the iTunes download on their laptops. Five percent of participants had listened to a podcast before, and no one had ever listened to a lecture podcast, according to the study.


iTunes University

Image Media Partners

Cardinal Stritch University

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