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News articles of interest to higher education LLAS subject fields.

Friday 15 March 2013

Do you engage with iTunesU?

iTunesU is an area within Apple iTunes which allows institutions to create accounts and publish their own, branded educational content. It is a place to showcase excellence in education through the open publication of teaching resources. We, at LLAS, have recently been involved in the HEA-funded ‘iTunes and You’ project, where  we have taken existing open educational materials published for research and teaching by humanities staff at the University of Southampton, and worked with the university marketing department to repackage them as learning modules in the form of iTunesU course packages. This is a new way of presenting content through the University’s iTunes site and offers a model of engagement for academics to showcase and package their research and teaching work in appealing ways to a broad, global audience.

iTunesU is often seen as exclusively for high-quality video or audio recordings and it can be an intimidating place for researchers and teachers to consider when wishing to publish their work openly. The iTunes and You project has clarified and demystified the process for staff and provided clear guidance material to assist them in understanding how to publish their work in this way. In addition, the project has created an exemplar model of how nuggets of related research and teaching materials can be packaged as mini, bite-sized modules of learning and published with coherence through the iTunesU site (and other OER-sharing platforms).

A key aspect of the project has been to demonstrate that materials created for one particular discipline and educational context (Spanish language, migration studies) has wide applicability across the humanities and to a range of audiences in different parts of the world. OERs used for this project have been published by Southampton as part of the JISC-funded OpenLIVES project. The material consists of oral testimonies collected from Spanish migrants, and includes images, learning objects, and various teaching materials. Materials are in Spanish and English. Click on the link below to see the materials on iTunes:

Some of our key findings are:

Engagement with iTunesU can be effective if part of a ‘holistic approach’ to publishing open content. Our analysis of iTunesU content and site management revealed that it has advantages and limitations as a site for publishing open content. Its advantages include its reach to an international audience, its high production values (as a website), its value as a promotional site, and its reputation and requirement for high quality materials. It also has limitations as a site for publishing open content: there is limited facility for the addition and display of metadata on each file; iTunesU is hidden from principal search engines; use of the site is dependent on installation of Apple iTunes (this is possible at the University of Southampton only on request from our central IT services); management of the site requires staff dedicated to this purpose; there are perceptions amongst staff that iTunes is for audio and video material only, and that the site is only for hosting material of exceptionally high quality (which puts-off potential depositors). This mix of advantages and limitations means that iTunesU is perhaps best used as part of a ‘holistic’ OER approach, which would include promotion and use of other sharing sites, such as public social networking sites like YouTube and Flickr, as well as academic repositories like Jorum or HumBox. The high quality and promotional aspects of iTunes are important ways of raising awareness internationally about UK HE and UK HE resources and staff, and therefore should be part of any ‘open access toolkit’ in an institution.

Publishing on iTunesU offers a more supported way of engaging with open practice because users can make use of established university systems to help them navigate their way through issues around publishing open content. For example, most institutions have lecture-recording software widely available which facilitates the easy capture of content suitable for publication on iTunes. From our experience, material intended to go on to an iTunesU site is moderated for quality and copyright issues by another university staff member before being shared on the site, which offers reassurance to depositors fearful of infringing copyright, or doubtful over the value of the material (fears which are often noted as barriers to sharing).

iTunesU would benefit from more readily accessible web statistics. The key argument in promoting use of iTunes to staff and senior management is that it has impact demonstrable by web statistics. If Apple were to create an ‘administrator interface’ which gave access to a variety of download statistics, along the lines of Google Analytics, this would improve its take-up and impact with potential users.

Use of iTunesU has advantages and disadvantages for the sharing of open content; however, it is an important tool for publishing a range of different OERs and promoting the excellence of UK HE internationally. Effective use of the site requires active institutional support, encouragement and guidance, and we suggest that it is best used as part of a range of methods of engagement with OERs.

We would like to hear from you and your experience of iTunesU. Leave a comment below or contact us at llas@soton.ac.uk.

Kate Borthwick
LLAS Centre for languages, linguistics and area studies

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