There’s a good discussion on iTunes U going on in the bark back (comments) section over at Alan’s place, where the honorable CogDog detects a wee bit of passion in my own continuing response to iTunes U. Rather than leave another comment, I want to point readers to the comment thread and place my response here.
Alan asks, “where is the assumption that Apple *should* be giving away completely open hosting via a successful set up?” Good question. I don’t have such an assumption myself. In fact, there’s no reason on earth for Apple to give anything away, except perhaps for PR value. And no, Microsoft isn’t doing anything like iTunes U. My point, I think, is that it appears that Apple is giving something away because Apple is fostering that impression (see below). The reality is that we are the ones giving away the things that are crucial to our academic mission: free, open access to the knowledge we create; a public arena that is not dominated by implicit or explicit advertising; a commitment to our students that we will not build a learning environment inside a mall or a superstore.
How is Apple fostering the impression of its philanthropy and obscuring (I might even say hiding) its commercial ambitions? Look again at the iTunes U web page:
Education beyond the classroom
iTunes U is a free, hosted service for colleges and universities that provides easy access to your educational content, including lectures and interviews 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Itâ€™s the most powerful way to manage a broad range of audio or video content and make it available quickly and easily to students, faculty, and staff. And it is the only application that supports the overwhelmingly popular iPod. iTunes U also offers you the simplicity and mobility you expect from Apple because it is based on the same easy-to-use technology of iTunes Music Store.
Through iTunes U, users can download content to their Macs or PCs regardless of their location. They can then listen to and view content on their Mac or PC or transfer that content to iPod for listening or viewing on the go.
Look at the language: “free,” “easy,” “most powerful,” “overwhelmingly popular iPod,” “simplicity,” “mobility,” etc. This is a strategy to leverage the popularity of the iPod into larger commercial strategies by means of an appeal to the altruistic principles inherent in the professed mission of higher education (or education generally). I’m not so naive as to think that those principles are necessarily dominant or even decisive in education today, but I’m pretty stubborn about continuing to profess them.
Let me hasten to add that I do not mean that those who disagree with me about iTunes U are crassly commercial or care nothing about the mission of higher education. Far from it. If they were or did, Apple would have no traction with iTunes U at all. And it’s entirely possible I’m over-reacting here. But I don’t think so.
More close reading of the iTunes U site:
Colleges and universities need an easy way to create and distribute content throughout their educational institution. And of course, the content must be portable.
Why do we have that need? Because we haven’t stepped up to the challenge of creating that easy way ourselves. And yes, of course that content must be portable. But iTunes U uses the iTunes Music Store, and even if all the content is in the player-agnostic mp3 format, iTunes without an iPod is not very exciting as a portable content manager. As a very happy iPod owner, I marvel at the close and effective union of iTunes and iPod. I love the interface. But that doesn’t mean I want to adopt it as a content management system for my university.
iTunes U sets educational content free by delivering the best solution for the distribution of content that can be accessed by an iPod.
Along with the “liberation” pitch, there’s pretty frank talk here: “content that can be accessed by an iPod.” Sure, we can access that content if it’s not aac-encoded and if we don’t mind the limitations of iTunes when it comes to non-iPod players, but it’s clear that Apple has created iTunes U with the iPod, not education, primarly in mind.
And iTunes U complements other higher education online learning systems, leveraging existing investments in technology infrastructures.
One walled garden loves another. That sounds cynical, but that’s how it looks to me. On a Monday morning, anyway.
This one may be my favorite:
In addition to providing a great conduit for digital academic content, iTunes is also the largest source of legal digital music available online. So students can buy and download music that has both educational and entertainment value, with all copyrights honored and the full support of the music industry.
Hard to know where to start here. Apple will keep our students from being criminals, feed their heads with music that’s both entertaining and educational (what on earth does that mean?), please the tycoons who’ve stifled innovation and set artificially high prices while ensuring that artists get meager returns, and help us all route around the debate over existing copyright strictures.
Easy as pi
iTunes U is the only content distribution system that offers one-click support for transferring content to iPod, ensuring that students and others wishing to access information to go can do so quickly and easily.
Interesting logic. Everyone has an iPod, so we’ll naturally want the only content distribution system that offers one-click support for transferring content to iPod (I love how Apple omits the article before iPod, as if it’s a proper name). And once we have iTunes U, everyone will want an iPod, because it’s the only portable player that offers full support for all content available within iTunes U. “Easy as pi,” indeed.
Just a little more:
Instructors can easily post and change content on their own without impacting the IT department….
Doubtful. And is Apple prepared to offer free, unlimited technical support to students, faculty, and staff? It’ll have to be 24×7, I’d think, because of those pesky time zones.
iTunes U delivers on the promise of mobile learning in higher education by extending teaching and learning beyond the classroom.
That’s our job, not Apple’s. We can use Apple products in the service of that job, but that’s different.
Use your school colors, logos, and photography to make iTunes U familiar to staff, students, and alumni. iTunes U looks like your college or university but it acts like iTunes.
Chilling words. It looks like a school, but it’s really a store, and it will indeed act like one.
Purchase songs at a discount on behalf of your students through the iTunes Volume Songs Program.
We all scream for ice cream.
Become an iTunes Affiliate and earn a 5% commission on all qualifying revenue generated by links posted on your site.
Especially if we get a cut of the proceeds.
I wouldn’t be nearly so concerned about iTunes U if I were more confident that folks in higher education saw it for what it is, and if Apple’s iTunes U campaign weren’t so much of a piece with its larger campaign to make truth, virtue, individualism, and innovation into corporate brands. Apple doesn’t need to pursue that strategy, and we don’t need to help it.
A nod here to Jon Udell and Brian Lamb, who continue to voice concerns, and to Bryan Alexander, whose perceptive comments on the “turn in a copyright violator” provision in iTunes awaken even more. I also think Bryan and Alan are right to point us to OurMedia as an emerging set of practices and a model for how higher education might forge ahead without an iTunes U, or at least make the shopping center less worrisome.