Tuesday, April 12, 2011

iTunes, U Fail

iTunes U I've never spent much time on iTunes U, partly because I've been disgusted at conferences listening to universities crowing over it as a marketing channel, but mostly because whenever I've tried to find useful content there, I've only come up with dusty old public lectures ("Next slide please" - audio only), and never found an efficient way of finding the high quality content which I'm sure is there (in small pockets hidden in all the badly recorded lecture cruft).

Yesterday afternoon, I was spending some quality time with OeRBITAL, so I tried again. With the same result. Academically, iTunes U is a mess, with no useful filtering mechanisms. It's part of Apple's failure of social (Ping, anyone? I thought not) that the crowdsourced recommendations ("Noteworthy", Top Downloads") don't work with the granularity needed for an academic to find the best content for a particular course or subject. However, the iTunes U Power Search turns up lots of content. Unfortunately, that is when the problems begin rather than end. The quality of the material is highly variable. For the most part, it is recordings of public lectures, often with a large dose of marketing which makes most of it effectively unusable for educational purposes. Beyond that, almost none of the material on iTunes U carries any licensing information (MIT Open Courseware being the notable exception, but that's not great for biology), rendering it inoperable as an OER.

Whose fault is it?

Well it's not Apple's fault, they're just running a business (which isn't education). It is the fault of the academics and of the institutions they work for, greedily turning a potentially useful education tool into a marketing channel, and failing to add simple licensing information metadata (or better still, flag the licence status clearly on the iTunes channel). In some cases, this is a simple technical failure. In other cases, it is a result of the don't ask, don't tell approach through which academics have to publish such grey content - although that should not apply to iTunes U since these are institutional channels.

So much for iTunes U. At least I've still got Jorum to look forward to ;-)


  1. Hi Alan,

    Indeed, copyright is a pretty big issue with iTunes U. One place that does it really well is Oxford. If you go to the Oxford site in iTunes U, look down the right hand side, you see Featured Collections -- Creative Commons. Click on that, and you've got loads of great Oxford stuff, CC-branded.

  2. the only iTunes I've really liked is Teachers TV, but then these are people experienced in making TV programmes, so it's unsurprising that they construct their vodcasts well. Haven't checked on their licencing. Agree that the search on there is hopeless :-(

  3. @Simon - The little biology I've been able to find from Oxford in iTunes U is C not CC, so no use to me. The main pointing I'm making is that there isn't a good screening method for CC content on iTunes U ("Power Search" fails miserably at this).