Friday, 26 August 2011

Apple's Relationship with Education and the Genesis of iTunes U

Apple likes to characterise itself as a friend of education. Back in the 1990's when I was living in Chicago, the primary school my kids attended had Macs liberally installed in its classrooms. I don't remember seeing any Windows computers. That was not unusual for US schools. I always assumed there had been some good discounts and perhaps other incentives offered by Apple.

Mac lab in Springfield, Missouri - photo courtesy of Ben and Laura Kreeger on Flickr

I've seen this Steve Jobs quote indicating that it's not just education, but humanities education that Apple likes to see itself associated with: “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices.” Post-PC devices refers of course to iPhones, iPods, and iPads - all of those devices which are beginning to take the place of personal computers as the chosen methods of accessing the internet. (Along with Android phones and Blackberries, of course!)

Which brings me to iTunes U. Today I read this article Could Steve Jobs' Stepping Down as Apple CEO Affect Higher Education? and it confirmed what I thought but had never seen in print: that iTunes U grew out of experiments such as the 2004 Duke University iPod-for-every-freshman programme. Which was instigated by Apple, not by Duke. Duke is not named in this article, but I'm sure that's one of the universities being referred to.

Of course iTunes U sprang up from Apple's wish to sell post-PC devices. It was not a purely-philanthropic offering of open educational resources. In a sense it was more interesting than that -- it was a purely natural move on the part of a corporation to expand its sales base, while doing something positive for education as well. If education can live with that, it can benefit from that.

Finally, I discovered this link to Apple's Education Seminars -- some are online webinars which happen regularly. You might find some of these interesting.

Terese Bird
Learning Technologist and SCORE Fellow

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Why 'Apple control' is probably good for iTunes U and the realm of open educational resources

Today it has been announced that Steve Jobs is stepping down as CEO of Apple. He has been battling health issues for some time now and I wish him well. The announcement has given rise to numerous profiles of his career and of Apple in general. One excellent view of Jobs' career is by Robert Scoble.

In my discussions with various universities about their implementation of iTunes U,  the topic of Apple's control arises. One person described it as a 'benevolent dictatorship,' hastening to add that Apple wants to make sure that everyone has a good experience accessing the material in iTunes U, and wants to help each institution look their best. Apple does not pass judgement on individual pieces going into iTunes U; rather, it wants to see that the university has in place a good 'iTunes U team' which includes academics (so it can't be Marketing running away with the show) and who will keep the channel going. It seems to me that the end result is that universities end up doing their best to show a good profile of themselves on iTunes U. This should mean good learning material is being released. Add to that the power of Apple's presence itself, and the fact that it markets chosen materials on iTunes U, and you have a win-win situation for open educational resources (OER).

Steve Jobs in front of an early Mac computer lab in Stanford. Photo courtesy of The Seb on Flickr
YouTube as an educational material channel is certainly easier to add material into, and it can be argued that it is more accessible in that all you need is a browser. (To access iTunes U material, one must download the free iTunes U software from the Apple site -- this software works on Windows and Macs, but not on Linux). However, this simplicity means it is simple for everyone to post on YouTube, including jokers who just post whatever. Overall, and especially in comparison to iTunes U, YouTube is not characteristically seen as a source of excellent learning material, although there is certainly much excellent learning material in there.

Also, because it is so easy for jokers to post whatever in YouTube, certain governments (such as China's) prefer to block access to YouTube. But iTunes U is seen as a respectable source of learning material, and thus it is not blocked in any country as far as I know. And I have been checking.

While on the topic of comparing iTunes U with YouTube, I have recently been looking at download figures of UK universities who are offering material on both iTunes U and YouTube. I was very surprised to see that the iTunes U download figures are many times greater than the YouTube figures. I hope to be able to be more specific in upcoming reports.

Therefore, Apple being a bit of a control freak is probably a force for good in the realm of open educational materials. It's not the only model, and it's probably not the best model. But it is working.

Terese Bird
Learning Technologist and SCORE Fellow

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

What is OER? That is the question...

I saw a tweet from Tony Hirst (@psychemedia) this morning: it was a definition of OER or open educational resources:

Tony Hirst
OERs: resources that educators can reuse in teaching, or that learners can independently discover and learn from?