Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Some raw data: what are people tweeting about iTunes U?

As part of my iTunes U research, I set up a TwapperKeeper to capture all tweets using the word itunesu. Would you like to have a look and see what people are saying? Go to:


You may need to adjust how many responses are displayed per page. 

I have done some analysis of these tweets, but am still mired in the process. For my ALT-C presentation on iTunes U as the Corporate Channel of Free Learning Resources, I was able to divide out all languages used to tweet about iTunes U in a several-week period late summer-early autumn 2011. I also detected the main themes and some unexpected themes of said tweets. You can look at my ALT-C presentation on Slideshare

Terese Bird
Learning Technologist and SCORE Fellow
University of Leicester/Open University

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?

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Does Knowledge Need to be Free?

Today I took part in Alec Couros' keynote being live-streamed from the Education in a Changing Environment Conference. I was not at the conference, but I followed its Twitter stream #ece11. Alec's keynote was excellent, and clearly gave the participants much to discuss. I was particularly impressed that Alec tweeted during his own keynote, in order to reference links. What a great idea -- tweet out references which participants may be able to immediately investigate.

Photo courtesy of s i n h a on Flickr

But one thing Alec said made me stop and consider: "knowledge should be free." There was context to his statement which I was not present to fully appreciate, but it was during his description of open education. I am familiar with the idea that content which is taught is not an easily monetised commodity. When student decide to enroll in university, it is not just knowledge-content they are after; they want the experience, a connection with instructors and other students, and accreditation. Often, especially in a year one undergraduate module, the content being lectured on is freely attainable from a variety of sources, including Wikipedia. So against this backdrop, I can almost agree when someone says, "knowledge should be free."

But should knowledge always be free? What about knowledge which was gained at a very high cost, such as research data requiring days, months, even years in a laboratory? What about knowledge carefully compiled and written in the hope of it being published as a book?

I cannot think of an exception to the 'rule' that knowledge gained at a high cost should be freely and widely available, even if it must be paid for at some point. Woodward and Bernstein invested much time and effort trying to get information about Watergate. When they finally got it, they knew they were duty-bound to publicise it as widely as possible. Of course, they got paid for their journalistic work, so the knowledge was freely available but one had to buy the newspaper.

I am working within the Open Educational Resources movement with the SPIDER project, because I believe there is much knowledge which can be given away without detriment to the giver, even to the benefit of both giver and recipient. However, I can see exceptions, and I will have to hammer these issues out as I progress. I'd be very interested in your thoughts on this!

Terese Bird,
Learning Technologist, University of Leicester, and SCORE Fellow, Open University

Thursday, 23 June 2011

SPIDER: The Halfway Point

I have officially reached the halfway point of the SPIDER project.  It has been fantastic getting the chance to meet with the iTunes U teams of the Open University, Oxford, and Nottingham, as well as to research issues related to open educational resource production, promotion, and impact along with supportive colleagues from each of the above institutions as well as my home University of Leicester. I especially appreciate the support of SCORE colleagues and staff; it is a privilege to work alongside them.

Photo courtesy of CameraEye on Flickr

If I were to consolidate what I have learned from each of the universities for whom I am studying their iTunes U implementation, I might say something like the following:
Open University: Over 34 million downloads, many files BBC quality, but as their Vice Chancellor Martin Bean said (this is my paraphrase), “It is not the slick presentation, but the great learning material which gets the most attention and encourages people to register.”
University of Oxford: Over 10 million downloads, mostly audio-only captured lectures and seminars. Much evidence of re-use by high school and secondary school teachers, as well as informal use by individuals.
University of Nottingham: Real commitment to open educational resource production and sharing, of which iTunes U is only a part. Their Xpert OER search tool is outstanding and their Xerte tool is equally amazing.
In general, I and many others have seen that iTunes U is a great place to begin the discussion about open educational resources, because it has a “cool factor” (for want of a better term) which encourages academics and institutions to see the sharing of such resources as advantageous to themselves. This is necessary for any such project to be sustainable.
In the second half of my project, there are case studies to be finished, comparisons and analyses to be made, and software to be tested. I plan to produce a basic quality-assurance workflow appropriate to iTunes U, as well as a “philosophical how-to” plan for institutions considering starting an iTunes U site in particular, and in the sharing of open educational resources in general.
Thanks for sharing the journey.
Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE Fellow

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

SPIDER at OER11 - Open Educational Resources 2011

Last week I joined the OER11 conference in Manchester - Open Educational Resources 2011. This year, the conference was hosted by SCORE, through whom I am doing the SPIDER project. Not only did I present my SPIDER findings to date in the form of "Is iTunes U a successful model of Open Educational Resource distribution?" but due to scheduling gymnastics I was able to present it twice. It was fascinating to meet colleagues from Sweden's Lund University, Holland's Delft University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, all of which have iTunes U presences. I had previously heard a presentation about iTunes U at Delft, where it was stated that when a short video clip about a researcher's work was published on iTunes U or other OER channels, that researcher saw a noticeable rise in the number of PhD applicants and an improvement in applicants' quality. I also made a connection with another UK colleague, who described a more devolved use of iTunes U in which content creators at the university are able to upload content themselves to iTunes U-accessible server, rather than going through a 'gatekeeper.' It was a great chance to consolidate what I've learned so far and discuss OER implementations of all shapes and sizes with interesting and international OER folks.I hope I can attend OER12 in Cambridge next year.

Terese Bird
Learning Technologist, SCORE Fellow, and Assistant Keeper of the Media Zoo
Beyond Distance Research Alliance, University of Leicester