FETC 2008 Coverage

iTunes U--Educators Do 'Cool Stuff' with Technology

Speaking to a standing-room only crowd at FETC 2008 in Orlando, FL Thursday, presenters Ann Barron, James Welsh, James Takacs and Luis Perez--all from the University of South Florida (USF)--shared their insights on planning, producing, and administering the university's educational podcasts, hosted through Apple's service, iTunes U.

According to Barron, only a handful of universities participated in the iTunes U beta, with USF joining in year 2, along with more than 400 others nationwide. iTunes U was officially launched in May of 2007, and USF now boasts far more than 3,000 podcasts on its site, itunes.usf.edu, with more being added all the time.

According to Barron, collaboration with a variety of university players was key in making the program work. Her team set up a "Make It Happen" committee within the college of education, charged with answering questions like, "who are we trying to reach; what will they be interested in; what content do we currently have; what content can we produce; how will we manage this [content] and what policies need to be developed?" Questions that are important, said Barron, when considering the development of an educational podcasting program.


James Welsh addresses a standing-room-only crowd at FETC 2008

Following Barron, James Welsh addressed issues of production and content development. "The first question that we looked at," said Welsh, "is what existing content, what do we have on audio, what do we have on video within the college,... and how can we repurpose it and use it through iTunes U." The team also looked at the issues associated with the production of new content, including ways to get faculty members involved and excited about the project. One successful strategy involved a faculty grant, resulting in 27 iPods being awarded for approved faculty projects.

Next, James Takacs spoke about the technology involved in the program, including the ability to divide the iTunes U store into separate "levels," as USF did by separating general university content from content generated by the school of health. Content is further separated through the use of a login system, requiring university-provided access to view and download selected material. The team is currently working on adding a third layer of separation, where content would be available to users on a course-enrollment basis. In addition, said Takacs, all content is hosted by Apple, giving the team one less thing to worry about. Takacs concluded by showing the administrative user interface, based on the iTunes platform, which, according to Takacs, greatly enhances usability.

Luis Perez spent the final moments of the session reviewing some of the necessary steps in production, including scripting, recording, editing and exporting, as well as post production duties such as compression, meta-tagging, chapter marking and uploading.

"Production takes time," said Perez.

Perez concluded by offering some suggestions when creating a podcast for iTunes U. Paramount was careful attention to the type of file your software is producing. "Windows Media 10/11 doesn't work," he said. Perez recommended the free tools Videora iPod Converter and Metadata Hootenanny, as well as the paid software VisualHub for conversion.

According to the speakers, the podcasting program has provided a variety of benefits to the college. It has allowed faculty members to serve as "virtual guest speakers" for multiple sections, as well as enhanced the use of other instructional technologies, such as video production tools. It has also created a buzz around the university. "I think it has helped establish a reputation for the college [of education] as a technology leader," said Welsh. "We want to get the message out there," he said, "that we do cool stuff with technology."

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About the Author

Chris Riedel is a freelance writer based in Illinois. He can be reached here.

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