5 Reasons I don’t like ITunesU

Looks like UMW is getting ITunesU. And while I’ve had nothing to do with the decision process, and I really don’t think it is going to make any significant difference in our environment, I would like to lay out a few quick reasons why I think this is a bad (or would irrelevant be more apropos?) move.

1) Don’t trust anything without a URL! ITunesU has no URLs, isn’t that suspect? Matt Gold pointed me to this post recently that does a nice job of suggesting how the disappearance of URLs is killing the web. Here’s a pull quote from the article: “The rise of the ‘app store mentality’ is a direct attack on the web, and on the very nature of free discovery and choice built upon URL-based hyperlinks.” Amen.

2) What’s more, ITunesU is built on the transactional logic of web design. You go somewhere because you want something very specific, usually to buy—like a song or TV episode. What does it say that most of our content delivery systems are framed according to a logic that is being used for selling goods?

3) Building on that, ITunesU is not a place for community, context, or collaboration. What is interesting about the web is not that you can get something, but that you can participate and dialogue around something. We have built a community at UMW with web-based technologies that is not about simply getting something, but about discovering something and following a series of connections and exposing a community of ideas that would otherwise be locked behind a wall. ITunesU is just that kind of wall we are trying to avoid.

4) The nefarious logic that everyone is doing it. What is this compulsion to be “there”? Who cares? People are often wrong, especially at institutions when in comes to content delivery systems. ITunesU on campus is really no different from bringing Taco Bell or Starbucks on campus, another sign of the corporatization of the university space that is running rampant in our moment. Why aren’t we uploading this stuff to the Internet Archive, as Leigh Blackall suggested at OpenEd this Summer? We have no soul or spine when it comes to “just saying no to the gentrification of our campuses.”

5) Finally, and specifically to UMW, we will have so few resources in iTunesU, so now you can add meager to decontextualized. We are a teaching and learning college that has taken on the title of University for appearances sake. Our strength is in the relationships between faculty and students in and out of the classroom. We do not produce video lectures by top researchers, that is not who we are–why pretend? We don’t have a huge ongoing demand for podcasts and/or other media. We have an engaged community centered around an academic space for open praxis around teaching and learning. ITunesU is not a teaching and learning tool, it is a delivery mechanism that is not only overkill for our purposes, but anathema to the open web.

So there you have it. I know I am right, but comments are welcome anyway 🙂

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14 Responses to 5 Reasons I don’t like ITunesU

  1. Dave says:

    Different strokes…

    We’re getting iTunes U. as well, but I see it more of a showcase for student work currently. Yes it might still be running on the transactional mentality of pre-2.0, but I don’t think that everything *needs* to be interconnected so tightly all the time. The iTunes application may grow more social networking/media hooks eventually, and that would be great to promote more community-oriented activity in the iTunes U space. You can already allow authenticated students to upload audio/video to your institution’s iTunes U space, that opens up a lot of opportunities for teaching and learning…at least that’s where I want to focus with our iTunes U space rather than building out a promotional storefront for the school.

    You can get URLs in iTunes, just right click on the tracks to copy a link. It would make more sense to be able to “share” it too, but they’ll get there, I am hopeful. But you make valid points, iTunes U will be an additional tool, not a replacement for anything.

  2. There are URLs for everything in iTunesU. They may not be presented as traditional web page hyperlinks (and you have to right click to get the URL at all) but they are there. iTunesU is just a custom browser on top of URLs and lists of URLS.

    Here’s the link to a series from the Open U:

    and one to a specific piece of media:

    Sure, they fire up iTunes when clicked – iTunes is set up to be the application to handle those resources. But they are URLs, and they are easy to get and use.

    IIRC, there are also ways to pull stuff out of iTunesU via OPML and/or RSS. I could be wrong, but I distinctly remember that from the initial launch.

    I don’t see your argument against a destination to find content. I come to the Bava to find stuff you’ve written. I go to iTunes (and iTunesU) to find resources by other people. I haven’t seen anything in iTunesU that required a credit card, either.

    You are right in that iTunesU is not a collaboration space. So what? It’s a media distribution network for published resources, and we already have collaboration/discussion spaces that can be fed by iTunesU, or that can feed iTunesU with their output.

    It’s also not the exclusive place to find the media – you’re more than welcome to also provide copies on YouTube, Vimeo, UMW.edu, etc… It’s just one place to put it. For free. Without having to invest in the infrastructure to do so.

    I don’t care who’s using it, or not using it. I don’t even know if UCalgary is doing anything with it. I don’t care. If people find it useful, so be it. It’s not an evil content roach motel, though. Not everything that’s non-GPL is evil.

  3. Joe says:

    When it’s in ItunesU, it’s not embeddable, and it’s not easily sharable (yes, there are those URL’s, but they’re iTunes links, not real URL’s). It does make it easy(er) to be downloaded to a portable device. And it does make it easier to control access, if that’s something you want to do. And that’s really its main purpose, I think.

    But for me, the fact that the content is in there and can’t be embedded and repurposed is a big disadvantage.

  4. The thing about iTunesU that I have a problem with is that a student can’t get anything out of iTunesU without using iTunes. They need to download and install an app in order to access the content. iTunesU is a repository with only one way in – iTunes. To me, this is a barrier that goes against the nature of open and accessible content.

    If there is another way to access content without being forced to use iTunes I would really love to hear about it. But in the research I’ve done, there is no other way to access the content.

  5. Reverend says:

    The problem is for me is that UMW has a solution already called UMW Blogs, and it is a showcase for student and faculty work, and it encourages faculty and students to take ownership of their digital work in the space of their choosing.

    And, additionally, what we are doing, once again, is hoping apple will come up with the social networking hooks that already exist elsewhere. Why?

    And while D’Arcy is suggesting I am saying ITunesU is evil—I’m not, rather just superfluous and annoying in our case—I think th reason people are using it is more out of a sense of open education as a product, not a process. And the fact that ITunesU becomes a showcase, rather than a laboratory is an example example of that.

    Those aren;t web-based URLs, they are re-directs to iTunesU, a client-side application you must have to access the closed web of Apple. It is not an open, web-based resource that I can turn around and embed in a post or page. I think that is my definition of a URL more broadly, so perhaps I should rephrase that to something you can link to without being sucked into the apple “I” universe.

    Also, how do these things fare in searchability on something other than ITunes? I imagine pretty poorly, and on top of that ITunesU is framed as free media storage, but it’s not. They don;t give you any space, and if you want to host the media you need to buy servers to the tune of 10,000 and have someone manage them (oh yeah, they have to be apple servers, btw) and that just seems like more of the same notions of free—free as in puppies, to quote Luke Waltzer.

    As to those RSS feeds, where are they? Nowhere apparent, deeply hidden in the ITunes code, so no mortal web user can find them.

    And lastly, I don’t necessarily think ITunes is evil—though I tend that way on certain days—I simply think it is a knee-jerk reaction amongst many schools to focus on the products of teaching and learning rather than opening up the process. Most ITunesU spaces I have seen, like the one at George Mason University, are closed, authentication spaces that reinforce the siloed logic. And the transactional nature of the space, whether or not one pays, is framed outside of a community, and like with OERs, it is most times the context around a resource that is far more valuable than the thing itself.

  6. Kevin says:

    At my .edu, the lawyers reviewed the TOS for iTunesU and decided it was something we couldn’t agree to.

  7. Cole says:

    One thing I will note is that iTunes U is a solid discovery network for lots of content being hosted at the Blogs at PSU. One of the better features of iTunes U is its ability to act as a feed reader for individual spaces — in other words I can point my iTunes U space to my RSS feed and it will act as a distribution channel. Instead of uploading content into iTunes U it reads my blog feed and amplifies my content. Believe it or not in a lot of cases it is easier for students to just go there with their own iTunes client and subscribe. I know it sounds crazy but our students (in general) still struggle with readers and subscriptions. Many of them do understand iTunes and the way it pulls episodes into that space. That is the really good thing.

    I wish one could then take that and at least embed a player via a simple html embed code in a sidebar. That would let people use the distribution network and allow free access in multiple locations.

  8. Joss Winn says:

    There was a decent thread on ‘Web 2.0 vs iTunes U ?’ on the JISC repository mailing list in August:


    They discuss how iTunesU is fed by RSS content that you manage and that iTunesU is indexed by Google. There’s an equal amount of scepticism and advocacy.

    Worth reading the thread in full.

    I published content to iTunes recently using WPMU as the host. Very easy and is just another way for people to discover resources. I suspect that given the choice, students would prefer to download the videos from iTunes rather than the original website and then copy them to their device.


  9. Andy Powell says:

    The funniest thing I saw recently was iTunesU being refered to as Web 2.0 ! 🙁

    I contributed to the discussion thread that Joss refers to above, making a similar set of arguments to the ones in the original post here, though I focused a little too much on the Web Architecture which probably worked against me. That said, the arguments used against me were quite interesting and it is worth reading thru the thread.

    For me, the biggest evidence that something is ‘wrong’ with the iTunesU approach is that universities usually end up building a parallel Web-based interface to all the same content. Often this is presented as a good thing (multiple routes to content – though my gut feeling is that it’s bad). The point is that if iTunesU wasn’t driven so heavily by a ‘lock-in’ mentality, that kind of thing wouldn’t be necessary.

    On the other hand, the biggest evidence that something is ‘right’ with the iTunesU approach is the success with which it is used to drive content development and submission. This is very powerful (for both providers (faculty) and consumers (students)) and shouldn’t be underestimated. The idea that a similar level of buy-in and excitement could be generated by, say, uploading the same content to the Internet Archive is, frankly, laughable.

  10. Another problem with iTunesU is that is that it excludes Linux users as iTunes is not available for any Linux distribution. Probably the best approach is to build a common back end for these services and provide a variety of front ends, e.g. at the OU we have an iTunesU service, a podcast website (that has support for RSS and Miro) and a Boxee application. Works well and allows people to reach education content in a way they prefer.

  11. Reverend says:

    Why specifically?

    I can see you argument, and I do agree to an extent, I just wonder why UMW, given its specific needs and community would need such a space given we don;t have 1200 students course, or even 200, and we do little or no video lectures and the like. it just seems like we are jumping on a bandwagon that we have already thought through and dealt with.

    @Joss and Andy,

    Thanks for the pointer to that discusion, it does take a pretty interesting take on the pros and cons, and I still tend to agree with Andy that have iTunes and a paralleled web-based delivery space for this content seems redundant, especially when you can have folks do it easier in one that the other. Moreoever, I’m not so convinced on traffic for these resources in Itunes, anyone tracking that? is it a proven advantage?

    You r approach probably is the best, have a series of services that offer feds, and let them choose, but I also wonder how community emerges from that. In iTunes U it is obviously premised on the exchange model, but with SocialLearn, for examples, how do the social and conversational elements begin to emerge and become visible? Does the approach of letting folks get it from where ever work in tandem with a more robust syndication element for their content to be republished in a specific space that is exposed to the public? or is that not necessarily a condition? seems like that conversation is just as valuable, if not more, than the resource itself.

  12. heihei says:

    The use of apple products in education makes students very restricted. My school have also started using itunesu, this is a school with many IT-related classes. Where there is may people interested in computers, ther will be a good bunch of linux users.

    It’s quite disturbing that I don’t have access to public information distributed by my school because I prefer to use an OS that can teach me something. Our best hope is that someone will figure out some way around the iTunes lock, cause apple obviously look at linux as a big threat.

  13. Reverend says:


    It’s quite disturbing that I don’t have access to public information distributed by my school because I prefer to use an OS that can teach me something.

    That’s a brilliant quote, and what more can I possibly add to it, but a big, resounding YES!!!

    And the fact that these apple programs are more about consumption than learning is a big point to many people who praise the ease of applications overlook. Bravo!

  14. Pingback: iTunesU; Do students like it? – eLearning Blog Dont Waste Your Time

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