Used courtesy of -t- [formerly dtc]
Can I just say how unimpressed I was with the demonstration of iTunes U we had yesterday. In short, iTunes U offers universities a free, mildly customizable space on the iTunes client that allows students and faculty to upload and access digital content such as podcasts, vodcasts, etc. The organizing logic is that iTunes U does the aggregation for the university and offers a half terrabyte of storage space. But are either of these elements necessarily unique given the tools we already have at our disposal? I mean what can iTunes U do that a WordPress install with PodPress and a few aggregation plugins cannot? Hey, Drupal might even be able to handle this one without too much fuss. And guess what, unlike iTunes, these applications are web-based and provide easily accessible RSS feeds. A few things irk me about the iTunes U package:
- The assumption that “everyone” is doing it. In Virginia it seems like UVa, William & Mary, VCU, Radford, Va Tech, and many more have jumped on the bus. Why are they doing it? It could be because they haven’t been playing with more sophisticated, web-based options for media-casting, aggregating, and customizing their own space with free, open source applications that have easily accessible RSS feeds built in. No buried feeds to dig out as Jon Udell pointed out over a year ago here.
- iLife quickly becomes the defacto means for authoring and importing multimedia into iTunes U -namely because it just works. How many students and professors have MACs? The figure is far less than PCs, and I would venture a guess that it is fewer than 10%. So you sell iLife during these presentations in order to sell MACs. No need to sell iTunes U (that’s “free”), you just sell an OS (which you can’t load on a PC legally) and its programs to make the whole thing work without a hitch. Questionable.
- Finally, I’ll echo Gardner’s sentiment from last year which brilliantly traces how Apple is really trying to create a situation of “vendor lock-in” by providing a branded digital management system that offers little beyond a customizable homepage for selling their products. All this under the assumption that what they are doing is somehow philanthropic. How is it philanthropic? They are giving you a program that they have already designed which costs them nothing, they throw in some storage space (which is cheap and plentiful) in the hopes that every student every where will be getting their music, TV shows, videos, texts, etc. through iTunes. Not exactly OLPC, now is it?
So whether or not we go ahead with iTunes U -and I see no compelling reason why we should- it will have little, if any, impact on the work I do at UMW. Not only is iTunes a less than intuitive program to begin with, but it’s primarily a product and a brand, and I think we have had enough of them on campuses throughout the US over the last 10 years. I think it’s time to introduce applications more concerned with open, accessible, and easily re-purposed content, rather than cornering market share and selling units. In my opinion, what we are doing at UMW is a movement, it ain’t a mall!