iTunes demo sites and gripes

Some links to some nice uses of iTunes U on campuses and some bloggers complain about lack of openness, both technical and communicative.

Some nice uses of iTunes U in major universities:

Duke is using iTunes U to support French students.

“Once the content is loaded on their iPods via iTunes U – which takes just minutes – students can watch video clips and listen to text and music multiple times, anywhere they want,” said Deb Reisinger, acting director of Duke’s French Language Program, who is coordinating French 76. “This kind of language reinforcement is a fantastic pedagogical tool that has the added bonus of integrating cultural and linguistic content.”

UM-Dentistry uses iTunes U to post audio recordings of class lectures online. eSchool News reports:

Students can preview a lecture recording, download an individual lecture, or subscribe to have downloads delivered to their computers or MP3 players automatically. ... "I've had zero complaints," Lynn Johnson, associate professor of dentistry and director of dentistry informatics at UM-Dentistry, said of the school's collaboration with Apple. "The students have it organized, and they're doing it, and at the end of last semester there were more than 300 lectures on the web site."

The project began in 2004 when first-year dental student Jared Van Ittersum wondered why electronic versions of class lectures were not available.

And dozens of Stanford lectures are available too.

There is muttering and grumbling, though. John Udell, admitting to a certain amount of churlishness, says iTunes U is:

 [Q]uite unnecessarily, a walled garden. Among mainstream programs, only the iTunes client can download the talks. Among mainstream players, only iTunes, QuickTime, and the iPod can play them.

... When I tried to publish the URL of one of the Stanford podcasts in order to expose it to a variety of collaborative processes -- linking, blogging, tagging, playlisting -- I was stunned to discover that iTunes would not permit me to capture that URL.

With Version 4.9, iTunes became capable of functioning as a "podcatcher" -- that is, a program that subscribes to RSS feeds with enclosures and downloads the enclosed media files. Although I've used iTunes for podcatching since then, it was only recently that I needed to copy and paste one of its feed URLs. Astonishingly, although you can display that URL in iTunes, you cannot copy and paste it. I had to manually transcribe the 188-character monstrosity. Again, not theoretically a lock-in, but practically so.

Other gripes: Alan Levine writes on CogDogBlog:

So while some are not happy with the broad label of “walled garden”, I am growing increasingly annoyed at the complete lack of anything substantive, or half substantive, or a sketch on a dirty napkin of just what this Apple iTunes U is all about. As far as I know, it is very vaporous.

At first I was encouraged because 20 minutes after filling out an interest form, I was called by an Apple rep, and thought, “hey, inside track!” The biggest challenge in our sprawling, decentralized organization, has been trying to solicit some leadership to advocate a direction, to maybe…. provide… leadership? As stands, the typical Maricopa path is about 10 different, overlapping directions. This is a chance to act as a system, so we may end up with 1 unified representation (as Maricopa) or fragmented (10+ different representations).

So I have asked this rep, emailed, voicemailed, cc:ed our local Apple rep, to get some more substantial details (or even more vague ones, anything) on just what this thing is, how will it work, what do we need to do. Without this information, I can hardly make a case for something I can only describe in terms of PR cruft.

 And Garnder Campbell also gripes at how marketing-speak is the only information available to schools:

Alan writes, “The ad material Gardner finds offensive (and i just find dull and glazing) seems to be totally written by marketing people, not the people behind the program.” But that’s exactly what I’m alarmed by: the marketing people are the people behind the program. The program is, at heart, a marketing program. Thus there’s no distinction between “the marketing people” and “the people behind the program.” But it’s telling that Apple’s marketing tactics are aimed at helping us forget that fact. When I read all the technorati links to blogs saying “yippee, Apple to the rescue!” I see a reality distortion field that’s effective. Worryingly so.