CUNY on iTunes U

Physics on your iPod. Newsmaker interviews on your PC. Apple's iTunes U—which can deliver 24-7 audio and video educational content to Macs, PCs, iPods and iPhones—launches at The City University of New York this fall.

Building on the University's expanding trove of nearly 500 CUNY Radio podcasts, CUNY on iTunes U will allow anyone with iTunes software, downloadable for free, to access the podcasts and other free information through a University-wide public site, http://cuny.edu/itunesu. That umbrella site will link to both public and password-protected, private iTunes U sites for each CUNY college, through which faculty members can offer their own audio and video for students to download, see and hear anytime.

Debuting in mid-September with a group of vanguard colleges online but eventually covering all 23 campuses, CUNY on iTunes U will move the University into a new chapter of online learning. "iTunes U will free professors from doing information delivery so they can spend more time interacting with students," said George Otte, director of instructional technology for CUNY. "It's a tool to motivate students and faculty."

The University joins many other top schools, from small colleges to Ivy League universities, that have embraced iTunes U as an academic and promotional tool. The CUNY version is different in at least one way, according to University Chief Information Officer Brian Cohen, the guiding force behind the initiative.

"It was our vision to have a single iTunes presence for the University," he said. "This enterprise approach means that visitors to our iTunes site will be able to access a wealth of digital content from all over CUNY in one place. We are fortunate that Apple understood the CUNY vision for iTunes and supported our approach and design."

Potentially, CUNY on iTunes U can be used in conjunction with distance-learning programs such as CUNY's Online Baccalaureate; by professors to deliver educational information, and by students to create their own podcasts to fulfill class assignments or share information with teachers and classmates. It's easy to use, said Cohen."If you can tape yourself, you can do a podcast. And you can use graphics and PowerPoint."

The project taps into two trends: the popularity of the podcasting format as a means of accessing information, and professors' increasing use of audio and video in the classroom. "iTunes offers an advantage because it is portable, the content storage is free and can be integrated effectively with CUNY's teaching and learning systems," noted Stephen Landau, who manages technology for CUNY iTunes U. "We want to encourage faculty to use this kind of media because students are familiar with it."

In a recent pilot program, participants from 17 CUNY colleges have already created podcasts demonstrating how iTunes U can aid instruction. Lehman College's podcast is a learning tool for students enrolled in Math 104-Algebra. Medgar Evers' features student performances and spotlights the college's Music Technology Program. The CUNY Online Baccalaureate program presented three podcasts, including one explaining how to make more effective use of online search engines.

John Jay's work group created a "Podcast on Podcasting" that demystifies the iTunes U concept by walking faculty, students and staff through the process. The 25-minute audio-video will be distributed throughout the college.

At Macaulay Honors College, which presented several student podcasts focusing on required introductory seminars on New York City, technology and learning director Joseph Ugoretz discussed iTunes U's potential. "[Macaulay] students have a dual identity," he said. "They have a home campus but take classes at other colleges, so one of the things that will help to build a cross-campus community is iTunes U.

"We're interested in student productions," said Ugoretz. "iTunes U will give students a chance to be real authors and creators, and they can download other students' productions and enhance their collaborations."

For the University, iTunes U provides another platform for CUNY Radio, which pioneered podcast technology two years ago "to bring lifelong learning and information to a global audience, and to better serve students, faculty, alumni and friends wherever they happen to be," said Michael Arena, University director for communications and marketing. Podcasting is an increasingly popular method of accessing information, he noted.

Three colleges in particular have stepped forward with free content for public consumption.

Borough of Manhattan Community College is offering six different podcasts, spotlighting standout students and professors, and providing updates on alumni and on-campus news. Among the first segments – which are produced by the school’s Office of Public Affairs and Media Center – is a sit-down with Albert Duncan, an assistant professor of economics who discusses issues relating to the current market slide. “We want to show the college and local communities a fuller picture of life here,” said BMCC’s iTunesU project coordinator Michael De Dora Jr. “But we also want to share our unique take on higher education.”

Baruch College contributed a script that queries its database of publicly available video content to produce RSS feeds that can be subscribed to via iTunes U. This process made over 1,200 videos immediately available in iTunes U. It also allowed the college to host all of its public content locally, freeing up the 500GB of storage for academic iTunesU course content.

Lehman on iTunes U” provides access to a variety of digital content and built around six themes. Upcoming segments will include a look at the history of the NYPD Emerald Society Bagpipe Band, a concert by the Lehman Latin Band and an interview with the architect who designed Lehman’s new “green” science building, which just began construction.

The 2008 Arbitron/Edison Media Research study found that the audience for radio-style audio downloads has grown nearly 40 percent in the last year, with some 18 percent of Americans "tuning in." CUNY Radio's original programming has drawn average downloads of nearly 18,000 a month. Listeners subscribe to programming that includes an ongoing lecture series featuring distinguished speakers such as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and jazz icon Sonny Rollins, and two programs highlighting the expertise of CUNY professors: "Citizenship Now!" with Allan Wernick, and "City Safe" with professor Joseph King of John Jay.

"CUNY on iTunes U makes all of it available, and it allows us to share and showcase in a convenient and cost-free way the vast and thriving intellectual activities at all our campuses," said Arena.

Public sites of CUNY on iTunes U will feature content developed and produced by the Office of University Relations and the specially designated offices at each of the colleges. The colleges' private sites will add content under the direction of the Office of Academic Affairs. Public and private sites will be soliciting ideas from faculty and others for new audio/video content, including events and speakers.

Otte is mindful of the limits of the new technology in the classroom. "I would not pronounce the lecture method dead," he said. "After all, e-mail hasn't supplanted regular mail."

CUNY iTunes U sites