As podcasting gains momentum at Stanford University and other colleges across the nation, catching up on lectures may no longer be a matter of being in the right place at the right time, but of downloading a file from iTunes.
Stanford's new podcast service extends guest lectures and campus culture to anyone with iTunes. Podcasts, a type of audio or video web feed that allows users to download media files or get them directly through subscription to podcasting services, are quickly becoming a popular communication tool on the computer or iPod of the academic community.
In October, Stanford introduced a public site devoted to guest lectures jointly with a course-focused site for Stanford students. The site, itunes.stanford.edu, which includes recordings from guest lecturers, music, book readings, and sports news, averages 20,000 downloads per week.
The public website stemmed from an initial collaboration between Stanford and Apple to organize the multimedia content used by faculty into iTunes format, according to Scott Stocker, director of Web Communications at Stanford.
"Apple's iTunes seemed like a very attractive solution because it is easy to use, cross-platform, and already in widespread use by students," Stocker said. "After an initial pilot last spring using iTunes in the classroom, we quickly came to realize that this technology would also be an excellent way to bring the academic and cultural life of the university to alumni and the general public."
The student-only iTunes site allows Stanford faculty to post audio and video course materials, including lectures. The site is part of "iTunesU," launched by Apple last month to create iTunes academic portals, according to Apple officials. iTunesU began as a pilot program at six universities: Stanford, Duke University, the University of Missouri, the University of Michigan, Brown University, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Greg Jackson, vice president and chief information officer at the University of Chicago and a member of Apple's University Executive Forum, said that there are active conversations between the University and Apple about the iTunesU service. The use of iTunes is currently under discussion within NSIT Academic Technologies.
Many University of Chicago area studies centers offer free lectures to the public on iTunes or as mp3 files on their websites. Other University podcasts include faculty interviews at research.uchicago.edu/highlights and poetry readings on poempresent.uchicago.edu.
The Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) has made audio versions of their weekly language lectures, Arabic Circle and Persian Circle, available on iTunes since early November. The lectures have garnered a positive student response and drew a weekly listener from Abu Dhabi, said Danny Morrison, a CMES masters student who launched the podcasts.
The Center for International Studies (CIS) also started podcasting audio versions on iTunes of their World Beyond the Headlines Series and Human Rights Distinguished Lecturer Series last autumn quarter. CIS Associate director Irving Birkner said that the CIS had been streaming audio versions of the events, but upgraded to a more convenient format for listeners.
"When podcasts became common, we thought it was a useful way for our events and our speakers to reach a wider audience," Birkner said.
"Given the flurry of events that are always scheduled on top of each other, I think people are relieved to be able to catch up at a time of their choosing," he added.
The Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) plans to offer video podcasts of two lectures within the next couple of weeks. Additional lectures are slated for mp3 format by the end of spring quarter, according to Josh Beck, CLAS program manager.
Though iTunesU may offer an updated venue for broadcasting lectures, it is not the only attempt at using technology to extend university-based knowledge to the public. MIT's "OpenCourseWare" site offers free access to course materials, including select video lectures, from over 1,250 MIT courses, according to MIT's website.
This, along with Stanford's iTunes, reflects the ability of institutions to put course material online, a trend which many other institutions may follow and which could provide the opportunity for innovation and greater accessibility, according to Michael Dawson, professor of political science at the University of Chicago.