Beginning this fall, GW will team up with Apple computers to offer audio recordings of classroom lectures over the Internet using the iTunes music program.
The new software, called iTunes U, is designed to record lectures and broadcast them over the iTunes network where students can download them onto their computer or iPod.
According to Assistant Vice President of Academic Technology P.B. Garrett, the new service will be available for 15 courses this fall and most likely more in the future.
“It makes a lot of sense to deliver course content to students in a medium they are familiar with as so many students already use iTunes, and have iPods,” Garrett wrote in an e-mail.
Though audio recordings of classroom lectures will be the initial focus of GW’s iTunes U program, Garrett said she hopes it will eventually broadcast guest lectures and video recordings.
Last fall, Apple chose a pilot group including the University of Michigan, Stanford University, the University of Wisconsin and Duke University to experiment with the iTunes U software during the last academic year. Duke University offered free iPods to students taking iTunes U classes, according to the Charlotte Observer newspaper.
Senior Manager of Digital Media Solutions at Duke University Tim Poe said the technology has shown how many possibilities exist in the hi-tech classroom.
“We now have the potential to allow students and faculty to participate in the educational experience when actual physical contact to the classroom may not be possible,” Poe said.
“We’ve seen situations already where faculty have left the area for medical reasons and still been able to teach classes,” he added.
Some have concerns, however, that providing more tech-savvy software to this generation of college students may be disadvantageous.
“It seems like a good idea, but it might give students more incentive not to go to class,” sophomore Stephen Reardon said. “I could see kids skipping class and instead listening to all of the lectures right before the exam.”
Garrett said the end-of-year assessments made by Duke and Stanford University showed no slump in class attendance for classes with iTunes U technology.
“Students use the class lectures as a mobile review – as opposed to a replacement for class attendance,” Garrett said.
Dianne Martin, a computer science professor specializing in the social and ethical impact of technology, said that offering a service like iTunes U may be risky.
“I agree … that students may skip lectures if they know they can download them at their convenience,” Martin wrote in an e-mail. “However, if professors are doing interesting, interactive lessons instead of lectures, then students will need and want to be in class.”
Garrett said, “Universities have noticed faculty changing the way they present information in the classroom so as to be more engaging with their students. Faculty members will record lecture materials to be listened to by the student out of class time.”
As a result of these concerns, Academic Technologies has partnered with GW’s Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning to teach professors how to best utilize this new service.
Garrett said the cost of bringing iTunes U technology to campuses has so far been minimal. Apple is currently hosting the content on their servers for free and much of the recording equipment already exists in the classrooms.
Students registered for iTunes U courses will be notified by their professors at the beginning of the semester.