Miss School? You Can Listen in for Free.

BlogHer Original Post

There is a change in how education is being distributed, from elementary school to the college and university level. This is the time to ask yourself, "What do you want to learn?" I posed the question because there may be a free or open source education content that can fit your limited time availability, your energy and your desire to learn a subject.

These are the beginning stages of an educational transformation. There is phenomenal educational content waiting for engagement. The class you need to feed your soul maybe as close as an mp3 recording or a video ready for download.

What You Need

Actually, you might not need anything more than what you have installed on your computer. A connection to the Internet, a software media player or two and time. If you have an audio mp3 player, a multimedia player or cell phone that can play mp3 and video files you are good to go. You don’t necessarily need an Apple Nano, iTouch or iPhone to access content, but it doesn’t hurt either.

If you don’t have iTunes you can download it from the Apple website. Always check out the specs to make sure that your system can handle the software and that you have sufficient hard drive space for the program. Windows users will also need to download the QuickTime player to view certain content.

If you already have a Windows version of the QuickTime player make sure it is the most current version. And a new addition there is now documents in the Adobe PDF in iTunes for certain courses. This means you need to have a current version of the Adobe Reader or alternative software that can open that file format.

Apple iTunesU

Accessing iTunesU is easier than it use to be. All you have to do enter the iTunes store, locate the menu bar toward the top of the screen and select iTunesU. The content provides range from K-12 school districts, college and universities, (American) National Public Radio, American Public Media, The British Broadcasting Corporation, and many libraries, educational non-profit organizations, museums and more.

iTunes U Menu selection screen

There is a Power search option that will help you target specific content providers and also help you locate closed captioned media inside of iTunes. You will find class lectures, presentations or special seminar events that have been recorded; either as an audio, video or document. You can select one file or subscribe to an entire course.

This means that if you had a hankering for Philosophy and the Human Situation from the (UK) Open University it is yours to listen or download. Free. No Charge. Bupkis. Same with Einstein and the Mind of God from American Public Media’s Speaking of Faith program. It gets better because there are transcripts for the audio and discussion questions.

There are lectures and courses about Shakespeare, writing, health, science, introductory college courses, and content from the Library of Congress. Yes it is American centric but there is content from the United Kingdom, Australia and other countries.

The content is not restricted to the computer or an Apple device. If you have an audio mp3 or multimedia player you can transfer content that is not under Digital Rights Management to your non-Apple player.

If you are a Windows user go to the iTunesU folder (top left hand side of the screen), click you mouse button on top of the icon that represents your content, then click your secondary mouse button for the sub-menu. Next, select Show in Windows Explorer.

Windows Folder for mp3 content
This will take you to the folder on your computer that contains your downloaded educational content. From there you should be able to copy the content to your media device of choice. Video will be in the QuickTime format which is why you need to have a copy of the QuickTime player on your system.

Sound too good to be true huh? Well in a way, yes, it is. There are a few caveats.

Such as audio presentations. You might want to view what the professor or lecturer is describing. If there are no transcripts or supporting documentation you are on your own. Many of the colleges and universities do have links back to the home schools but not necessarily to the lecture or topic of discussion.

For certain topics like the Library of Congress Cataloging Skills course there is a 526 page trainee manual. Library cataloging is not for the faint of heart. MARC punctuation can make grown folks tear up just thinking about it. This is one course that really needs a video component like a slideshow or animation to demonstrate the concepts.

That, I guess is my point. You, as the participant, will have to put whatever information has been provided in context. There is no “facilitator.”

iTunesU isn’t perfect. It will evolve. I think in a few more years there will be iTunes community based learning. That community may generate an unexpected income source for Apple. Or not. That will be up to user demand and suggestions.

In the meantime, Dara at The Do It Yourself Scholar has got iTunes scoped out for you. She has a guide to the best iTunesU courses as well as free educational podcasts and webcast. You want Dara's RSS feed to keep up with the changes and the new courses.

iTunesU is not the only game in town. There are other options.

YouTube EDU has educational channels with many of the same colleges and universities that iTunes has. In a sense it is easier to access the content. There is a lot of it. That is the good news. The bad news for educational content is that is often mixed up with promotional videos.

Colleges and universities should certainly have promotional videos of their schools. Great idea. For some schools that is all that they have. For others there is content overload and you have to fish out what you want.

I liked the Berklee School of Music channel. If there is a musical bone in your body that needs a refresher course this is the place. A mixture of actual courses and PR for online classes. The University of California Television channel also has original content.

Some of the traditional gatekeepers are actually opening the door for open access to coursework. Other participants are not waiting and creating their own content to share without charge. These are just a few quick examples. I have so many more that I will share in a future posts.

K-12 Content

  • MathTrain.tv For kids, parents, teachers and all other wanting to master more than 1+2=3. There is captioned content. You can visit the website or subscribe via iTunes.
  • HippoCampus from the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education has free multimedia courses for high school and college students. The site makes use of Flash media and QuickTime content.

College, University and Life Learning

  • Carnegie Mellon The Open Learning Initiative – want to learn Statistics, French or Visual Design of Technical Documents? This is the place.
  • Khan Academy YouTube Channel. To truly appreciate the channel you might want to go to the website first. Chemistry, Biology, Finance, Physics, Probability, and good ole Arithmetic. The videos are free to video from YouTube however there is a .99 cents download fee, if the user wants to download the video. I feel that some of the videos are too long and there are other quibbles. But the narrator is engaging, and, contrary to the usual behavior of YouTube comments, most viewers seem to appreciate the effort.
  • Open2net is the UK online portal to the Open University/BBC content. There are additional resources not found in iTunes. Some of the BBC programming is off limits to American users.
  • University of Texas at Austin – Any school that has video of Beat Poets is ok with with me.

You should also read Virginia DeBolt’s post on the new features of iTunes and Leslie Madsen Brooks post on iTunes on the potentially disruptive nature of iTunesU can have in education.

Gena Hasketts is a Contributing Editor at BlogHer and writes at Out On The Stoop and Create Video NoteBook.

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