iWU: Pushing to get the University on iTunes

Naveen Jain | STUDENT LIFE

An iniative spearheaded by the University Initiatives Committee of SU and senior Neel Desai will expand Washington University’s presence on iTunes U. The Apple service provides lectures from Universities worldwide to users.

There is a new set of eyes in Professor William Lowry’s popular American Politics class this year, and it doesn’t belong to freshmen.

This semester, Student Union has dived headfirst into integrating a new program, iTunes U, into Washington University’s academics.

The project has commenced in Simon Hall; a total of three cameras and six or seven microphones are stationed around May Auditorium and two professional cameraman record Professor Lowry’s lectures every Monday and Wednesday. The University’s participation in the iTunes U program originated in the University Initiatives Committee of Student Union Senate.

The main idea behind expanding the University’s iTunes U page is to recreate popular courses for individuals not currently attending the University.

Senior Neel Desai, speaker of the Student Union Senate, is now leading the charge to expand the University’s page. Desai said he is dissatisfied with the current state of the University’s iTunes U presence.

“[The University’s page] is pretty barren and not very popular. If you look at this main page, everything is subdivided into schools but not by courses,” Desai said. “There are no customer reviews. I think it’s safe to say that the service isn’t very popular. There is a lot of catching up to do.”

The iTunes U program was developed by Apple Inc. in 2007 as a platform for universities and educational institutions to open up the classroom for students and non-students alike. One of the main concerns with designing the service as a tool for current students is that doing so might disrupt the classroom atmosphere and give students an excuse to miss class.

To assess the impact of the service on the classroom, a pilot program, which includes Lowry’s class, is underway. As the pilot continues, small problems are being addressed and dealt with to ensure that the program runs smoothly when it is fully implemented.

If the pilot is successful, Desai hopes to expand the program to include other large lecture courses.

Funding for the program is currently being provided by the Office of the Provost.

Desai hopes the program will help to strengthen the University’s brand and recognition.

“From the University’s perspective you could also think of it as free advertising. It’s a way to share what we’re doing,” Desai said. “It’s a potential recruitment tool for interested freshman. More and more people will learn the name Washington University in St. Louis if we succeed.”

iTunes U features entire courses from more than 1000 renowned universities from around the world including Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and California Institute of Technology.

While much of the content for the program will be aimed at students not from Washington University, a variety of student groups may get the opportunity to get involved in the near future.

“Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could get our a cappella performances, Diwali, carnivals, Lunar New Year Festival on iTunes U and show that aspect of what we do to the world? We’ve been reaching out to these groups to see if we can create the level of content we want. This could be a real place for Wash. U. to differentiate itself on this service,” Desai said.

However, student opinions about the program have been mixed.

Oscar Granados-Martinez, a freshman in the Olin Business School, is skeptical about the iTunes U program.

“I see the potential for the program, but right now it seems a little too gimmicky. It’s very dependent on the ability to build an adequate mobile college course,” he said.

Sophomore Elizabeth Chen believes that the program could truly benefit non-university students who are interested in the lectures, should the content be released.

“It’s a really good idea. It’s interesting that people with access to this technology, like students in…other countries can access these lectures,” she said. “People can receive this American education that I know many other countries do covet. However I know that many of these lectures are kept private in a university… since they’re intellectual property.”

iTunes U has seen more than 600 million downloads since its inception.

“I know a lot of people pay quite a bit of good money for this education and lectures, [so] it’s nice to share,” Chen said.

Note: This article originally stated that there are six cameras in May Auditorium; there are three cameras and six or seven microphones. Student Life apologizes for the error.