Apple launches free university podcasts

Apple Computer has introduced a free service that enables colleges and universities to put course lectures online using Apple’s iTunes software and allows students to skip class.

The maker of iPod portable players and Macintosh computers has worked with six US universities on the pilot project for more than a year and has recently invited other universities to participate. “So far the response has been really good,” said an Apple spokesman.

ITunes U allows students to download podcasts and ‘vodcasts’ (audio and visual files) onto their computers and iPods so they can listen to and watch the recorded lectures anywhere, any time.

Many institutions already offer podcasts of lectures through their internal network. Apple’s new service offers a customised version of the iTunes software that enables administrators to manage students’ access to the online materials.

“Our students are digital natives and what we’re trying to do is meet them where they already are,” said Keith Politte, development officer at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, which took part in the pilot programme.

Stanford University, another member of the pilot programme, gives the public free access to selected course lectures as well as audio broadcasts of sporting events through its iTunes-affiliated site.

Kenneth Wong, professor of education at Brown University, an Ivy League school on Long Island, said he was worried students could duck classes and miss out on face-to-face contact with their professors and peers. “Students learn a fair amount from the interaction and discussion with their fellow classmates,” he said. “Undergraduates in particular need to develop a sense of intellectual community.”

Apple is a well-established brand on college campuses. Its computer sales have tended to rely on schools and universities, and young people are some of the biggest consumers of iPods and Apple’s iTunes Music Store.

The new service could make students regular visitors to iTunes, where songs are sold for 99 cents apiece and television shows are sold for $1.99 each.

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