Reusing iTunesU content

I felt compelled to bring this blog out of semi retirement (another blog shelved thanks to Twitter) to write about iTunesU. There’s been some interesting but sometimes ill-informed discussion on the JISC-REPOSITORIES mailing list about this topic, based largely on gut feeling that something about iTunesU just ain’t right. That’s a shame because as a model for reusable content it’s a good one.

I write in context of our own iTunesU presence, the University of Warwick. Here’s our home in iTunesU. We’re quite proud of it, and it seems to be working for us. By that I mean we seem to be reaching an audience thanks to the marketing profile that being on iTunesU brings. And for us, largely, that’s what it is just now, a marketing opportunity to tell people more about who we are and what we do. Plus of course it’s a chance to explore this as a publishing channel.

But that’s not the only publishing channel we have. We of course also publish learning & teaching resources for our own students via our home-grown web publishing system, and we’re constantly looking at new ways of publishing content. It’s a publisher’s dream perhaps to be able to reuse existing content in new ways without having to constantly create new content. And we’re also trying to find ways of being publisher of open access resources, whilst at the same time trying to track resource use to enhance the learning experience for our students. So it’s a balancing act between requiring users to log into our systems so their needs are known and their experience enhanced as a result, and simply making everything open for anyone. It’d be great to be able to do both with the same content in one location.

So we’re doing what we can with RSS, and RSS with enclosures, or podcasts they’re more commonly called. Here’s one of our iTunesU RSS feeds, a collection called ‘Slow Poetry‘ by Professor David Morely. You can subscribe to this feed with your favourite RSS reader. When it’s rendered by iTunesU it looks like this…

itunesu

But not everyone likes iTunesU, which is fine. Because iTunesU is just an RSS agregator, then if you don’t like it use a different aggregator. The same feed can be rendered in Google Reader for example, and it looks like this…

googlereader

But wait, as I said, we also publish content for our own students, so in our web publishing system the very same content looks like this…

warwickintranet

It’s the same content, just deployed in different ways. The underlying content, MP4 movies in this case, is at the same location or URI in each case. So that’s one of the myths in the recent JISC-REPOSITORIES discussion busted. As an added bonus Apple are not being evil as they do not ask for exclusivity when publishing content in iTunesU, so content can be redeployed elsewhere, which fits with our publishing strategy nicely.

Another objection was that iTunesU content is not discoverable by Google. Well, of course it’s not true as this and this shows. Now granted you might not want to search iTunesU content via this route – the search facility inside iTunesU is actually quite good – but you can if you want to. But regardless it’s an unfounded myth that it can’t be done at all.

Lastly, the original poster on the JISC list asked why would anyone want to publish in iTunesU when you can publish on YouTube and use the whole web/web2 infrastructure. Well, why not reuse content and do both, as we have done. That’s the beauty of the web and reusable content