The iTunes U at the OU learner

Presentation by Fernando Rosell-Aguilar st the CALRG 2012 conference.

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Rebecca Ferguson
19 June 2012

iTunes U was launched in 2007 as a repository of digital educational material provided by Universities in the US.  In 2008 the OU joined the service and now hosts more than 350 collections of materials (audio, video, eBooks).  Since its launch, iTunes U has delivered over 300 million downloads.  Of these, 34 million are from iTunes U at the OU.  Despite its popularity, little is known about the type of user who downloads iTunes U resources, or their use of the resources.  This paper will present the results of a major survey of users of iTunes U at the OU.  The survey ran for 20 months and collected more than 2000 responses.  The paper will provide data on the kind of user who downloads iTunes U at the OU resources, what they do with the materials they download, and what they think of them as a learning resource.

The popularity of portable media players and podcasting has increased enormously in the last few years. Some researchers were quick to identify the potential uses and benefits of podcasting for learning. Among these is the fact that the materials are delivered in a format that is portable, convenient and easy to use as well as easy to access. To a large extent, the quick take-up of podcasting as a new technology was due to the success of the iTunes software for the delivery and management of audiovisual resources.   iTunes U was launched in 2007 as a repository of digital educational material provided by Universities in the US.  In 2008 the OU joined the service and now hosts around 400 collections of materials.  Since its launch, iTunes U at the OU has delivered over 52 million downloads.

The fact that a large number of resources are regularly added to iTunes U by top universities worldwide has been heralded as a new way of providing unprecedented access to lectures and materials created by top experts in their fields.  In most cases, the materials have been designed with the universities' own students in mind, but when they are uploaded to iTunes U, they find new and different audiences.  Effectively, the providers are teaching strangers.  Whereas previous literature on podcasting has focused on users who utilise resources provided by their own lecturers, little is known about the end-users of iTunes U resources and what they do with them.

This paper reveals some characteristics of the iTunes U user through a large survey which was carried out over 2 months and collected over 2000 responses.  It provides a profile of the end user, their practices and opinions about materials. The data shows that the type of user who downloads iTunes U resources in this context is very different from the users and practices described in the literature so far.  This profile of the iTunes U user provides a clearer picture of the target listener and can help inform and improve the materials design and delivery strategies for iTunes U.

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