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iTunes U Gains Headway on College Campuses

by Maria Minsker | Cornell University

F Posted in: College P Posted on: January 26, 2012

Steve Jobs wanted the iPad to revolutionize the way the world interacts with media. When it first came out, the iPad seemed like a cool gadget, and “revolutionize” seemed like too strong a word. It had all the game apps that were already available on the iPhone or iTouch, and it had the document processing and Internet capabilities of a Mac or PC, but so what?

The wonderful thing about an iPad, though, isn’t necessarily what it can do, but how it can do it. Equipped with an operating system that can perform many of the functions of a laptop computer, the iPad maintains the sleekness and portability of the iPhone and weighs almost nothing. In other words, it is the best of both worlds, and this incontrovertible fact is even more evident when perfect-for-iPad apps, like Apples’ recent endeavor—iTunes U—become available.

According to Brent Rose’s recent article, university professors can now stream lectures to all of their students, at any place or time. Lectures can be saved and downloaded later, and the options to fast forward and to rewind are also available. The app will allow students to store their notes and organize them through integration with Apple’s iBooks 2 notes app.

There are several reasons why this app is great for the iPad, mostly due to its ideal size. It isn’t a tiny screen that’ll leave even those with 20/20 vision rubbing their eyes at the end of a night of studying, and it isn’t a bulky laptop that needs to be charged after an hour of cordless use. It is light, compact, has a fairly large screen, and an impressive battery life. You can use it in a library for long term studying or at your favorite take-out joint, where you can study while you wait for your order instead of wasting 20 valuable minutes aimlessly exploring their menu.

The reasons why this app is great in general are slightly more complex. For one, it makes learning easier. When a concept from class is unclear, the explanation in a textbook may not be adequate, but a review of the explanation presented by the professor, and the opportunity to see the lecture—or at least parts of it—several times may prove extremely useful. Though many universities, including my own, often record some lectures and make the disk available to students, the disks are only available at specific times for very brief loans and cannot be taken out of the classrooms or libraries where they are stored. Though it is a step in the right direction, this current system is inconvenient.

The iPad app is also helpful to those students who miss lecture for whatever reason. A student who was out sick for a week can miss tons of valuable material, and a professor cannot be expected to spend hours going over everything. This app would simplify that situation for all parties involved.

iTunes U could also give students the opportunity to take classes that they were unable to before. Whether a class overlaps with another or with a work schedule, the conflict could easily be resolved by viewing all lectures remotely at a convenient time and taking the class as an online version of itself.

And of course, it’s impossible not to think about how much money the average college student would save by purchasing an iPad and then using e-textbooks made available through the app. The iPad is roughly $500, which is about what I personally spend on textbooks each semester, and I know many people who spend hundreds more. E-books are cheaper to publish, so they are much cheaper to purchase, which will make a huge difference for college students’ budgets.

Surely, there are several criticisms regarding this app. For example, some say that students are probably less likely to go to class if they know that all the lectures are going to be available online. Then lectures will become obsolete, and students won’t learn as effectively, because they won’t be surrounded by their peers and won’t be able to ask their professors questions during class. In response, my experience has been that a class in which a professor posts all his lecture notes (in the form of PowerPoint presentations) online has about the same attendance rate as a class in which a professor does not make his notes available. In other words, students who tend to skip class will do so whether or not they will have access to the lecture notes.

In addition, to quote my former Earth Science professor, “I get paid whether you show up or not. So if you don’t come to lecture, it’s your money you’re wasting, not mine.” This is true—students who want to learn and make the most out of their time at college will come to lectures, and they won’t become obsolete.

Just as the iPad isn’t meant to replace the iPhone or a laptop, iTunes U isn’t meant to replace the concept of going to class and help slackers be slackers. Just like the iPad itself enhances the media experience by being perfectly suited for certain situations, iTunes U is meant to enhance a college education. Technology is supposed to simplify the way we do things, and that’s what iTunes U for iPad is designed to do.

Maria Minsker Maria Minsker Maria Minsker is a junior English and communication double major at Cornell University. She is an aspiring journalist who loves to travel, try foreign cuisines and watch reruns of old sitcoms.

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