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Friday, February 9, 2007

Getting digital: UNCP enrolls in Apple’s iTunes U

When a University goes back to school, it’s a good thing. When enrollment comes with a new tool that enhances teaching and learning, that’s a really good thing.

By enrolling in iTunes U, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke is venturing deeper into the digital age of higher education. Just ask Dr. Charles Harrington, the University’s chief academic officer, who was spotted on campus recently sporting a set of Apple iPod earbuds.

Music professor Dr. Larry Arnold gave a hands-on workshop for the recent podcasting training day. Dr. Arnold teaches in a digital music lab.

Music professor Dr. Larry Arnold gave a hands-on workshop for the recent podcasting training day. Dr. Arnold teaches in a digital music lab.


“I’m learning Mandarin Chinese,” he said. “I’m hoping emerging technologies like this will help us work smarter and add to the rigor and quality of personalized learning.”

Dr. Harrington believes that student learning will be enhanced with intelligent applications of digital technologies like the iPod and iTunes U, which supports it.

“Would a podcasted lecture help our students learn when they can replay and review key parts of a lecture?” he asks. “It’s the next great technological wave in higher education.”

UNCP’s Office of Academic Affairs began distributing iPods last spring to faculty and key administrative support personnel.

“I want to make certain that faculty who are interested will have the opportunity to work and play with an iPod,” Dr. Harrington said.

On February 2, UNCP’s Digital Academy hosted a Podcasting Training Day with guest speakers from Apple and NC State University and hands-on training.

Attendance at Training Day was good with representatives from many academic departments: business, chemistry, art, mass communications, library and music.

“iTunes U was created to use technology in the classroom – creatively - that’s our emphasis,” said Apple Systems Engineer Francis Shepherd. “What if the lecture is delivered before the class begins?”

Teaching becomes more effective, said Dr. Steven Robison of the Art Department.

George Johnson, an instructor in Mass Communications, discusses content creation for iTunes U. Johnson is a television engineer and teaching digital animation.

George Johnson, an instructor in Mass Communications, discusses content creation for iTunes U. Johnson is a television engineer and teaching digital animation.


“I’ve been teaching with the iPod, and learning is so much better,” Dr. Robison said. “Material can be re-reviewed by students.”

The digital age has changed expectations for education, said Dr. Carmen Calabrese, director of UNCP’s MBA program.

“Our students bring technology to our classes in their pockets and book bags,” Dr. Calabrese said. “There is an expectations that we teach at that level, but we don’t have the tools yet.”

More than 89 million iPods have sold. The iPod quickly became a cultural icon as a music delivery device, but it is gaining devotees in higher education because, at its core, it is a portable hard drive that can download, store and playback information for a mobile new generation.

iTunes U is a content management and information delivery system for professors and universities to create and post information that students and others may download to a computer or iPod for mobile learning. These downloads may include lectures, news, music, books, photographs, art and other graphics, periodicals, videos etc.

“The possibilities are limited only by our imagination,” said Dr. Collie Coleman, associate vice chancellor for Outreach. Dr. Coleman, who directs courses to UNCP’s growing online inventory and to satellite campuses in the region, said iTunes U has unique possibilities for distance learners.

“Mobile learning is as much a part of this generation as lifelong learning,” Dr. Coleman said. “The iPod and iTunes U will give us more tools to make distance learning more personal and higher quality.”

Online courses are popular with all UNCP students, and almost every student is enrolled in at least one. UNCP ranks third among the 16 UNC institutions for enrollment in distance education.


The first iPods came to campus with students, but professors who wrote grant applications last spring got the devices. Long before Apple Inc.’s introduction of the iPod, a group of early adapters at UNCP were working in all-things-digital in a multi-disciplinary cadre called the Digital Academy.

Art professor Dr. John Labadie, director of the academy, said the iPod fits the cultural paradigm of a generation.

“The introduction of the Apple iTunes U structure and the rise of the podcasting phenomenon are indications of the potential of mobile/portable digital devices,” Dr. Labadie said. “The possibilities of such technologies seem nearly limitless and the adoption of them is accelerating in many professions.”

Dr. Labadie, who guest lectures around the globe via the Internet, sees a place for the iPod as part of a range of digital tools in higher education.

“Larry Arnold (music professor) and George Johnson (broadcast engineer and adjunct professor in Mass Communications) each made two-hour video presentations to my graduate classes at National Chengchi University in Taipei, Taiwan, this past year,” he said. “Such content can be edited and posted as podcasts and shared with other classes via the Internet and/or downloaded to iPods.”

For Johnson, the ability to post and download audio and video information is the key to using iTunes U.

“Podcasting is the process of producing digitized content and posting it to the Web in a RSS 2.0 ‘envelope’ in such a way that makes the content available like a subscription,” Johnson said. “RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication, and this structure uses computer code called XML to map it to a producer’s show so it can be detected by audience software such as iTunes. The content flows automatically to a subscriber’s computer when the subscriber’s iTunes software connects to the Internet.”


Academic programs are gearing up. Jason Atkinson, works at UNCP’s Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) as an instructional course “designer,” a position created to help faculty transform classroom lessons into digital formats.

“The iPod is another tool that will have a positive impact for both our faculty and students,” Atkinson said. “The TLC will be working collaboratively with other offices to provide support for faculty integrating the use of iPods in their teaching.  We are truly excited about having this technology at our fingertips!”

Michael Alewine, online resources librarian for the Sampson-Livermore Library, said the iPod and other advances would add “personal value” to online learners. In early August, Alewine edited a sample video for student orientation to reference services at the library.

“The audio and video quality on the new iPods is fantastic,” Alewine said. “It has the potential to add value to everything we do, and make it more personal.”

Alewine attended a recent workshop in “audiocasting” that included free online software for teachers. Alewine calls this kind of learning “m-learning,” or mobile learning.

“It’s not the coming thing,” he said. “It’s here.”

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