September 25, 2009 — The University of Virginia is into the free digital downloading business – and it's totally legal.
That's because the content being offered is not copyrighted music; instead, there are more than 1,200 lectures, radio shows, videos and myriad other forms of digital output, all available for downloading from U.Va.'s new channel on iTunes U.
Apple popularized music downloads through its iTunes store, where anyone can purchase entire albums or single tracks for downloading to their computers. Once downloaded, they can be burned onto a CD or transferred to a mobile device, like an iPod, or merely listened to through the computer.
iTunes U follows the same concept, but is adapted for higher education. Instead of "albums," content is organized by "courses." Tracks are individual chunks of content, including audio, video and pdf files. Audio content is called a "podcast"; video is called a "vodcast."
Suppose you had wanted to catch Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus' speech on Sept. 20, but just couldn't make it to University Hall. Now, you can go to U.Va.'s iTunes U channel, click on the "U.Va. Events" course, and select Yunus' speech for download.
The 56-minute audio file goes into your iTunes library, where you can listen to it on your computer, burn it to a CD or transfer it to a mobile device to listen to when you're out for a jog, for example.
Some content is created especially for podcasting. U.Va.'s Darden School of Business, for example, has posted seven tracks in its "Darden GreenPod" series, audio files of between 11 and 24 minutes dealing with some aspect of principles and practices of environmental sustainability.
iTunes U has another handy feature: You can choose to "subscribe" to a particular course, and fresh content will automatically be downloaded to your iTunes library. So when Darden posts its eighth "GreenPod" episode, it will show up in your library without you having to search for it on the iTunes U site.
U.Va.'s iTunes U site has been in the works for "a very long time," said Jonelle Kinback of U.Va.'s Office of Web Communications, which worked with the Department of Information, Technology and Communication to create the U.Va. channel.
U.Va. had created and maintained its own podcasting site, but participation in iTunes U offers much more visibility and flexibility, said U.Va. webmaster Nancy Tramontin.
"The future direction of digital media was clear to us a few years ago when we first started our work with Apple," she said. "Our own podcasting site was one of the first and was very popular, but we knew that iTunes U would open us up to a larger audience and would offer users more options, such as subscribing to a specific feed to stay connected to their interests at U.Va."
Each course has its own administrator, who uploads content onto the site. The U.Va. channel had a "soft launch" back in March to allow time for training and building up the available offerings before this week's public launch, Kinback said.
Many other universities use iTunes U primarily to provide course content to students. U.Va.'s offerings are more eclectic, ranging from the weekly UVA Today radio show to the U.Va. Alumni Education Program's "More Than the Score" pre-football game lectures to a vodcast of Final Exercises. Prospective students can download a tour of the Rotunda and Academical Village. The channel will also serve as a repository of history, as administrators plan to compile and offer all of U.Va. President John T. Casteen III's major speeches this year until his retirement in August.
The front page of U.Va.'s iTunes U channel will feature a rotating assortment of courses and tracks, chosen by site administrator Amanda Lotas, audio-video editor in the Strategic Communications Office. There's also a box tracking the top downloads, and another allowing links to various categories and schools.
On the back end, administrators can monitor which tracks are most browsed, downloaded and listened to, Kinback said.