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Nov. 21, 2008

Class podcasts made easy, with iTunes U

by Diana Pounds

"Want to hear how easy it is? I go into class, set up and do my lecture, using my PowerPoint, data projector and the room microphone. They somehow have things set up to recover everything, do some conversion and -- it's all magic to me -- there's a link in my WebCT course calendar to the lecture and presentation."
-- Barb Krumhardt, lecturer for Biology 255

For instructors who've been pondering podcasts of their classes, the time may be right. Setting up a semester's worth of podcasting is as easy as taking a laptop to the Communications Building to get software and a short lesson, says Jim Twetten, assistant director of information technology services (ITS).

Capturing the lesson

Academic technologies staff will load the laptop with site-licensed classroom capture software (Echo360) that:

  • Automatically turns itself on during class times
  • Records the instructor's lecture along with the presentation (that's anything presented on the instructor's laptop, such as PowerPoint slides, web pages or other electronic documents)
  • Builds the finished lesson into a podcast, and immediately publishes it on iTunes U

Just turn it on

"All the faculty member needs to do before class is turn on the computer and remember to put on a microphone," Twetten said. He added that ITS staff also will provide instructors with audio equipment that works best for their classrooms or lecture halls.

A class podcast on iTunes U is only available to students who are registered for the class, Twetten said. Instructors can opt to automatically publish podcast links into their WebCT classes. Or they can direct students to log in (using their ISU net-IDs) at They'll need iTunes installed on their computers. (A button on iTunes U homepage links to the free installation.)

Ready for prime time

ITS staff are ready to offer iTunes U services to any instructors who'd like to podcast their spring classes. Contact Twetten,, 4-2317, to schedule an appointment. The software installation and setup should take about an hour. Instructors also can work with their own college or departmental ITS staff.

The pioneers

The College of Engineering partnered with ITS last spring and summer to offer podcasts as supplemental instruction for a distance education class that included both on- and off-campus students. Similar experimentation is under way in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences this semester.

Hiro Iino and Dave Anderson, coordinators for distance learning programs in Engineering and LAS, respectively, have been heavily involved in Iowa State's early efforts in classroom capture software and podcasting, and they like what they see.

"The Echo360 and the podcast are pretty amazing tools for class," Anderson said. "They help students go over what they talk about in class and are a great way to review. They can review class content anytime, anywhere."

A nice bonus of using iTunes U, Iino said, is that Apple provides free storage space for podcasts. Universities also can opt to store materials on their own sites and link to iTunes U.

Showing up for class

If classes are available by podcast, will some students opt to cut class? Iino and Anderson say instructors retain full control of their attendance requirements and can use the technology accordingly. They can, for example, delay availability of podcasts. They can make podcasts available only for review or to those who missed class due to illness or emergency. Most instructors, however, opt for posting podcasts immediately.

Barb Krumhardt, a lecturer in genetics, development and cell biology, tracks attendance in her Biology 255 class with clickers and doesn't worry that the new technology will keep students away from the classroom. With the assistance of LAS program coordinator Doug Bull, Krumhardt has been offering her lectures to the class via podcast since October.

"Not everyone in class uses them, but there are some students who are really into audio learning, and they just listen to my lectures over and over. Sounds like torture to me," she quipped.

Krumhardt especially likes the fact that the technology happens in the background, allowing her to focus on teaching.

"This is a pretty amazing experience," she said, "since it hasn't been a hassle at all."

Also playing on iTunes U

The public section of iTunes U features news, information and how-to videos from Engineering, LAS, university relations, university marketing and ITS. University departments and units can submit their videos to Twetten for inclusion on this site.


But first . . .

What's a podcast?
A podcast is a feed that distributes audio or video files over the Internet. The files are downloaded to computers, where they can either be viewed directly, or transferred to portable media players, such as Apple iPods. Podcasts often consist of music, TV and radio programming and class lessons and lectures. To download podcasts, you need special software such as iTunes or Zune.

What is iTunes U?
iTunes U is a web site, where colleges and universities can offer educational programming, such as course lectures, speakers, videos on campus life and more. Some podcasts may be open only to students in specific classes while others may be available to the public. iTunes U can be found under the "music store" in the iTunes application. The direct route to Iowa State's section is