Harvard Now on iTunes: A New Model for University Podcasts?

HarvIt was only a ques­tion of when, not if. Har­vard has final­ly carved out a space, albeit a rather small one,
on iTunes. (See yes­ter­day’s press release.)  Estab­lished by the Har­vard Exten­sion School, the iTunes site cur­rent­ly fea­tures one free, full-fledged course called Under­stand­ing Com­put­ers and the Inter­net, which had pre­vi­ous­ly been issued in oth­er dig­i­tal for­mats. (See our pre­vi­ous arti­cle.) In addi­tion, you can notably access out­takes from 30 com­plete cours­es that the school will offer online, for a fee, dur­ing the spring aca­d­e­m­ic term. These cours­es fall into three neat cat­e­gories: lib­er­al arts, man­age­ment and com­put­er sci­ence.

Har­vard’s iTunes strat­e­gy is rather unique. While most major uni­ver­si­ties are sim­ply giv­ing away podcasts/information, Har­vard Exten­sion is evi­dent­ly using the Apple plat­form more for busi­ness pur­pos­es than for pub­lic ser­vice. In a vac­u­um, it’s not a bad idea. In fact, seen in a cer­tain light, it’s pret­ty savvy. Why not offer teasers to gen­er­ate more sales for sophis­ti­cat­ed online cours­es? Why not give cus­tomers a real sense of what they’re get­ting into? If there’s a prob­lem with these ideas, it’s sim­ply that they risk clash­ing with exist­ing expec­ta­tions — expec­ta­tions that uni­ver­si­ties offer pod­casts for free and for the pub­lic good. And there’s the risk that iTunes users will fail to make a crit­i­cal dis­tinc­tion between your aver­age free pod­cast, and a pod­cast that’s real­ly meant to be part of a com­plete, fee-based online course. One way or anoth­er, the busi­ness motive will like­ly raise some eye­brows. But, our guess is that Har­vard will be able to clar­i­fy the rea­son for the new mod­el, and they’ll find in iTunes, as oth­ers will too, a new and poten­tial­ly pow­er­ful way of giv­ing vis­i­bil­i­ty to cer­tain forms of online edu­ca­tion­al con­tent. Cer­tain­ly, ven­tures like the Teach­ing Com­pa­ny should be giv­ing this mod­el a seri­ous look.

For more pod­casts, see our uni­ver­si­ty pod­cast col­lec­tion and also our com­plete pod­cast col­lec­tion here.

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  • Fas­ci­nat­ing news. Is Har­vard’s lec­ture con­tent so much bet­ter than MIT, Stan­ford, Prince­ton, or Berke­ley’s (to name a few) that it’s just not right to give it away? Break­ing from what has become a tra­di­tion of open course­ware is def­i­nite­ly a bold move by the Ivy-League pow­er­house. It’s also a tad bit elit­ist and, per­haps, dan­ger­ous.

    When you’re com­pet­ing with free alter­na­tives you’d bet­ter be con­fi­dent your prod­uct is sig­nif­i­cant­ly bet­ter. One of the unique byprod­ucts of open course­ware is that stu­dents have an authen­tic means of com­par­ing poten­tial uni­ver­si­ty pro­grams for the first time. I imag­ine Har­vard would be wise to begin by mak­ing only their most high­ly regard­ed cours­es online. My instinct, how­ev­er, is that Har­vard’s new mod­el won’t last.

    “I feel … an ardent desire to see knowl­edge so dis­sem­i­nat­ed through the mass of mankind that it may, at length, reach even the extremes of soci­ety: beg­gars and kings.”
    –Thomas Jef­fer­son: Reply to Amer­i­can Philo­soph­i­cal Soci­ety, 1808.

  • chalres darwin says:

    col­lege: all a col­lege does is sell Admit tick­ets.

    1. yes, can come to class.

    2. no, can­not come to class.

    The idea that only a select few can access knowl­edge is going way of dinosours.

    One Real class can reach 100–500 peo­ple in the room.

    One dig­i­tal class can reach one, two, three bil­lion peo­ple around the world, around the clock.

    Time to free knowl­edge from the few. Knowl­edge belongs to All peo­ple of earth.

    Dig­i­tal knowl­edge, dig­i­tal edu­ca­tion can reach bil­lions of peo­ple around the world, around the clock.

    Har­vard, like Berke­ley, MIT should offer All cours­es free to the world.

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