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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