iTunes U & What It Means For You

Here’s a logical follow up to our last post — 10 Free University Courses on iTunes.

It turns out that yesterday Apple nicely integrated iTunes U into iTunes. Now, you’ll probably ask what is iTunes U, and why should I care about this integration? So here is the simple answer:

iTunes U is essentially a non-commercial version of iTunes that several universities started to use over the past year. And, in fact, some of the best university podcast collections (namely, Berkeley’s and Stanford’s) were launched on this platform. The problem was that you couldn’t access these podcasts from the iTunes store that everyone’s accustomed to using. So, if you opened iTunes and searched for Stanford podcasts, you got bubkis.

The distinction between iTunes and iTunes U was largely artificial, and so it made perfect sense to mesh together the two platforms. (Read the press release here.) What doesn’t particularly make sense is the way in which the two platforms now fit together — or actually kind of don’t. If you do a search for “MIT,” for example, you’ll see that some MIT podcasts come up in a search results bucket called “Podcasts” (these are from MIT’s business school) and others come up in a bucket called “iTunes U.” So, put simply, the MIT podcasts aren’t grouped together in one collection. (Try it out and you will see what I mean.)

But why complain, the new integration is no doubt a good step in the right direction.

10 Free University Courses on iTunes

We haven’t talked about the universe of university podcasts in some time. So let’s get back to it.Below, we have highlighted ten full-fledged courses from top flight universities. All of these courses can be downloaded to your iPod for free. That’s a price that you can’t beat. (You can see our complete collection of free online courses here.)

1. European History from the Renaissance to the Present (UC Berkeley)

“This course is an introduction to European history from around 1500 to the present. The central questions that it addresses are how and why Europe–a small, relatively poor, and politically fragmented place–became the motor of globalization and a world civilization in its own right.”

–Thomas Laqueur, Professor of History

2. Geography of World Cultures (Stanford University)

Even in a globalized world, people continue to be joined together and divided asunder by the languages they speak, the religions they follow, and the ethnic identities to which they belong. This map-intensive course examines every world region, seeking to understand how places vary from each other with regard to the cultural attributes of their inhabitants. (Note: This course is being rolled out in weekly installments.)

–Martin Lewis, Lecturer in History, Interim Director, Program in International Relations

3. Old English in Context (Oxford University)

A four lecture mini-course on how English became English during the medieval period.

–Dr Stuart Lee, OUCS

4. Physics for Future Presidents (UC Berkeley)

This course gives you the physics you need to know to be a president, Supreme Court justice, diplomat, businessman, lawyer, football coach, or other world leader.

Richard Muller, Professor of Physics.

NOTE: Tthe same course happens also to appear on Google Video. Simply go to Google Video and perform a search with the following keywords: physics 10 berkeley.

5. Quantum Mechanics (UC Davis)

If Physics for Future Presidents is too basic for you, you can get into some more heavy duty science right here.

John Terning, Associate Professor of Physics

6. The Historical Jesus (Stanford University)

Who was the historical Jesus of Nazareth? What did he actually say? In short, what are the differences — and similarities — between the Jesus who lived and died in history and the Christ who lives on in believers’ faith?

–Thomas Sheehan, Professor of Religious Studies and Professor Emeritus of Philosophy

7. Understanding Computers and the Internet (Harvard University)

This course demystifies computers and the Internet (along with their jargon) so that students understand not only what they can do with each, but also how each works and why.

–David Malan, Instructor

8. Entrepreneurship and Business Planning (Carnegie Mellon)

This class parallels a course being offered at Carnegie Mellon. It covers the ins-and-outs of starting a new venture, looking at how to develop ideas for new companies, write business plans, create teams. It also looks at typical b-school topics: marketing, competitive strategy, sales, pricing, funding and finance.

–Mark Juliano, Adjunct Professor

9. The Literature of Crisis (Stanford University)

In looking at great works by Plato, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Vergil, and Voltaire, this course explores crises that change the course of individuals and larger cultures.

–Marsh McCall, Professor of Classics

–Martin Evans, Professor in English

10. Existentialism in Literature & Film (UC Berkeley)

The course looks at efforts “to reinterpret the Judeo/Christian God, and to determine in what sense God is still a living God.” Along the way it looks at “Dostoyevsky’s and Kierkegaard’s attempts to preserve a non-theological version of the God of Christianity, as well as Nietzsche’s attempt to save us from belief in any version of God offered by our tradition.” Films also get discussed here.

–Hubert Dreyfus, Professor of Philosophy

If you know of other good courses available via podcast, please email us and let us know.

Who Didn’t See This One Coming?

America’s 42nd president spoke this weekend at Harvard’s Class Day, a traditional event held for graduating seniors. While Class Day often features pop icons and comedians — take this speech by Ali G from a few yeas ago — Clinton’s speech was a bit more serious and idealistic, and it reminds us that there may be again a day when we can look to the White House for substance and inspiration. This too shall pass. You can watch Part 1 of his presentation below. Here are links to Parts 2 and 3.

Talks from the 92nd Street Y

If you’re not a New Yorker, the 92nd Street Y probably means little to you. But, if you’re a Manhattan dweller, you know that it is a cultural pillar of the city, a place where you can always find good talks being given by leading news makers, artists, authors and thinkers.

Having recently left NYC for shiny, happy California, it was a pleasure to discover that the “Y” now runs a blog and, better yet, a podcast (iTunesFeed) featuring highlights of noteworthy talks. Here’s a sample of the audio clips that you’ll encounter: A segment from David Halberstam‘s 11th and last appearance at the Y (mp3) before his recent fatal car accident; Kurt Vonnegut, who also died recently, reading (mp3) from his book Breakfast of Champions; and Robert Altman (yes, he died too not too long ago) talking (mp3) about what turned out to be his last film, A Prairie Home Companion.

Now, I realize that this sounds more grim than it is. No, the podcast collection features more than talks by the recently deceased. The last I heard Sydney Pollack is still alive, and here he is talking (mp3) about his documentary, Sketches of Frank Gehry. And to end on a somewhat positive note, here you have Brian Wilson, of Beach Boys fame, discussing the film Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of Smile. Smile is one of the more famous “unfinished” albums in rock history.

For more podcasts along these lines, please see our collection of Arts & Culture Podcasts.

French Lessons from the BBC and the Peace Corps

Whenever traffic flows to to our collection of Free Language Lessons, one good outcome is that we almost always learn of new podcasts to add to the list. (Just as an fyi, we now have 64 individual podcasts that offer instruction on 22 different languages.)

Last week didn’t disappoint. We learned of a few good new ones. Most notably, one of our readers flagged for us a series of video-based French lessons assembled by the BBC. Presented by Stéphane Cornicard, Ma France consists of 24 interactive video units that teach you the language and a little about the country. You can launch this video to get a brief introduction. The series, which assumes a little prior knowledge of French, was shot in Lyons, the Alps and in Provence. You can access the videos on iTunes, by feed, and by web.

Another new addition to collection, How to Learn Languages for Free: Spanish, English, Chinese & 37 Other Languages, comes from the Peace Corps. They offer some podcasts that will teach you some French, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, and Russian. It all sounds pretty straightforward. But then you find out that they’re teaching the French spoken in Mali (West Africa) and the Russian used in Kazakhstan — that is, the kind of places where Peace Corps volunteers actually go. It’s a bit of a different twist on the usual language lesson podcast. Also, be sure to check out the instructional PDF files that accompany each podcast.

Weekly Wrap – May 19

Another week, another wrap up:

Fonts of Fame


What font do you write in? Do you have strong feelings about it? It turns out many writers do. Slate has a fascinating slide-show essay marking Helvetica’s fiftieth anniversary, celebrating the font “some have called the official typeface of the 20th century.” In an accompanying article the magazine surveyed a few famous writers and none of them claimed the big H as their lettering of choice (courier won by a landslide–apparently these people have fond memories of their typewriters). If you’re in New York, you might check out the MoMA exhibit celebrating Helvetica’s golden moment.

Ready for a new look yourself? There are hundreds of sites ready to help you get your font on for love or for money–check out Simply the Best Free Fonts as just one example. To be safe, always make sure you scan downloaded files for viruses before starting that new novel.

What Pirates Can Teach Us about Democracy

I’ve always felt that pirates understood the good things in life. Fresh air. Rum. Interesting hats. It turns out we had more in common politically than I would have given them credit for. According to Colin Woodard, author of The Republic of Pirates, the “Golden Age” of Caribbean piracy wasn’t too shabby. Seamen and captains received almost equal shares of booty (that is, a ratio of 2 – 1 instead of 14 – 1) and captains could be deposed at almost any time. NPR Books did a great interview with Woodard two weeks ago (siteiTunesfeed).

All of this means that you should go see the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie when it opens today, no matter how terrible it is. If Jack Sparrow doesn’t inspire civic virtue, at least he encourages eyeliner sales. Besides, how many amusement park rides can you think of that have demonstrated such dramatic depth?

The other reason to go see the movie is that Talk Like A Pirate Day is literally months away. How long can you hold that “AAAARRRRRHH”?

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.