Learning Tools used by a Librarian “behind-the-stacks”.
by Mark D. Puterbaugh, Information Services Librarian
iTunes is a software application used to purchase and organize audio and visual purchases from Apple’s iTunes Store. You don’t need Apple hardware to take advantage of the hidden academic treasures found in iTunes. The software is available for download for both Windows, the Macintosh operating systems and as a mobile app for iOS devices. Android has a number of third party solutions for iTunes available from the Google Play store. One popular example of an Android mobile app for iTunes is iSyncr, http://bit.ly/1VUwFkN.
Many people hate the iTunes software. It can be a bear to use when organizing your music purchases. Just remember you can download audio and visual materials from iTunes to your PC and from there use on the device of your choice. However, there is little to compare with the learning materials available through iTunes’ University (iTunesU) and iTunes’Podcasts.
Accessing iTunes U and Podcasts requires an iTunes subscription. This isn’t an obstacle since you can setup an iTunes account without a credit card. See http://apple.co/1jqVUPG.
iTunes U offers free open access courses, primarily in lecture format from top educational institutions in the world. Lectures may be in audio or video format. A quick look at the offerings shows open courses from MIT, Harvard, Stanford and Oxford among others. Some of the course titles include Pharmacology for Nursing from Penn State, Philosophy and Science of Human Nature from Yale, Chinese Cuisine from The Art Institute, Kant’s Epistemology from the University of Glasgow and the John Locke Lectures in Philosophy from Oxford.
This is an amazing collection of resources and all free with an iTunes subscription. However, not all courses and lecturers are created equal. Many of the resources on iTunes U are from live classroom video and audio recordings. All the imperfections of live lecture capture are apparent. Some older material is clearly converted from videotape. The Asian Art Museum’s lecture series Art of China is an example of this type of conversion, http://apple.co/1PjIxh5. However, the 1999 lectures from Jeffrey Riegel of UC Berkley are excellent and worth the viewing, despite some graininess in the video. Overall the quality of iTunes U’s courses is excellent.
Podcasts are audio or video files to be downloaded to a media player for use. They are usual developed in a series to which viewers or listeners subscribe. Many podcasts are cast in radio talk show format with weekly guest interviewed by a host. Others are offered as a series of lectures. Additional podcast take on the form of an audio book. In many ways podcasts are replacing talk radio. Most podcast are open access resources delivering audio content outside the confines of commercial radio.
There are many examples of the great variety of podcasts. One instance is Peter Adamson, Professor of Philosophy at King’s College London, and the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps. The podcast began in 2010 and continues to the present with short lively talks on philosophy that places the great ideas within a historic context. A new podcast series entitled Early Mormon Audio looks at the history of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints by converting many of the historic texts found in the public domain into audio books. It provides an interesting historic look at the issues and controversies for this the uniquely American religious movement. There are highly acclaimed podcasts by subject enthusiasts such as Mike Duncan and his The History of Rome. Author Mr. Lars Brownworth presents several podcast based on his writings, these are 12 Byzantine Rulers: The History of The Byzantine Empire and Norman Centuries. We should also mention the numerous audio books from a variety of professional and amateur readers.
There are some exceptional broadcasts to podcasts. There are offerings from all the major networks and other new services such as CBS News, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal.
Of special note are the services from BBC, especially BBC 4s In Our Time Podcast. Hosted by veteran newsman Melvyn Bragg the podcast offers serious in-depth discussion of a wide variety of topics from Thucydides to the neutrino. Guest include such luminaries as the late Stephen J. Gould, Richard Dawkins, Martin Palmer, Sir Barry Cunliffe, Colin Blakemore and many more. In Our Time is a sample of the best in podcasting with stimulating topics and discussions.
Having pointed out the best in podcasting, please be warned, there are podcasts not worth the time to download. Read descriptions carefully before subscribing. Check to see if the podcast feed is rated as ‘explicit”. Also, look for currency. Many podcasts listed in iTunes are no longer in production.
It is well to note that there are many ways to access podcasts from other platforms such as PCs or Android mobile devices. iTunes offers one way to tap into this interesting collection of audio and video materials for class or personal development.