Apple's iTunes University content delivery service has been around for a number of years now. While most of the universities on offer through iTunes U are overseas — if you've ever fancied checking out what Philosophy from Oxford University is actually like, you can — at the time of writing, 13 Australian universities offer course materials, podcasts and general university information through iTunes U.
For a start, you can get yourself a fairly interesting education if you're committed enough to browse the available information. There's no requirement for material to be locked down to accredited students only, although the amount of content available through iTunes U varies by university and over time. Most folk probably lack the self-discipline to technically qualify for a PhD in Latin, however.
Where it can be useful for prospective university students, however, is in checking out the quality and type of courses on offer beyond what can be gleaned from a simple prospectus. Think of it as a university taste test, which is how we've approached testing each university's iTunes U content.
Panic not! iTunes U is really just an interface, and the universities on iTunes U (as well as most of the other higher education institutions across Australia) offer up course content via their websites. Quite how open to distributing their material each university is varies widely though, with some institutions locking it all behind a student log-in while others offer up some course materials.
Here again you can use some resources in a comparative sense. For example, there's a coalition of universities (including some who offer content via iTunes U) who run the Open Universities website that offers up content outlines for Monash University, Curtin University, Macquarie University, Griffith University, RMIT, Swinburne University and the University of South Australia. Whatever you do, the same basic research principles apply as they do via iTunes U. It's not the same as completing the actual courses, but working out upfront whether the approach of a particular institution (or even a given lecturer) works for you can save you wasted study time and fees upfront.
But back to what's on offer for Aussie iTunes U students. We've checked out each of the 13 currently available universities and their current offerings — just click each page for further info.
ANU offers a variety of podcasts across Education, Sciences, Engineering and Law from its iTunes U page, as well as (at the time of writing) an environmental course from the school of Environment & Society. Those after general educational browsing are well served, and prospective students can also subscribe to the "SkillSoup" and "Student Life" podcasts, which offer up tips on course management, honours thesis organisation and planning for your post-university career.
Bond University's collection of resources centres around video content, split into "Student Experience", which covers life on campus via vox pops and boot-camp videos; "Teaching and Learning", with lectures and discussions on various aspects of campus life; and a series of videos on Research and Events, which includes guest speakers. You can also access quick-links via category; naturally, some categories are better-populated than others, but it seems to be kept fairly up to date, with the oldest content dating from May 2011.
Deakin students have access to a range of video and podcast material from a range of courses. While most of it is fairly recent, some dates back to 2010, but a spate of updates have been made since the turn of the year. The content is divided into "About Deakin", "What's New", "Research at Deakin" and "Teaching at Deakin", aimed at lecturers. There appears to be a good cross-section between actual lectures and talks, and materials that aim to help you adjust to uni life.
Compared to other campuses available, Endeavour's offering looks pretty sparse, with only "What's New" and "Featured Content" covered. The sidebar navigation isn't much better; there are only two categories to choose from. The most recently added material was in January of 2011, so, if you're looking to supplement your learning here, you might be looking at some out-of-date information.
Griffith University's current iTunes U offering breaks across four areas, covering Featured Content, a Digital Arts Showcase, a general "Our Community" area and a study/podcast section called "Our Study Area". It's clear that certain faculties are updating more often than others, however; when we checked the Griffith iTunes U page, the sections for the faculties of Music, Environment & Planning, Health, Science, Law, and Visual and Creative Arts all displayed content dating back to 2008 as the freshest updates. As a way to evaluate a potential study course, that's less than optimal.
La Trobe University's iTunes U page certainly takes the iTunes part of iTunes U quite seriously, at least in layout terms, with a "top downloads" section front and centre of the page. Quite why the top downloads appear to mostly be concerned with football and stripping we'll leave to your imagination. That puzzler aside, La Trobe's use of the iTunes aesthetic makes it a breeze to browse, and there's plenty of content on offer from the smaller navigation links on the right-hand side, with a good mix of audio and video content on offer.
Queensland University of Technology seems to have quite a small presence on iTunes U, with a selection of podcasts and videos dating back to 2006 — although rather more recently added, so it's clearly still relevant. There are only two main categories to choose from — "Business" and "Teaching & Education", as well as the "What's New" panel. Materials are limited to a series of talks on the non-profit sector, an Inductees' Hall of Fame and seminars by the executive dean.
RMIT breaks its iTunes U content across three areas — "Featured", "Study" and "Community". When we checked it, content was reasonably fresh, including the Community section where, to be honest, most universities could probably coast on largely the same material year to year unless new facilities have been built in the meantime. There's a large quantity of sample content across multiple courses, a small section of the top downloads and the obligatory web links out to RMIT's website.
Southern Cross U has a lot of stuff available, but it's all at least six months old. However, the navigation is clear and easy to get around, with a number of categories in the side nav bar and sections for "What's New", "Academic Schools" and videos on research conducted at the SCU. Materials seem to be heavily focused on lectures and guest lectures, with a bunch of videos about what the university does.
Swinburne breaks its iTunes U content across areas labelled as "Featured" and "What's New". They're all fairly self-explanatory, but like Griffith, there's a lot of content here that's not as fresh as it perhaps could be. University information is fresh enough, having been updated in January 2011, but several areas have content that's one or two years old. For those who want a taste of course quality, there is a pretty good number of video lectures available.
The University Of Melbourne's iTunes U page is pretty simple, with only four areas to cover ("Featured Content", "TV Shows and Interview Series", "Luminary Speakers" and "All Courses"), but it packs a lot of information into those areas, and from the dates on the current information, it's kept quite up to date. One quite useful feature for both prospective students and even university tourists is an interactive guided audio tour of the entire university campus, available in English and Mandarin.
The University of Queensland has a pretty solid turnover of material, with new lectures going up regularly during semester time. As well as various lectures and seminars, there are three main sections — "What's New" for the latest uploads; "Experience UQ" for tours, addresses to graduands, information on support services and a student showcase; and "Research Institutes", to learn more about what the various UQ institutes do. All in all, it's one of the better-appointed Australian offerings on iTunes U.
In terms of content offered over iTunes U, UNSW's offering is quite extensive. There's the usual breakout of content over topic areas ("Uni TV", "Research & Events", "Publications" and "Courses"), but also has a sidebar that covers more granular levels of detail, although this can make some courses and content a little tougher to find if you're just browsing and assessing. The content is both relatively fresh (at the time of writing) and includes a lot of video content, something that many other Aussie iTunes U campuses haven't offered in abundance.