What learning materials are downloaded in China Part 2

The University of Leicester launched its iTunes U channel in April 2013. Since then, it has been interested to see what countries are viewing and downloading our material. Last week, Apple decided to feature our Study Skills collection on the front page of iTunes U. Not only has this attracted many more people to view and download our material (thanks, Apple!) but also it produced a shift in which countries are downloading our material. Usually, either the UK or the USA is the number 1 country viewing and downloading University of Leicester material. But today, 7 March 2014, the picture is the following:

Visitors by Country, to University of Leicester iTunes U Channel, 7 March 2014

Visitors by Country, to University of Leicester iTunes U Channel, 7 March 2014

So basically, China has taken over as the number 1 country downloading our material. This happened once before, when Apple featured a different collection of ours, Model Organisms in Biomedical Research. It seems that people using iTunes U in China really respond to what is displayed on the front page of iTunes U.

Visitors by Device, 7 March 2014

Visitors by Device, 7 March 2014

The above breakdown of what devices people are using to download our iTunes U materials is very interesting. The last time we had a featured collection, the majority of downloads was to Windows computers running iTunes. Today, it’s dominated by iPads and iPhones. Last year, Apple included China as one of the countries receiving early shipments of iPad Air and both models of iPhone 5, and has been working hard to prioritise China in its plans for the future. I am idealistic enough to believe that higher education is not quite the same sort of consumer product as iPads. But it is good to be able to see what people in other countries such as China are enjoying of our learning material, and hopefully this can inform future developments.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist & SCORE Research Fellow, University of Leicester

Steve Jobs: Star of Informal Learning

The sad news today of the passing of Steve Jobs brings a deserved flurry of tributes and perspectives on his work. This morning, close to one-fifth of all Twitter comments had to do with Steve Jobs. American president Obama described Jobs as being “among the greatest of American innovators.” Besides the immense consumer appeal of the  iPad, iPod, and iPhone, there is the multi-faceted impact of Mac computers, and Jobs’ reinvention of film animation at Pixar. I would like to relate a personal story of how Jobs’ innovation both affected an industry and reveals the power of informal learning.

Steve Jobs in an early Stanford computer lab of Macs. Courtesy of The Seb on Flickr

When I studied computer programming in the 1980s, I worked on an IBM 360/370 with terminals. After graduation, I took a job with a printing company in Chicago and tried my hand at typesetting. My father was a printer; he used to set type the ancient way, with little pieces of metal held together in a mold. At my company, we used a new-fangled method called phototypesetting, a combination of computer tech and photography. I typed commands (which were strangely similar to html) at a terminal, pressed a few buttons, and out came the imprinted photographic paper dripping with fixing fluid, ready to be hung up to dry.

My husband was also from a family of printers. Once on a visit to their company, my mother-in-law showed me this little computer called a Macintosh. She demonstrated how she could set type in a wysiwyg environment, using both a keyboard and a mouse (which I could not get my head around). When I saw how simply I could select fonts and sizes and see the piece laid out on the screen, I had a feeling that everything was about to change. Indeed, the desktop publishing revolution was right around the corner, and everything did change.

The Mac was the first computer to pay any attention to typefaces. If you watch Jobs unveil the Mac in 1984 (worth a watch for many reasons), you can see how important he felt it was to get typefaces right. Jobs learned about typefaces in a college calligraphy class, which he attended after he dropped out of college. Without a degree yet with academic instinct, Jobs applied what he learnt and made it integral to the Macintosh. He famously insisted on quality design and beauty at every hidden level of all of Apple’s innovations.

First Macintosh showing off typefaces - from the demo video on YouTube

My current SCORE project about iTunes U as a channel of free learning resources (http://www.le.ac.uk/spider) has let me appreciate this public platform given to universities and educational institutions. It’s not all philanthropy; of course iTunes U shows off how nice multimedia looks on the various i-gadgets. And yet, my research into how iTunes U materials are used by ordinary folks has revealed their importance as informal learning resources. It’s almost as if Steve Jobs brought his academic experience full-circle, allowing lots of people to ‘audit classes’ even if they are dropouts or never accessed higher education.

Thanks, Steve, for a lifetime of innovation and inspiration.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE Fellow

OER Programme Meeting, 19 January 2011

Yesterday 19 January was the Programme Meeting for the OER Phase 2 projects in Birmingham. At Beyond Distance, we are participating in TIGER (new release project) and OSTRICH (cascade project).

We started with a few generic sessions relevant to all strands, including those led by:

  • Terry McAndrew (TechDis) on accessibility, and
  • David White (Oxford) on how OERs are being used – an interesting diagram available from his project blog, not too different from a 2×2 matrix currently being developed by OSTRICH.

Vic Jenkins (University of Bath, OSTRICH project partner) and I then joined the cascade strand discussions, where topics included working with partners, institutional embedding of OER in learning and teaching strategies and shared repositories. Highlights from these discussions included:

  • ‘Evaluation’. At BDRA, over the years, we have taken the view that in order to generate robust evidence that academics and others in the Higher Education sector can relate to, you need research. ‘Evaluation’ is useful and sometimes appropriate, but to foster meaningful and evidence-based change, you need more than that. The collection, analysis and presentation of research evidence (beyond sets of interesting quotations) may help to provide answers to the many questions we discussed (e.g. practice change, development and release, organisational and cultural issues, impact). Some of the questions overlap with TIGER’s research questions. It is no coincidence that the TIGER project has a full-time researcher in the team – this is precisely to generate robust and reliable evidence.
  • Innovative platforms for OERs, which perform highly visible marketing and a T&L functions, such as iTunesU. 30 million downloads of the Open University’s iTunesU resources, 2.5 million of Coventry’s in 2010 alone. We discussed how some HE Marketing Departments do not seem to realise the power of these platforms and the OERs on them. Even a relatively small presence, consisting of some frankly tedious resources, are of significant value to many prospective students, at a marginal cost to the university.
  • Single project repositories for OERs, as opposed to institutional, branded repositories. Are we saving or wasting our time by having ‘sanitised’, project repositories? Will institutions use these repositories after the end of the projects or will they generate their own fully branded ones?

A lot of ideas to think about as our projects develop.

Alejandro Armellini
20 January 2011

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