British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Oxford Gets Wired

On 7 October 2008 the University of Oxford launched its podcast site on iTunes U. Four years and more than 4,000 audio and video podcasts later and Oxford’s iTunesU website has had more than 18 million downloads so far. Peter Robinson looks at its development in the light of its continuing expansion in the field.

About the Author: Peter Robinson is of Manager of LTG Services (Learning Technologies Group),Oxford University Computing Services and is the leader of the Oxford on ItunesU and OpenSpires projects.

October 2012 marks the fourth anniversary of the launch of Oxford’s iTunesU site, featuring audio and video podcasts from across the University. It has been a great success – 18 million downloads so far, and currently we are reaching a worldwide audience of 185 countries. Oxford on iTunesU has grown from a very small corpus to more than 4,000 hours of material online – ranging from quantum states to welfare states, from Philosophy for Beginners to Quantum Mechanics. This free site has achieved the altruistic aim of bringing Oxford thinking to a broad global audience, whilst giving our current students and staff any-time access to a wider range of lectures than they might physically be able to attend. Among summer 2010’s most popular downloads were lectures entitled War and Finance, Probability Amplitudes and Quantum States and Building a Business: Entrepreneurship and the Ideal Business Plan.

In 2008, Oxford had the opportunity to be one of the first universities outside of the US to take part in iTunesU. This Apple educational service evolved from the original need at Duke University in the US to find a simple mechanism to push content onto their students’ iPods. Apple’s solution was to create an area within the iTunes directory for university content, both for the general public and for internal use. From these early beginnings in 2004 there are hundreds of educational establishments taking part now. The service has the advantage of building on student’s familiarity with the iTunes application.

The whole process has been dubbed ‘The University of iPod …

At Oxford it was quickly decided that this opportunity could encourage more colleagues to create audio and video material, as well as provide a one stop shop of material from across the University’s numerous departments and colleges. Leading a team behind the scenes at the University’s Computing Service we decided that we could create a workflow based on syndication through RSS that allowed new material from around the University to be surfaced from a central repository into both the iTunesU system and a parallel web video portal. We then worked with the legal services team to create an approval process. With these foundations in place the search for content began. The need for copyright clearance and the costs of digitisation meant that content in the early days tended to be from new events rather than archive footage. A regular training series was initiated to advise departments and evangelise about the ‘long tail’ benefits of publishing material for new global channels.

After launch the benefits became even clearer: much higher visibility of material with links back to the academics and departments involved. There are now more than 2,000 files freely available to the general public.

Interestingly a survey at the 2010 fresher’s fair showed that 60 per cent of those new to Oxford had already looked at the material before arriving.

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