Monday, July 21, 2008

Intgrating iTunes U Access into Desire2Learn

Summary of a presentation from David Delgado, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, at the Desiore2Learn Fusion 2008 conference.

UW-Whitewater - has an established culture around D2L, which was adopted in 2003, with 1000 course sestions. A podcasting service was already established when iTunes U first became available.

What is iTune U? It's an Apple initiative to support educational institutions. It offers free storage space that campuses can use - you sign a service license, and Apple provides documentation and consulting service. The documentation in May, 2006, was lacking, but that has improved since then, and discussion forums are filling out.

People actually preferred our existing podcast service over iTines. They didn't know the iTines interface. And also, we were able to support our own service better, because we had more control over it.

Basically, Apple offers storage space. The podcasts can only be accessed using iTines software. iTunes U access is dependent on campus LDAP authentication. It is up to the campus to make that link independently, and Apple is only starting to offer consultation. Basically, you set up a web board that contacts your LDAP and then decides what to tell Apple's iTunes service.

We had to write the authentication script in order to provide access. We didn't have gthe course information it needs built into LDAP, but we took our existing podcasting service and used that to povide access. So now we have a screen that shows iTiunes and local podcasts. We use a PHP class to handle authentication.

Student Access: D2L information can be used. We use the course offering ID as a course identifier, and plug that into the script. Access is available inside a D2L course as a Javascriopt widget. There is also a publicly accessible area,

Issues to consider:

- iTunes access in general access labs - iTunes was designed for personal access. We map each person's personal files to whatever machine they're logged into, so they get their own iTunes bookmarks.

- Moreover, it does not meet accessibility standards. There is a very hacked version of iTunes, provided by EASI, which is supposed to offer accessible use.

- Portable devices aren't as accessible to our students as we thought. We have a significant graducate population, and a significant distance population. Most of our students listen to podcasts on the computer. It really differs based on the generation.

- Student podcasts - are becoming an increasingly important practice. But our original configuration did not allow students access to the site; so we had to change that.

The Future:

It will continue to co-exist with the local service - some instructors prefer our service because it's more available to them. We are working on an API that allows us to upload direcly from our own podcast page.

Also, we want to modify the D2L widget using Flash to improve security. Because it uses JS, the credentials can be sleuthed. But we can use Flash to hide the authentication credentials.

And finally - we are looking at a Podcast Producer pilot. This is a hardware-software combination build off a Mac OS server that allows many connections from different machines, and it will capture the frames from the computer being used at the time, and processes it into video and uploads it to the iTunes U website. We are looking at having a camera attached to this, recording the speaker until they use the mouse.

The key to all of this is D2L and the database - we take the information from the database and send it over, and it works. It just works.

(Contact the speaker for scripts and widget code).

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