Sleep Through That Lecture? Miss That Ballgame? Grab Them On iTunes

Thanks to Apple partnership, Stanford iTunes offers students more than just music.

Sleep through that econ lecture yesterday? Or maybe you missed the second half of the school’s basketball game last night? No worries, just call up iTunes and download it to your iPod.

That’s what students at Stanford are doing these days, thanks to a unique partnership with Apple Computers, Inc., that has hatched the university on iTunes (http://itunes.stanford.edu/). The Cardinal-red-colored store lets them download everything from original music created by their peers for multimedia presentations to campus news, rebroadcasts of sporting events and lectures by everyone from environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill to Princeton University professor of religion Cornel West. They can even download a copy of the school’s song, “Hail, Stanford, Hail.”

“It’s about working with Apple to think about what else iTunes can do and what their vision is of it as a multimedia management tool,” said Victoria Szabo, academic technology manager at Stanford. Put simply, the free store is an easy way for current students and alumni to feel more wired to the campus and to keep up with what’s going on at their school. The public site is targeted mostly at alumni while a second access-restricted site for students offers course-related material.

Beta testing for the store began last spring, but the official launch at Stanford happened last week during alumni weekend, and Szabo said she’s already getting positive feedback from boosters. “iTunes is such a great medium for transmitting information that many alumni have already been contacting us to say how much content on there they can use,” she said. “You can go back when you’re 80 and listen to lectures, or someone on the Stairmaster can be listening to a speech on literature right now. We’re excited about the idea that education is everywhere.”

Szabo said Stanford students are excited about the free store because it’s easy to use and most of them are already familiar with iTunes. Plus it helps refresh their memories about topics that may have been mentioned only once in class that they may want to reference in an exam or essay. Most of the music on the site now is student-generated, but Szabo said some public-domain pieces and some restricted-access audio from the school’s library can also be streamed (but not downloaded due to copyright issues).

The pilot program is taking place on an academic level only at three other universities: the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, Brown University and Duke University. Michigan ran a test program last year at the urging of then-first-year student Jared van Ittersum, who said it was inspired by the UM medical school, which was using video to help students keep pace. “I quickly discovered that grad school is as overwhelming as everyone says it is,” said van Ittersum. “And at times the pace of the professors is faster than what we’re used to, and I noticed that classmates would be copying each other’s notes to make sure they got the points they missed.”

Van Ittersum got 60 classmates involved in a test program in which the lectures were automatically uploaded minutes after they ended so students could go back to their dorm rooms, plug in their iPods and instantly have that day’s material available. And rather than having attendance numbers drop as classmates lounged at home waiting for that day’s podcast, van Ittersum, 24, said the study showed that there was no discernible drop-off. Now it’s not unusual to see first- and second-year dental students working out on the elliptical machine at the gym as they go over their notes before an exam.

The Apple spokesperson said the company was not prepared to say whether it would be rolling the university-branded stores out on any other campuses. But with the recent announcement of the video iPod, Stanford’s Szabo also said the school is working on delivering downloadable video playbacks of school sporting events by this winter.

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