Harvard and iTunes

The Stanford iTunes experiment must have been a success. Apple are looking to expand the service offerings at the iTunes U website to Higher Education in general. Theres been no official word from Harvard (yet) but you can bet its coming. Discussions are ongoing on at least one Harvard forum.

Its an interesting topic to examine from a Distance/Online pedagogy initiatitive. The existing Harvard distance-ed offerings leverage the (litigation happy) Real audio and video systems and the course offerings are growing year by year. The (comparable) rights management features of iTunes and careful oversight of Intellectual Property rights are at the heart of any iTunes U site implementation. Ripping or saving content blatently infringes the intent of the existing Harvard Distance-Ed service offerings.
Why choose Apple? They have already levered their ubiquitous iPod cashcow (75% of all portable media players) into increased desktop sales (analysts estimate the Halo effect accounts for 15-30% of Apples recent growth on the desktop) and expect to soon hit 1 billion songs sold through the iTune music store. Extending visibility in Higher Ed is likely to be another sales-boon in student ipod-uptake and Apple related merchandise.

Apple, like Google, are hitting some speedbumps on the road to dominance. There is a growing movement of iPod owners dissatisfied with sub-par support, DRM “features” which “encourage” software and player lockin and there is a least one Harvard student who can object to Apples strongarm tactics. Challenging the existing Distance-Ed technology may be too much for Real’s Rob Glaser. He has already proved willing to take Apple on directly, this will be more fuel to the fire.

The demand for the end result is there and Harvard may accomodate their high-paying student community. Several commercial products already allow you to save streams to your local disk (at least on the big 2 platforms) or open source advocates can investigate mplayer, lame and gtkpod.

Even if a Harvard iTunes U does not appear, Harvard is still aggressively expanding its reach to students across the globe and no matter what happens, the student community wins…

[Update 20060428] I’ve fleshed out the argument here

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