"Thanks to iTunes U, free psychology lectures are pumping through the earbuds of thousands of students, professionals and curious laypeople around the world."
Last spring, Daniel Stokols, PhD, of the University of California–Irvine, video recorded his environmental psychology lectures as a first foray into developing an online course. A proponent of face-to-face interactions with students, Stokols saw the videos as a useful supplement to classroom-based learning, not a substitute for it. He uploaded the videos to iTunes U, a component of the iTunes music store that features free academic content, and proceeded with his course as usual. "I thought maybe 100 people would view the course," he says. Fast forward a few months. Apple had featured Stokols's course on its iTunes U homepage. By late July, the course had more student enrollments per week than any other. By September, it had reached 100,000 subscribers and, for months, it remained one of iTunes U's top 10 courses. In November, subscriptions topped 170,000 students.
"It's mind-boggling," says Stokols, who has taught at UCI for nearly 40 years and has "never come close" to reaching that many students. Now, he's heard from a photographer in Germany who says the course has changed the way she interprets her photos; a nurse anesthesia student in Pittsburgh who learned that surgical patients require less pain medication if their beds face windows; and a professor in China who had never heard of environmental psychology before.
"The gratifying part is the feedback from people around the world who are enjoying the material and finding it useful," he says.
Stokols is just one of a growing number of professors turning to iTunes U to host content for their students and share high-quality educational material with the public. Apple launched the platform in 2007; Stanford, UC-Berkeley, MIT and Duke were among the first to sign on. Professors can upload syllabi, handouts, quizzes, slides and links to online resources in addition to audio and video lectures. Students, professionals and curious laypeople can access the courses for free via their computers (PCs included) or with an iPod, iPhone or iPad. The iOS application, which launched in January 2012, had been downloaded more than 14 million times by the end of the year.