Handheld media devices from mobile phones to iPods and other mp3 media players are common sights on college campuses. Though one might imagine that students would wish to keep their personal media devices separate from their schoolwork, it was actually student initiative that began the iTunes University project. Students wanted to be able to record and share lectures, a practice now commonly termed “coursecasting.” Apple saw the opportunity and built iTunes University, which was tested at six universities in 2005. In addition to coursecasting, faculty used iTunes U to share media that had previously been stored in various web sites, course management systems, and databases. Universities used iTunes U to share recordings of public events and general information and news about the campus.

One thing these various practices shared in common is a broadcast model of communication with one person or entity distributing media to many others (e.g., students). While iTunes U was designed to perform this task efficiently, it is not the only model of communication possible. Many-to-one communications are also possible, as when a group of students upload media that can only be accessed and evaluated by the professor.

More interesting, and the primary subject of this essay, are many-to-many communications, where media can be uploaded and downloaded by many users, students, and faculty. While other communication models may have their uses in other disciplines, many-to-many communication has long been prioritized in writing pedagogy, in writing workshops, and in our efforts to create assignments with real-world contexts. The latter is especially important in a professional writing major such as the one in which I teach at SUNY-Cortland.

Our literary magazines, online news magazine, service learning writing projects with local non-profits, and internship program are all examples of efforts to create real world contexts and audiences for student writers. In addition, we have a history of using technology to facilitate communication between students in course management systems and now through blogs and wikis. This turn toward technology was not made simply as a tactic for improving class discussion but also from a recognition that professional writers would need to be proficient communicators in networked environments. Increasingly this need for proficiency has expanded to include composition in a range of media and the ability to communicate through mobile networks.

As seems now to be commonly the case, our students are fairly skilled with using their iPods to consume music, their mobile phones to text, and their MySpace and Facebook accounts to keep up their casual social relationships. However, shifting these informal, consumer-driven networking practices toward more formal, composition or production-oriented networking practices more suitable for college learning or professional workplace contexts has proven to be a challenge.

About the Sidebar

The sidebar provides updated feeds of information from several sources. First, there are links tagged "itunesu" in from my own and other accounts. Second are entries from the blogosphere on iTunes University. The third and final panel has posts from my own blog on our pilot project.