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March 8, 2009

I'll take one lecture, to go.

That's one way a new high-tech Web service is changing the way UGA students, faculty and staff learn and communicate with each other. iTunes U, a free service from Apple, now allows users to download podcasts directly to their iPods or computers.

So far, business is booming. About 200 UGA podcasts have been uploaded since the service began last November. Guest lecturers' talks and professor's daily lessons are on the site. The English department even has poems by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge ready for download.

"Teachers and students are becoming media producers," said David Noah, coordinator of emerging technologies at UGA's Center for Teaching and Learning. "Universities have to make it easy to publish media files and easy for students to access them. And iTunes U does a good job of that."

All that is needed to access the podcast files is iTunes, which is a free download for Macs and PCs available at www.itunes.com. Downloaded tracks can be listened to on the computer or transferred to an iPod.

To access UGA's podcast page through iTunes, visit www.itunes.uga.edu and click on "open in iTunes."

Any faculty or staff member who wants to upload their own podcasts may open an account. To get started, contact Enterprise Information Technology Services at 706/542-6440 to learn about your department's designated iTunes representative.

Kaye Sweetser, an assistant professor of public relations, began the project to help a student-athlete keep up with lectures she had to miss. But the program was simple, and soon possibilities began exploding. She started to podcast lectures for many of her students.

By allowing her students to download her daily class lectures, the students become free to participate instead of scribbling notes, Sweetser said. It's also a powerful tool for self promotion and a way to keep track of what exactly happened in class. It can help students decide whether or not to take a class.

To podcast, Sweetser uses an Olympus WS-311M voice recorder, which retails for about $100. But any recorder that can hook up to a computer will work.

"It's powerful enough that I can move around the room and it picks me up. Students can ask questions, and it picks them up, too," she said. "And when I'm done, I just pop it onto my computer and off it goes. Easy."

Before any podcast is uploaded to the server (housed by the University System of Georgia) it must be checked for "quality control" by the department's iTunes representative. The process usually won't take more than a few minutes, said Robert Ethier, an IT consultant with EITS who is heavily involved with the iTunes U project.

"We just go through it to make sure it's good quality so that we don't have the University of Georgia's name on something that sounds bad," he said. "After you send it to (the iTunes rep), that person will check out your file, click around a little bit and make sure it sounds OK and then go ahead and upload it."