Tuesday, October 21, 2008

In One Ear: iTunes U Puts iPods to Good Use

This from Edutopia, Graphic by Ian Roberts:

A new online repository offers free, state-approved K-12 course materials and teacher development tools.

Eerie music creeps into listeners' earbuds as an episode of SciFi Friday begins. A male voice introduces "the podcast where science fiction film meets real science" before the show's host and her expert guest, Cameron Hastie (an ape keeper at Salt Lake City's Hogle Zoo), take the mic. "A lot of people still think that apes are fairly violent," Hastie says, and she recounts how she often overhears zoo visitors describing a male gorilla's expression as mean and angry. "But it's just his normal face," she explains.

This particular episode of the radio-style talk show, available for free download from iTunes, originally followed a Utah public television broadcast of The Ape Man, a classic 1943 fright film. In her twelve-minute spiel, Hastie critiques the movie and talks about the real excitement -- and the drudgery -- that make up her typical workday.

SciFi Friday is the brainchild of Laura Hunter, director of instructional services for the Utah Education Network. "I read some studies published by the director of our natural history museum that said pop culture is a good way to get young people interested in science," says Hunter. This led her to podcasting. In other installments of the series, a physicist uses the 1953 film Atomic Blonde (Run for the Hills) to discuss Cold War fears and fission bombs, and a research entomologist from a bee-biology and bee-systematics lab debunks the so-called science in Wasp Woman, from 1959.

Dozens of episodes later, it's clear that Hunter has stumbled on a winning formula. Children of all ages, who are more accustomed to the fantastical voyages of new media such as video games and DVDs than to old-school flicks, rave about the program. The National Telecommunications Educational Association, a consortium of public television licensees, honored the show in January 2008. And now educators and students worldwide can listen in.

SciFi Friday is among the many programs available free from iTunes U, a new section of Apple's iTunes Store, which offers downloads for MP3 players. The online repository, launched in July, contains everything from course curricula and professional-development tips to student-journalism podcasts and school
announcements. The State Educational Technology Directors Association, a national organization that promotes leadership in technology to support lifelong learning, and several state education agencies have provided Apple with the K-12 content. So far, contributors in Arizona, California, Florida, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Utah have uploaded materials to the site. (Edutopia video is also available.) ...

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