Our first iTunes U site was published in September of 2006, before Apple developed policy and documentation on how to best organize content within iTunes U. Because the majority of Seattle Pacific University content made available on iTunes U at that time was comprised of archived audio recordings of various campus events, it made sense to organize our iTunes site by event rather than topical category (i.e. Business).
The site manager update in 2008 allowed us to create virtual collections by using keywords in the lyrics field (i.e. C.S. Lewis) to generate “smart bricks” with similar content. However, the "smart brick" content wasn't accurately accounted for in the iTunes U Usage Reports statistics. In preparation for the transition to the new iTunes U Site Manager, which is largely driven by prescribed categories, we spent a great deal of time rethinking and reorganizing our content so that “smart bricks” were replaced by static collections that could then be assigned to specific categories. Additionally, we looked to simplify the amount of content found within a collection. For example, rather than having a catchall collection called “Additional Course Content,” we divided that content into smaller collections that shared a similar category. In addition to organizing our content, our senior graphic designer spent several hours redesigning graphics for the front page and designing new graphics for the added collections and categories.
The actual process of reorganizing our content within iTunes U was fairly time consuming. However, it was well worth it as we are enjoying the features in the new Public Site Manager. We appreciate being able to drag and drop content exactly where we want it to appear within a collection. It is also nice to be able to quickly select the category for items within a collection. However, adding metadata (i.e. Summary) to a file within a collection is a bit difficult, and it isn’t readily apparent from the administrative view what files already have metadata attached to them.
Before going live with our new site, we were able to simulate how it would look on Macs, PCs and iPads. Unfortunately, we were unable to test how our site would look and function on an iPhone or iPod Touch because there is not an iPhone/iPod Touch simulation option. But once we officially published our site, which took just a few hours, we were able to fully review our content on various devices and adjust content and graphics as needed.
We appreciate that the What’s New, Top Downloads, and Top Collections portions of the new iTunes U page automatically update. This dynamic content keeps our site looking “fresh” to regular visitors. We also appreciate that we can still have the ability to customize the look and organization of content on that page. We can determine if collections should be featured even if they aren’t new or currently popular. It was a bit of a challenge to re-add the SPU Power Search feature; however, the iTunes U support staff was quick to assist us.
While we are happy with our new site, there are still a few additional key items we would like to see addressed. First, it would be helpful to have the artist field display within a collection. It currently displays in the admin view and in Top Downloads. Second, it would be helpful to speed up the time between when new content or a change is made on the admin side and when that change appears within the published site. For example, we are currently working with a department that wants a new podcast episode to be made available every Monday morning, not before and not after. This wasn't a problem before as content appeared on the public site almost immediately after being published. However, in the new Public Site Manager, freshly-published content can sometimes take over 24 hours to appear. Third, there needs to be improved usability when sharing a link to content. Currently, when you copy and paste a link to a specific file within iTunes U, a listing of all content within that collection appears within your browser window. The specific file is highlighted in faint blue; however, it is not readily noticeable. Additionally, as soon as you hover your pointer over another recording in the collection, the highlighting disappears. We do appreciate how easy it is to share content with social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Overall, the transition to the new site has been smooth, and we’re very grateful for the opportunity to share our content through iTunes U. We would be interested to hear what other institutions’ thoughts and experiences are with the new Public Site Manager. Please use the comments section below to share your experiences.