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Preliminary research


My first task as IHR Digital Project Officer is to report back on the current state of podcasting in academia. The obvious place to start is iTunesU but it surprised me just how much there is already out there in University’s own websites. Most of this is coming from American Universities but there is a growing trend in the UK – with Oxford and the Open University seemingly leading the way. The majority of resources provide a basic package of a podcast with a brief synopsis but there certainly are more inventive initiatives out there.

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  1. Kevin Yuill

    Hi Matt (if I may),

    Interesting stuff is indeed out there. Two interesting sites that I think are better organised than iTunes U and Youtube EDU are and our own (excuse my immodesty but we developed the site in part out of frustration at the lack of organization of the existing available materials). I have been looking at this stuff for some time now so feel free to come back to me.

    Kevin Yuill

  2. James Harris

    Dear Dr. Phillpott,

    I’m pleased to hear that the IHR is taking an interest in podcasting. Two years ago, I started a company (with two fellow historians) that produces audio and video podcasts on themes from the A-level history syllabus. We “went live” in January 2009, and now we have around 50 podcasts in our archive.

    It might seem odd that we should set ourselves up as competitors to iTunesU, and AcademicEarth, but we’ve never liked their model. Have you noticed that while they claim to have many thousands of history podcasts, there is much double and triple counting and a heck of a lot that really isn’t history. There are lots of good lectures there, certainly, but there are, in our view substantial drawbacks to podcasts that consist of a straight recording of a university lecture. They’re great at advertising universities and conveying the atmosphere of the lecture room, but less than ideal for those who are looking for specific information on specific subjects. They are, for example, almost entirely useless for the A-level audience. I like to think in terms of the distinction between a book store and library. iTunes and the like work well as a book store, for someone who might be open to using whatever is on display in the shop window. Look at download rates. Generally, a very small number of podcasts get the overwhelming majority of hits, just as bestsellers in the shop window fund the existence of the bigger stock which rarely shifts. We are trying gradually to build a library of podcast study guides-for A-level students and the general public with specific interests.

    We’re currently getting about 5,000 views a month, and the number continues to rise –all care of word of mouth, and a little tweeting. We’re still very small but not without ambition. Our growth has taken us in unexpected directions. We assumed that A-level students would be our biggest customers, but only 25% of our views are currently coming from the UK. About 45% come from the States (mostly undergraduates, I expect) and the rest from over 70 countries across the world.

    Do say more about IHR’s podcast ambitions. We’d be delighted to engage and contribute.

    James Harris
    The History Faculty Ltd

    School of History
    University of Leeds

  3. Dr Matt Phillpott


    Thank you both for your comments. I have visited you’re site and was impressed with what you have achieved, especially the international interest that you have accumulated in little over a year.

    I think I agree with your experience of iTunes and Youtube, at least as far as organisation is concerned. I admit my actual interaction with iTunes has until now been minimal, but on first inspection it felt cluttered and hard to navigate. I guess it’s a matter of getting used to the system. My main concern though is with the lack of potential for added content (abstracts, powerpoints etc) as a usable and integrated element of the podcast.

    From the research that I have done it seems that most university and higher education podcast projects have at the very least a presence on iTunes alongside their own websites. This is certainly the model that Oxford and the Open University have chosen to take and I can certainly see its benefits. I’ve noticed that you too have a presence on iTunes. If I may ask was your motivation largely to obtain further publicity for your materials and your website or were there other reasons as well?

    The IHR are currently looking into taking an integrated approach to podcasting that would include additional materials and links to appropriate online resources which we could then link to our research training courses in some way. We also plan to try out some live-streaming events but these won’t occur for quite a while yet ! Its early days at the moment so I’m afraid there isn’t too much more to tell. I’d be happy to keep you both posted and certainly hope to talk with you both more in the coming months.


  4. James Harris

    Dear Matt,

    We are indeed on iTunes for publicity–though we don’t very many hits that way. We’ve had more success through Twitter and blogging. iTunes and the other portals are so cluttered with junk that our glittering gems are nearly invisible.

    Universities are drawn to the Apple brand like moths to a candle, and they don’t see that their model inhibits them from achieving what could be an extraordinary public service. IHR might ultimately have a different experience with iTunes, so I won’t bang on about it.

    As for links and slides and abstracts and powerpoints, they can be included on podcasts quite easily–though I’ll admit that we’ve only just started including them ourselves. See for a more recent sample of our work. Will you be making the podcasts in-house? I ask because we make podcasts to order (and can do your live stream events) at very reasonable rates.

    In the meantime, do please keep us informed of new IHR resources (podcasts or otherwise) because we’d be happy to advertise them on our site.


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