Ohlone was chosen, along with eight other colleges, to pioneer an Apple Computer program called iTunes University, becoming part of a larger digital trend described by one university as "coursecasting."
Educators see the program as a move away from a teacher-led system toward education directed by the students' learning needs.
It is "just-in-time learning," said Ralph Kindred, vice president of information technology at Ohlone. Students can access material from anywhere whenever they want it, added Kindred, who is coordinating the iTunes project.
In the project, Apple gives participating colleges space for the material on its server at no cost. Students can access the material using computers or other devices.
The iTunes program is an extension of Ohlone's strategy to increase classes offered online what it calls distance learning.
Worries that students would have more incentive to shrug off classes if material is available on the Internet are unfounded, Kindred said, adding that online classes have driven up enrollment at Ohlone.
More than 4,400 students enrolled in online classes during the current academic year; many teachers aggressively use the Internet in classes. Some classes meet only for exams. Instead of skipping classes, students may sign up for more than they can handle because of the flexibility offered by online classes, said Tristan Tilma, this year's student representative on the Ohlone board of trustees.
Tilma said he likes the iTunes idea and has taken classes that rely heavily on the Internet. But the 22-year-old senior said he also enjoys traditional classroom time because "half of learning is getting the interesting tidbits that pop up during interactions with teachers."
It's almost as though the online classes are being forced on students, he said.
Roy Pea, a Stanford University professor who has studied technology in education for 25 years, said learning comes from discussing ideas and making sense of them. Devices such as the iPod can be harnessed to support that process, but technology is not a "silver bullet."
"When the information is available online, there is no point to being in a class if all a teacher does is lecture," he said.
Pea also dismissed the concern that devices such as the iPod are overwhelming educators by creating easy, hard-to-detect ways for students to cheat, calling the issue "overplayed."
The iPod, Pea said, is just one of many devices that is changing the academic landscape by "putting people in control of their learning."
Staff writer Angela Woodall covers Newark and Ohlone College. She can be reached at (510) 353-7004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.