I've been personally involved in the iTunes U space for quite some time ... first as a member of the Apple Digital Campus group and then as a pilot University. For the longest time I have maintained that iTunes U is a good thing on a whole bunch of levels. iTunes itself is a very well designed cross platform media manager and player. It just works ... the integration with the iTunes Store takes the platform to a whole other level and that little iPod thing completes the eco-system. Most of what iTunes U gives us is very solid as well -- protected content areas that only faculty and enrolled students can access, subscriptions, public content areas, and really anything else that the iTunes Store can give you. It is a very nice environment that students and faculty find easy and intuitive to use and navigate.
My two biggest issues to date have been the inability to engage students in any sort of conversation (other than having them create a podcast rebuttal and upload it) and the inability to really navigate and find podcasts easily from the outside -- I'll call that last piece, discoverability. If you are in a given University's iTunes U space, life is fairly easy, but what if you are a student sitting on the outside and have no idea how to get to your files? You can't fire up a browser and google for it ... you have to know the right URL to get iTunes to launch and go to the iTunes U site at your school. It has been a problem. To compound the issue, it has been nearly impossible to find a way to easily take advantage of all the killer public content available across all the various iTunes U sites. Want some content from Penn State? Better know the URL ... ditto for Stanford, University of Michigan, and so on.
Today (or yesterday ...) that has changed. Apple rolled out an iTunes U directory from within the public iTunes Store. Jump over to Apple's Education site, click the link to launch the iTunes Store and take a peek at the little sites directory in the upper left ... notice that last item? Yep, it is a public landing page for a select group of iTunes U spaces. Finally I can easily show people what various spaces look like, access content from top schools, and feel like we are part of the iTunes Universe. I think this will help in a bunch of ways. One big one is the ability for Higher Education to get prominent placement in the World's top online music and podcast directory. Not too shabby, thanks Apple!