Eastern Michigan history lecturer Rick Rogers has been teaching “History 100,  The Comparative Study of Religion” for almost two decades. But, this year, Rogers’ course on the world’s major religions actually reached a worldwide audience.

With more than 100,000 downloads since it posted in December, Rogers’ course podcast is EMU’s first big hit on iTunesU.

Long after he’d closed the books on the winter semester of History 100, Rogers was still receiving a couple of e-mails per week from people thanking him for the podcast or posing questions related to it.

“You truly helped me to study my passion,” said a student from St. Andrews University in Scotland via an e-mail. “Thank you again. I hope one day I can sit in on one of your lectures in person.”

“I currently have a job that requires me to drive about 76 miles each way to work and, to use this commute time wisely, I have been listening to quite a bit of iTunes U. I stumbled upon your History 100 course lectures and have thoroughly enjoyed them. I listened to them twice through and have become obsessed with reading further on ideas presented in your lectures,” wrote someone from Florida.

A religious scholar from Australia asked for the course notes. Someone from Russia inquired about obtaining a transcript of the podcast. Another person, from Minnesota, posed thoughtful questions about dynamics between Christians and Jews.

Rogers used music at the beginning and end of each audio segment, which resulted in a listener from Alaska requesting information about the music and artists.  

“It drew so much attention,” said senior instructional technologist Diane Lawrence, who oversees EMU’s presence on iTunesU. “It went up in the beginning of December and, just being there, it got thousands of hits. When they featured it, it just went gangbusters.”

Lawrence said more and more instructors are embracing iTunesU and podcasts as a way of   making course content available to students. But, most of it is private — available only to students in the course through their my.emich login. When Rogers approached her about putting his History 100 lectures on iTunesU, Lawrence suggested he make them public. It turns out the public was hungry for a comparative course on religions.

Eastern Michigan has been posting public content on iTunesU for about a year, and the number of downloads for any given podcast range from a handful to thousands. The World Religions podcast went up in December and was popular enough on its own that Lawrence decided to alert a contact at iTunesU in February. Next thing she knew, it had earned a featured spot on the iTunesU home page. That’s when Rogers knew the thing had taken on a life of its own.

“To see my course and name rotate on their website banner every few seconds — with those of Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Oxford professors — led me to conclude this was a special opportunity indeed,” Rogers said.

The world religions podcasts cover the five major world religions — Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism — in 26 episodes. Rogers’ final podcast on Islam — devoted to the role of women in Islam — was the most popular, with about 4,500 downloads.

Eastern Michigan’s next most popular podcast, also featured by iTunesU this past spring, was a documentary on the Yankee Air Museum created by recent graduate Corey Kovach. Kovach spent his final year at EMU working for Lawrence as a production assistant.

His documentary, ‘Where History Flies: The Story of the Yankee Air Museum’ won ‘Best Video: Fifteen Minutes or More’ at the Spring Arbor’s 2010 Lumenocular Video Festival.

“The power of iTunesU is amazing, the audience it reaches,” Lawrence said. “And what a great message it sends about Eastern.”

(c) 2010, WWJ Newsradio 950. All rights reserved.


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