iTunes U Brings the Classroom to You

Baxter Wood is going back to college. But the 62-year-old truck driver won't be quitting his day job or going to discussion groups with kids 40 years his junior.

Instead, he will have his pick of professors from elite universities like Columbia, Yale, MIT and Stanford -- and his tuition will be $0. How's that for financial aid?

Wood is one of the thousands of students attending iTunes U, downloading lectures available free of charge on the iTunes Web site to his MP3 player.

"It's amazingly realistic," Wood said. "The sound of the pages rustling, chalk on the board ... I'm convinced that the best way to learn something is to get a professor who knows more than you do to explain it to you."

More than 50,000 lectures are downloaded every week from almost 30 universities whose professors offer their teachings to anyone with a computer.

Professor Hubert Dreyfus of the University of California at Berkeley, Wood's current teacher, is one of the most popular picks among iTunes U students.

"I'm podcasting my course on Heidegger, 'On Time and Being,' which is the hardest philosophy book of the 20th century, I think, and the most important," Dreyfus said. "That surprises me that Heidegger has such an audience."

Stephen Ott is an actor and digital student like Wood. He e-mailed Dreyfus to say how much he admires his teaching.

"You've encouraged me to return to college to redeem my less than spectacular academic record and to get my masters," he wrote.

Wood says the podcasts make him feel like he's back in the classroom even when he's on the road driving 120,000 miles every year. Heidegger is just his latest travel buddy.

Even those students on campus, paying to hear the lectures in person, sometimes skip class knowing they can catch up later on their iPod.

But, Dreyfus said, "I don't mind how many students don't show up in my class when I see that these people are becoming students and so forth because of this."

So next time you take a drive, go for a run or just have an extra hour, consider revisiting college. No application required.