Can the Google Drive ecosystem (web and apps) replace the Apple course content delivery ecosystem (Course Manager and the iTunes U app)?
The way you set it up in Google Drive is to treat individual folders as courses. Assign sub-folders as different content types or modules. A folder within a Statistics course could either be "Captured Lectures" or "Class Readings" (whatever you want), you could name the folder by week or by module.
Once the student has permission to access your campus Google Drive instance then she can easily view all of the course materials from a web browser, tablet or smart phone.
Neither Google Drive or iTunes U are LMS replacements. Neither platform integrates with the SIS or contains a gradebook. Rather, Google Drive and iTunes U are all about delivering curricular content on mobile devices.
Is the Google Drive app our best option for distributing mobile curricular content? Maybe.
Google Drive App for Mobile Learning Pros:
Cross-Platform Apps: The Google App works both on Android and iOS devices. This means that you can load up course materials (very easily with drag and drop) on to a Google Drive instance that you have set up for your school, department, or course.
Web and App Options: With iTunes U you have a beautiful course content delivery mechanism for iOS devices. Not Android devices. And not via the browser. If you ever find yourself wanting to access iTunes U course content through a browser you are out of luck. Google Drive is native to the web. The app is the extension.
Campus Authentication Integration: Unlike Apple's iTunes U app and Course Manager, Google lets you tie authentication in with your campus system. It is straightforward to set up a campus Google Drive instance that allows students to login with their campus username and password. Apple's logins are tied to student's Apple ID's.
Video and Text Support: We have been experimenting with putting up recorded lectures (from Echo360), as well as other video sources. Drive also supports multiple text document options, including Office docs (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) and PDF.
Offline Viewing / Reading: The Drive app gives the option to download the content to the mobile device. Students can therefore download what they want when in wifi range, saving both cell phone data usage bills and retaining the ability to view content when they do not have a signal.
Collaboration Options: Not only can students read documents on their mobile device (iPad, iPhone, Android etc.), if you enable the permissions they can also comment, annotate, and collaborate. Course documents can, if you choose, become living documents.
Google Drive App for Mobile Learning Cons:
Surprised That Google Has a Mobile Learning App?: Does Google think that it has a platform to enable mobile learning? Have you seen Google communicate the Drive ecosystem as a web and mobile course content delivery mechanism? Is Google speaking to any higher ed people using Drive to deliver course content on mobile devices? Whom at Google would we even speak with?
What If Things Change?: I worry about pushing curricular content to Drive without having confidence that Google is really in this business. Let's be clear. Google Drive is not an LMS replacement. The potential of Drive is to create an easy way to distribute course videos and articles securely to tablets and smart phones. But even if we don't replace the LMS I could see students coming to depend on being able to view videos and read articles from the Google Drive app. What if something changes and authentication breaks? Or Google changes how the system works and looks, and these changes benefit most users but make make it difficult to use the platform for courses. Where would we send our complaints?
How Video Plays: Beyond the concerns of Google not really being in the higher ed mobile course app platform business, there are some specifics about how the Drive app delivers content that I don't like. Unlike in the iTunes U app, it is impossible to watch videos at 1.5x or 2.0x speed. The videos also look better on iTunes U.
My recommendation is that you don't take my word for the pros and cons. Go ahead and build some courses in the free Course Manager / iTunes U app and the free Google Drive web/app ecosystems. Experiment with the process for getting the content to students.
Contact Apple and Google and see where you can get some help.
Let us know what you find out.