4 Questions for Lynn U on iTunes U

On replacing Blackboard with an iOS centric approach.

January 22, 2014

I read with great interest about Lynn University’s plan to move from Blackboard to a one-to-one iPad mini program and course materials in iTunesU and iBooks.

At my own institution we have some experience with combining our LMS with iTunes U, but have not made the leap to seeing Apple’s learning platforms as a Blackboard (or Canvas) replacement.

Lynn’s CIO Chris Boniforti generously agreed to answer all my questions about the decision to move to iTunesU and iBooks.   

Question 1:  I don’t know of any other colleges or universities that have taken the plunge to swap out the full-fledged LMS with an iTunesU / iBooks iPad approach. Do you? How do you explain Lynn University’s willingness to go first, to take the plunge?
No, I do not know of any school that is taking such a step. Many have adopted iTunesU and iBooks but are still use their existing LMS. We felt that out of all the functionalities that the existing LMS offers (grade book, posting of assignments, communication tools, content deliver/repository and others), the delivery and organization of content to us is the most important. It is also important for academic content to be accessible via a mobile platform. LMS across the board does many things well but we felt that the combination of iTunesU and iBooks delivers the best solution for our students and facult- given our priorities.
We are planning to keep Blackboard around for our online courses and evening courses.
Question 2:  My read on Apple is that they really are not positioning the private iTunes U as an LMS replacement. That the Apple team that is devoted to this platform is really pretty small.  And that there is a large gap in the feature set between an LMS and iTunes U.   For instance, there is no discussion board, no blog, no assignment tool, very limited assessment capabilities (in iBooks Author only), and not assignment tool.  In short, iTunes U is a great content distribution platform - but not a collaborative or teaching platform.   Is your assessment different?  How will you overcome the gap in what iTunes U is capable of?
I think your assessment is accurate. iTunesU and iBooks are great tools for delivery and organization of content. They are well integrated and easy to use for both faculty and students.  It is not however a collaborative or teaching platform. We think that these can be achieved by some very specific tools that are available today.  Things like Piazza, showbie, and others can provide for remarkable mobile based collaboration tools. The app world gives us many different options to overcome the gap between traditional LMS and iTunesU. We are also looking at creating our own apps to meet some of these gaps.
Questions 3: One of the big challenges with iTunes U is how the platform handles student enrollment. The system does not support pre-enrollment. Students need to request enrollment to each individual course. This seems like a logistical nightmare as you go to scale.  How do you plan to handle this challenge?
This was a big challenge for us to let go.  We spent many years integrating our SIS with Blackboard. Since the new version of Blackboard we are having to revisit this pre-enrollment automation. We do not believe that it is as important to have pre built rosters for faculty for iTunesU and iBooks. Faculty send out invites and students subscribe, its simple and effective.  We will however will need to have some type of student enrollment for the things that are more administrative in nature (attendance, grade books and discussion boards), which will all live outside of iTunesU and iBooks.
Question 4:  I’ve always thought that what iTunes U and iBooks Author does beautifully on the iPad is content distribution. These are great platforms to share text, video, simulations etc.  Great to read and watch on.   I love how iTunes U courses can be downloaded and accessed offline.  The mobile experience on the iPad with iTunes U for course materials is still ahead of the LMS app experience from Blackboard, Canvas or D2L. But, it seems that the mobile apps from the LMS providers are improving. They will get much better.  Isn’t moving from Blackboard to iTunes U sort of like throwing the baby out with the bath water?   
I agree with you, there is no better solution. I am not sure that an LMS out there will ever get as good as the manufacturer that creates both hardware and software solutions, even if it is a small team. I really do get a sense from Apple that education is important to them and that iTunesU and iBooks are important  products.      
What questions would you have for Chris about Lynn’s move from Blackboard to iTunes U?

Do you think what Lynn University is doing makes sense?  

Are any of you tempted to follow Lynn’s lead?


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