Does the ITunes U Courses App Update Fall Short?

Pushing for an iCloud version, SIS integration, and rapid iOS authoring tools.

July 1, 2014

The updates to Apple’s iTunes U Courses app look to be welcome improvements.

Instructors and course designers will now be able to create private iTunes U courses directly from the app.  In the past the course build process went through the browser.  

The option to add materials directly from an iPad means that the cameras on the device can serve as rapid authoring platforms.  

The other big update is a new discussion feature.  

The advantages of building using the iTunes U app for learning is that consuming learning content is a pleasure on the device.  

It is possible to read long articles and watch class videos while lying back on the couch.   

The other consumption plus is that all the course curriculum can be downloaded to the iPad for offline reading / viewing.  This is actually a great feature, as students are often out of WiFi or cell range, and while the presence of ubiquitous WiFi is trending in the right direction (think airplanes etc.) we are not yet there.

While the updates to the iTunes U are nice, I fear that Apple has not taken the basic and fundamental steps necessary to make the platform attractive to postsecondary programs that do not have a 1:1 iPad program. 

If every student is getting an iPad then great - it makes total sense to complement the LMS with iTunes U courses that enable easy access to course content.

This is the case at my institution, where our Master of Health Care Delivery Science Program and our Geisel School of Medicine both have 1:1 iPad programs, and where students love having access to course materials in the iTunes U app.

But in the absence of a 1:1 iPad program it makes little sense to invest the energy to build iTunes U courses.

Apple could change this if they did three things:

1.  Create a Web iTunes U for iCloud:

Why can I create and view documents through the browser with the Pages, Keynote, and Numbers iCloud web apps but not iTunes U courses?  

Creating a simple iTunes U web version for iCloud seems to be a much easier task than building the full web-based productivity apps.

A web-based iTunes U option for accessing course materials would not have to be as robust as the app version.  As long as students could get to readings, videos, and discussions the platform would be good enough.

This would ensure that no student is shut-out of accessing the content, while allowing those students that do have iPads to enjoy the benefits of living in app world.  These include the ability to interact offline with the content and a really nice consumption experience.  

My guess is that an iCloud iTunes U would drive sales of iPads.  Students would want to be able to have all the app goodness. 

2.  Fix iTunes U Enrollment:

The press release does not mention anything about if the iTunes U app update fixes the challenges with enrollment.

Today, enrolling students in a private iTunes U course is a manual - one at a time process.  There is no way that I know about (unless my info is out of date) to pre-enroll students or connect enrollment to a Student Information System (SIS).  Everything goes through the Apple ID.

Until this is changed, (and I’d like to hear from Apple or any iTunes U adopters if it has), the utility of the iTunes U courses app will be limited.   

3.  Make Rapid Voice and Video Presentation / Screen Recording Easy and Seamless:

Here is an area that I also really don’t understand.  Why hasn’t Apple created a Camtasia, Captivate, Relay, or Screenflow app for the iPad?

My understanding is that iOS makes it impossible for app developers to access the microphone and camera within the app.   Is this correct?

Couldn’t Apple make this possible with its iOS Keynote app?

If Apple could fix this then the iPad would become a much better creation and authoring tool.  It would be great if professors and students could rapidly create and record presentations directly on the iPad, and then easily publish these presentations up to the private iTunes U course.  

The iPad would move from a mostly consumption based learning device to a creation and sharing learning device.

Of course, it would be nice if Apple created an Android version of the iTunes U app. But that probably is not going to happen.

Do you have any programs using the iTunes U courses app on your campus?

What would you need to see before you thought that it might be worthwhile to start using this platform to deliver course materials?

Could you ever see the iTunes U courses app replacing your LMS?


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