The Missing Analytics from iTunes U Courses

When free is problematic.

January 22, 2015
The iTunes U Courses app does a few important things better than the mobile apps from Canvas, Blackboard, and D2L. These advantages include the ability for content downloading and offline course media consumption and an elegant and simple UI. 
If you have a 1:1 iPad program in your school or program, and you have the instructional design capacities to create iTunes U Courses alongside those created in your LMS, then  iTunes U Courses is a terrific choice for creating high-end and immersive learning experiences.  
What the iTunes U Course app is missing (besides only being available for iOS devices), is any analytics or reporting capabilities.  
This is a problem, as there is no idea for instructors to know how often articles or videos are viewed. It is impossible to understand how effective the learning objects and videos are for student learning, as there is no way to tell if they are being watched. Today’s online, blended, and flipped class programs are starting to track if students are utilizing course media. This is less for individual student assessment, and more to understand the aggregate patterns in order to improve the course materials and the learning experience.  
If your program uses iTunes U Courses in conjunction with an LMS or media management platform (such as Kaltura or Ensemble or Echo360 or MediaSite), there is no way to get an accurate picture of how students are using the media.  You can tell from the Web based platforms, but not from the iTunes U platform.
It is indicative of Apple’s lukewarm investment in the iTunes U Courses app that they have not included any analytics capabilities. These are standard features in every curricular media and learning platform.  There is no technical reason that I know of why Apple can’t include simple dashboards on file downloads (easy) and content utilization (a bit harder, but certainly doable). The only reason, I think, why Apple does not include analytics capabilities with the iTunes U Courses app is that the app is free. 
Apple’s only reason to invest in the iTunes U Courses platform is to make the iPad a more compelling educational product. A 1:1 iPad program is much more attractive in that you also get the iTunes U Courses app. 
In the case of iTunes U Courses, free is problematic. Nobody would ever hope to sell a learning or media platform with no analytics, but if you are giving away the platform the calculus changes.  Free makes it possible, even defensible, to ship software without key features that one would expect in a paid product.
It would be really wonderful if someone from Apple would comment on this post. I also think that it is highly unlikely that someone from Apple will comment on this post. The corporate DNA of Apple is not to talk about its products, and certainly not to talk about where its products are going. This approach may work for consumer platforms, but it does not work for educational platforms. It is hard to make choices about what learning platforms to invest in if you have no idea how that platform will evolve.
Is your school or program using the iTunes U Courses app? How are you getting around the lack of analytics?  
Is your school thinking about moving to the iTunes U Courses app? How much does the absence of analytics impact your decision?
Can anyone think of any way to start a dialogue with the Apple team responsible for iTunes U Courses?


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