Mobile Curriculum on an iPhone with iTunes U

Have you experimented with building a course yet with the new iTunes U Course Manager?

September 25, 2012

Have you experimented with building a course yet with the new iTunes U Course Manager?

The creation of Apple's web based course manager for the iOS iTunes U app is one of those big deals in education that somehow has flown pretty much under the radar. This is unusual for Apple, where customarily every utterance or new product is met with cult like adoration.  

An underplayed Apple story? Can't be. But with iTunes U and Course Manager we seem to have an underexposed Apple product. 

And the biggest deal may be that iTunes U finally delivers a platform that allows us to put our course curriculum in our pocket (as long at that pocket contains an iPhone).   

The iTunes U app (only available on iOS devices) works with Apple's web based Course Manager portal to allow faculty and learning designers to easily create "courses" that contain documents and media files. The iTunes U app is not a substitute or replacement for a learning management system (LMS), as it does contain any collaborative features (discussion boards, blogs) or assessment tools.  

What the iTunes U app excels at is providing a seamless curriculum content consumption experience for students, enabling both online and offline reading and viewing of course documents (pdfs, ppts, Word documents, etc) and media files.  

We have been experimenting in putting up video files from our lecture capture system (Echo360), and the playback works great. The app even allows media playback at 1.5x or 2x speeds (something the native Echo360 player does not), as well as in-media note taking.

The big thing that the pairing of Apple's Course Manager portal the iTunes U app seems to have over other digital coursepack providers (such as XanEdu and Study.net) is the quality of the curricular distribution and consumption experience on the iPhone.  Both XanEdu and Study.net have iPad apps, but neither (as of yet) have designed their platforms for the iPhone form factor.   

I'm a huge fan of my Kindle iPhone app. The iPhone, combined with the Kindle app, equates to an always available (and synced up) bookshelf. An iPhone may not be the greatest platform for long hours of reading, but it is almost perfect for the short bursts of reading opportunities align with our time stressed lives.   

This sort of chunked up curriculum content consumption aligns almost perfectly with how learning design is evolving.  We are chunking up our lectures into 10 or 15 minute segments.  And we are carefully selecting the articles we assign, moving away from "content coverage" to choosing curriculum that is aligned with our learning objectives.

Choosing Apple's Course Manager and the iTunes U app to distribute our curricular content has many trade-offs. Apple is not in the copyright clearance business. Nor does Apple offer any services in print distribution, articles delivered through the browser, or options on any other mobile platforms (such as Android).   

But the fact that Course Manager and iTunes U is free to use, works with all sorts of text documents, handles video beautifully, allows for easy content downloading (hence offline viewing), and works great on an iPhone should make the incumbent coursepack platform providers take notice. The iTunes U app is a significant threat to their business models.   

One of these days someone is going to get the bright idea to offer a series of value added services around Apples's Course Manager and iTunes U app.   

Someone will start a business where all they do is clear copyright, offer print versions, and perhaps build the courses in Course Manager. This business can charge a premium for each article in which they clear copyright, making the service both profitable and affordable to school's that already have paid for the rights to utilize the content. This company will never have to worry about building or maintaining any technology, as Apple is taking care of this with its iTunes U platform. This company would be almost instantaneously profitable.

Have you built a course yet for iTunes U? It's free. Go for it.

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Joshua Kim

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