Our students are loving iTunes U Courses. We have just rolled out a one-to-one iPad mini initiative for our small blended (residential / online) graduate program, and we are using the iTunes U app to deliver course materials.
If you have not played with the free iTunes U app and Course Manager, (the web-based platform used to build your courses), then I highly recommend that you check it out. Apple has been strangely quiet in promoting the private iTunes U capabilities, and I've been surprised by how few people seem to know about this secure, elegant, and robust method of delivering course materials for iOS devices.
After a week of intensive observation of students using their iPad minis and iTunes U to interact with course materials I have a few observations and requests.
Back in November I wrote about 8 Ways That Apple Could Improve The iTunes U App.
I stand by all these requests, and I have 8 more:
1. An Easier Way to Enroll in Courses:
Currently, the only way for a student to enroll in an iTunes U is to click on a url on an iOS device. There is no concept of searching for a course within the iOS app, or having the enrollment automatically sync from a web page. The Course Manager tool is only for instructors and course builders, not for students, so there is no web based method to manage (or view) your own course materials. Apple needs to put some energy into the entire course enrollment process, making this steps both easier and scaleable. Currently, it is a manual process to send out the course links and to enroll each student, one-by-one, in the iTunes U course.
2. An Instructor Dashboard:
Instructors have no way to view activity within a particular iTunes U course. We can't see what content is being downloaded or accessed and we can't see how much or how often students are interacting with the content. There is no way to view how either individuals or a class as a whole is interacting with an iTunes U course. We are reduced to asking our students to recount how they are using the iTunes U app, as we have no data to measure engagement.
3. In App Presence Awareness and Communication:
iTunes U provides no way to tell if any other student is also working in the app. No way to reach out to a fellow learner while interacting with course content. No way to tell if classmates are also interacting with the curriculum. An "opt-in" presence awareness capability would enable a social element to learning.
4. In-App Instructor Features:
There is no way enroll a student within the iTunes U app. There is no way to load up content from an iOS device. Everything must be done from the web based Course Manager. Providing instructor features within the app would increase its usability, as the the necessity of going back and forth between the browser and the iOS device does not feel very elegant.
5. Multi-User Logon for Course Manager:
Apple has set the web-based Course Manager up so that only one person can log-in at a time to build courses. This is problematic when you are building many courses on one account, or if many people are working on one course. We are constantly kicking each other off as our team works to upload content to the iTunes U courses via Course Manager.
6. (Some) LMS Integration:
This is probably a nonstarter with Apple. The challenge with iTunes U is that it does not replace the LMS, as it does not have the core communication, collaboration, assessment, or SIS integration features. The app is a complement, not a substitute, for the LMS. The reality of this setup means that we need to upload all materials twice. Once to the LMS. Once to Course Manager (for inclusion in the iTunes U course). This creates tons of work, and the danger that the content gets out of sync. Apple could solve this by building integrations into the big LMS platforms, or bringing more features to iTunes U (so it could replace the LMS).
7. Multi-File Upload to Course Manager:
Course Manager only allows one file to be uploaded at a time. There is no concept of dragging entire folders, or uploading multiple documents. This makes the course building process time consuming and laborious.
8. Course Backups and Exports:
There is no capability to backup an iTunes U course once it is created. No ability to create a zip file from an entire course for either backup or uploading. We need to trust that Apple is backing up our courses and keeping them secure.
What I think is really needed is an iTunes U community of practice.
We need to figure out who is using iTunes U to delivery private, enrollment only access to course materials. We need to then get together and share best practices.
Having a way for the iTunes U educational community to more closely interact with Apple would be terrific. We are learning a great many things about utilizing the iPad for teaching and learning, and iTunes U is an important part of this story.
What has been your experience with the private iTunes U app?