Apple announced a few things at their education event in New York yesterday. The highlights were iBooks 2, with its textbook support, and iBooks Author, its companion authoring tool. (iBooks Author looks like it has a ton of potential, and might inspire me to get off my ass and start on that intro programming textbook/comic I’ve always wanted to create.)
What I found most interesting, though, was iTunes U, because I think Apple just built a freaking learning management system (LMS). This may mean nothing to the tech world–and, true to form, barely registered a blip on my RSS feeds–but as a teacher, this is awfully exciting, and I have some very (perhaps unrealistic) high hopes for this. Allow me to explain.
A LMS, according to that no-longer blacked-out site, is:
A software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, and reporting of training programs, classroom and online events, e-learning programs, and training content.
Better-known LMSs include Blackboard and Moodle. I’ve had to suffer through local vendor AsknLearn‘s awful, awful piece of crap when I was teaching, and by the time I returned to offer a course, they’d replaced it with Blackboard, which was no better (and many, many times more expensive). I’m now trying CourseKit for a class, but it doesn’t quite feel like a mature product.
Back to iTunes U. Apple has made two key changes to iTunes U that makes it more like a LMS. From the info page, iTunes U has become a way for any educational institution to publish–and track student progress on–interactive courseware online. Elaborating on the emphasised points:
It’s no longer exclusive. Previously, iTunes U was only available for select academic institutions like Oxford, Stanford, Berkeley, Yale and MIT, who’ve been offering some great free courses. Now, though, Apple has made iTunes U open to educational institutions, including K-12, in 26 countries (including Singapore, whew! You can never be sure with these things).
It’s no longer just a way of publishing media and documents on iTunes. In its previous incarnation, iTunes U was just a distribution mechanism for videos and lecture notes. Apple has significantly expanded iTunes U’s capabilities to include quizzes, interactive books and assignment tracking. I.e., instructors can gather resources from other freely available courses, put them together as courses for their students, assign reading chapters in iBook textbooks, send out assignments that will deliver push notifications to students’ iOS devices, and
track their progress in real time (wait, nope. Ah well.)
All this looks great. More access and greater functionality, all tied in with Apple’s strong device/platform ecosystem and the wealth of existing high-quality educational material on iTunes U. The obvious problem, though, is in that last sentence: “all tied in”. iTunes U as a LMS works best for schools in which all students have iPhones/iPads. This is, understandably, a business goal of Apple’s, but it’s certainly not realistic to expect most schools to set up massive iPad 1:1 programmes, and certainly not for some unproven delivery system (if anything, it’ll be for iBooks textbooks, but even that has a way to go before it becomes a compelling reason to go all-iPad).
I don’t have much more than that, I’m afraid: I’d love to try out the new iTunes U back-end Course Manager, but these are only available to educational institutions. I don’t know if the school I usually work with has signed up yet, but I’m already working on convincing them to do so, and I’ll write more if/when I get a chance to do up an iTunes U course.
(Update, a week later: Turns out Apple didn’t build as much of a LMS as I thought. I’m disappointed.)