iTunes U as a Learning Management System

Note: This blog post contains no displays of outlandish iPad creativity. It is unashamedly about student consumption.

During the first months of our iPad 1:1 program we have relied heavily on Dropbox as our primary method of sharing files with our students. It is a bit of a pain to set up – all students need a Dropbox account, you have to type all of their email addresses in when sharing a folder and even then they can delete the files at will. Having said that, it has worked fairly well so far with very few complaints.

As the first year of the 1:1 progresses, we will be integrating iTunes U heavily into both staff and student workflow, completely replacing the need to share Dropbox folders. iTunes U offers serious functional improvements over previous methods of resource distribution.

Anyone who possesses an Apple ID can begin creating courses via iTunes U Course Manager, although I recommend signing up your institution so you can take advantage of unlimited courses and unlimited student enrolment (otherwise you are limited to 12 courses and 50 students per course at the moment). By default, the courses you create are private and you have full control over who enrols in them. If you are working in an iPad 1:1 environment and not using iTunes U to deliver content, I highly recommend you try it out.

Here is a list of benefits and annoyances that come with using iTunes U (so far). They are not comparing iTunes U to a traditional Learning Management System (VLE) but rather against the next best iPad alternative – although there is one comment relating to a VLE in there somewhere…

Benefits of using iTunes U

  • Setup – I’m not going to describe the process of actually creating an iTunes U Course as easy (it does take a bit of getting used to), but once your course has been created the process of enrolling your students is very straightforward. Just share your enrol code with your students and check the roster to control who has access.
  • Student organisation – Setting up ‘in-session’ courses in iTunes U Course Manager allows you to assign a ‘due date’ to each assignment. This allows your students to receive push notifications and view a calendar of assignment dates which they can manually tick when each one has been completed.
  • Paperless – iTunes U allows you to easily share any documents with your students. They can then access these files from their devices and open them for editing (this is also possible via Dropbox, Evernote etc). Considerable cost savings should be possible.
  • Differentiation – since the cost of true classroom differentiation often comes with a hefty photocopying bill, the fact that iTunes U promotes a paperless classroom also paves the way for differentiated learning. It has never been easier to distribute a large variety of resources to your students. Extension material can readily be added as extra resources or inserted as hyperlinks.
  • Everything in one app 24/7 – students open up iTunes U as they arrive in a classroom knowing that everything they need for the course (and more) will be contained within the app. These resources will be available to the students 24/7 throughout (and after) the course, during which they can then be exported, edited and stored elsewhere.
  • Inserting video – videos created by both staff and students using Explain Everything can readily be inserted into iTunes U courses. Usually I choose to export the file to Dropbox (where it saves as an mp4) so I can upload it to iTunes U Course Manager on my PC. You can also take notes whilst watching videos embedded directly into iTunes U, making it ideal for delivering a new type of learning experience rich in both resources for home access and time for additional problem solving in lessons.
  • Teacher led – the ways in which iTunes U is used by teachers will vary greatly between individuals. Some will use it to provide their students with everything they need for lessons, some will attempt to ‘flip’ their classrooms and others to merely post homework tasks. iTunes U allows for this flexibility, providing the opportunity for teachers to experiment with the benefits of different approaches.
  • It is a major Apple product – there is good reason to believe that iTunes U will continue to improve and move towards becoming the primary way of delivering learning resources on the iPad for students of any age, rather than just the published university content we see at the moment.
  • Parental sign up – in the same way Edmodo codes can be distributed to parents, iTunes U enrol codes can also be sent out to provide access to parents with iOS devices, allowing them to keep up to date with their child’s modules and assignments (this idea was stolen from @fraserspiers).
  • Cover lessons – iTunes U makes it easier to deal with teacher absence. Any previously uploaded materials can be accessed by your students with a reduced impact to learning.
  • It is free (i.e. not expensive)

Annoyances caused by using iTunes U

  • Currently iTunes U Course Manager does not look kindly upon those teachers that share a class. Either teachers must share their logins with each other, use departmental Apple IDs or run two courses separately for the same module.
  • iTunes U Course Manager is not available on iOS devices and only available through the Safari browser on Mac/PC.
  • There is currently no social aspect to iTunes U. Currently most courses will run alongside an Edmodo course, but surely this will be on the list for future iTunes U updates.
  • It insists on calling every resource you upload an assignment

Are you using iTunes U as a learning management system? Please get in touch if so. If you are in the process of creating an iTunes U course and need a little help here is an iTunes U Course on how to create iTunes U Courses.

This entry was posted in iPad.

2 comments on “iTunes U as a Learning Management System

  1. Greg Hughes says:

    Great blog as always, Tom – it opens up the possibility of widening a traditional class to include other students from anywhere in the world…

  2. Caveman says:

    Can iTunes U be used without an Apple ID, without having a device signed in? I am looking at setting up our school iPads using Apple Configurator and the devices are shared by students.

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