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iTunes U–The Next Big Learning Management System?

by Justin Marquis Ph.D.

As a former iTunes U administrator for my institution I was skeptical about the idea that Apple was opening up the iTunes U interface to any teacher who wanted to upload their content into to share with students. In my experience, it took months of legal wrangling, careful attention to Apple’s demanding specifications for content and design, and lots of hoop jumping before we got our content online.  Given that background I was very wary of what it might mean for teachers to have to take the time to do all of the legwork needed to get their content into the system. So I was pleasantly surprised when I investigated further and found that, because all of the content is private, Apple’s only requirement for educators to use the system is that they have a valid Apple ID.  

The ease of access to the system and the recent speculation on the Epic 2020 website that iTunes would someday become the dominant informal education platform in the world prompted me to take a closer look at the interface and its potential for current teacher use and future world domination.

Getting Started with iTunes U for Educators
Step 1: If you don’t already have an Apple ID, you will need to get one. If you already have one, your current user name and password will work. To keep your professional and personal lives separate, you might consider setting up a new account that is only used for work-related activities. Go to https://itunesu.itunes.apple.com/, and login.

Step 2: After logging in you will be asked to fill in an instructor profile that contains your name, title, institution, department, role, a brief bio, and a picture. All of these fields are required, so be prepared with all of your information.

Step 3: Once you have completed your profile you will be brought to the Course Manger screen where you can review materials you have uploaded into the system or create new courses. You can return to this page at any time by clicking on the graduation cap icon in the upper left corner of the screen. When you are ready to begin, click on "Create New Course" below your name.

Step 4: Fill in the required information on the New Course Settings page: course name, short name, institution, department, category, level, language, course image and course description.  Again, all of this information is required.

Step 5: Create a course outline. This step was a bit confusing, but is necessary if you plan to add discussions to the course. This basically creates a structure for the class. You add topics to the outline by filling in the text field and hitting enter on your keyboard. This opens a new line for typing. That was not clear initially and took some exploring to figure out.

Step 6: Once you have filled out the course information and created an outline, you can begin adding content to the class. By default you have options to add material in the overview, instructor, and outline categories. You can add other areas such as course assignments, schedule, etc. by clicking on "Add Page" at the bottom of the screen.

Step 7: Once you have chosen to add a page, a blank composition window will appear that allows you to type or paste text-based materials.

Step 8: After creating all of the appropriate pages and adding all of your text-based materials to the course, you can add additional types of materials such as audio/video files, e-books, apps, images, or Web links. To do this click on the "Materials" button at the top of the screen, select the type of material to add, then click "Add Material" at the bottom of the screen.

Step 9: When you click on "Add Material" a pop-up will appear asking where you would like to add the material from. In this example I chose to add a video and was presented with choices to add from my computer, the iTunes store, a URL, or other material that I had already uploaded into the system.

Step 10: The most intriguing of these options is to add a video from the iTunes Store. The following image shows how to do that.

Should you choose to add media from another (free) source, simply select the appropriate option and follow the on screen prompts. For example here is a screen capture showing how to add a video from TED.

Just click "Add" after you have pasted in the URL for the resource you are adding.  (At the time of this writing, adding video links from TED or YouTube did not add the actual video to the system, but rather just created a link to it under the Web Links tab. Adding a video directly from the hard drive of my computer did work as shown below). Continue adding materials to the various categories until you have populated your course. Remember that links to external sources can change or disappear, so uploading resources is always preferred.

Step 11: You can associate course discussion boards with any category from your outline by choosing the "Posts’ button at the top of the screen, highlighting the desired topic, and clicking "Add Post."

Step 12: Once you have chosen to add a post, a blank composition window will appear that allows you to create the discussion starter for your topic. Fill in the required information and select "Post" to make the topic viewable.

Step 13: Finally, once you have created your course, you will want to grant access to your students. To begin, click on the student icon at the top of the screen: [studenticon]. Click on the "Share Course" button to obtain a registration code that you can share with students via email. Once they have the code, they can register for the class by going to the iTunes U site or in theiPod/iPad app.

Maybe Not Ready for World Domination Just Yet
While the iTunes U interface is clean and generally easy to use, there were some glitches that will need to be ironed out before this LMS is ready to take over for Blackboard or Moodle. It is, however, free and iTunes is largely ubiquitous. The possibility of using these course materials through an app on an iPhone, iPod, or iPad is also intriguing and opens up the possibility for this to be THE gateway for portable and mobile learning. Essentially, this gives teachers an easy way to make their courses available to their students on some of the most prevalent portable devices, and that could be a big deal to helping education break free of the constraints of the classroom.