There’s been a lot of talk about iBooks Author and iTunes U recently in education circles, especially as the iPad makes its way into the educational systems in Australia. It’s a pretty exciting prospect, I must admit. For those of you who don’t know, iBooks Author allows teachers to create their own textbooks – but textbooks is the wrong word, because these ‘books’ have a huge array of extra functionality encapsulated within them, both within the system (glossaries, study cards) and via widgets that you can insert within the text. Only problem (if you see it as a problem) is that the books can only be read on an iPad, whicih means that you’re pretty much committing yourself to the Apple ecosystem. Makes sense for apple, but makes things a lot harder for everyone else.
iTunes U is the way Apple is trying to provide online courses for people to follow. Basically, any teacher or institution is capable of pushing out content – and content in any form, from notes, video, audio, pdfs, docs, app recommendations, links to web, links to other courses and content – to the subscribers – who can be world wide. Already, lots of universities have jumped on the bandwagon, and are using it as a way of structuring courses and delivering course materials to students.
So far, so good, right? Well, yes, but only up to a point. I mean, it’s not as if the LMS environment isn’t already crowded – it sure is. The question, though, is much more complex than that. Does iTunes U actually go anyway towards replacing the teacher or the lecturer? Unlike most of the other LMSs out there, iTunes U courses are, for the most part, publicly available around the world. So if that means if you want to study computer science at the university of Essex, you can – via iTunes U. You won’t get any accreditation for it, but you can still watch the lectures, download the materials and access all the other bits and pieces. The question is: do you get any benefit from doing this that you wouldn’t otherwise get? Is the course worthwhile doing in this way? Would this method of doing the course replace the need for actual physical participation?
It’s important to note 2 things: firstly, Apple never claims that this is the case. In fact, Apple shies well clear of even calling iTunes U an LMS. And there’s one crucial reason for that: with the exception of a pretty limited email notes facility, there’s no way to engage in discussions within the iTunes U environment. Thus, if you subscribe to an idea of learning wherein meaning is co-constructed through social interaction, then surely you need to provide an opportunity for that to take place – and without third party apps and programs, there’s very little in the way of possibilities to do that – at this current time.
I’ve seen lots of work around solutions, using forums and Moodle and other things, but they seem a little against the idea – that is, all your resources and needs are met within one app. So, I guess the point that I am making is that, while iTunes U is a fantastic resource for teachers and students, it is, at this point, an incomplete resource. It needs more if it is ever going to work properly as a stand alone LMS.