In the post-tablet educational world, a place where the fact that students can make great movies and other content on their iPad and the internet is a world of knowledge now literally 'on tap' iTunesU is providing a way for schools to make this world make sense and work for them.
Beginning in the universities and colleges of further education, iTunesU initially enabled people like myself to enrol in eclectic courses in philosophy from Harvard and dream of developing the next 'Angry Birds' because we had signed up to a 'Developing for iOS' course from Yale!
Increasingly schools have been seeing iTunesU as a useful, if not yet perfect, way of distributing course work to students and using some of the materials they have spent a lot of time creating, to great effect in their new 1:1 environments.
But does it have a place far from the lofty heights if Harvard and Yale, and even the large secondary schools that are piloting sharing their course materials this way - in the primary school?
I have to say I wasn't sure. The interface of iTunesU is bland and utilitarian, not immediately inspiring to students in colourful classrooms where so much learning is practical and kinaesthetic. In these schools the student/teacher relationship is so key and learning is often about inspiration - lighting the spark that motivates younger students to inquire, question and investigate.
So it was with some degree of doubt that I decided to introduce iTunesU to our class of 9/10 year olds. I felt, as it was something I could be asked to speak about to other schools the world over, that I should have a practical experience of how it worked in the classroom.
Firstly, for the uninitiated, iTunesU courses are 'built' on the Mac, not the iPad. The interface for building them is clear and intuitive once you grasp the structure. I will love the day when it's possible to build the whole thing on your iPad, I'm sure that's just a matter of time right?
Once I'd got to grips with the format for building the course - self-paced or in-session, outline, posts, draft posts, assignments and materials I found I actually really enjoyed making the course. Here are some reasons I enjoyed it:
1. It made me think clearly through the structure of what I was teaching and how I was going to deliver the learning opportunities which I found very helpful.
2. I realised that once the course was made, it was made - forever and next year or whenever, I could use the course again, and again.
3. Suddenly the trendy concept of a 'flipped classroom' made some practical sense to me as a teacher - my students could continue learning at home, not simply completing rote examples of what we had learned in class. They could experiment, explore and create at home to complete assignments and then bring their learning into the classroom for discussion, further development and assessment.
4.Parents and other interested parties could participate in the learning, or at least be able to see clearly what programme their children were following. I could just enrol them on the course.
5. Finally, and possibly most surprisingly to me, the kids loved it! They really enjoyed receiving their learning in this way and how it linked with the approach we were taking to the iPad. Much of the new content approaches we were adopting in school really suited being delivered through iTunesU and we began to hear reports of students spending real time enthused in learning - at home.
So, iTunesU, I think you could still do with a splash of colour but you're doing a good job - from the lofty heights of Harvard to my 'wee' primary class.