iTunes U 3.0 was released as an update to the existing app – and it is packed with features that iPad teachers have been crying out for. Those of you using iTunes U will be familiar with the interface and features available in the last version – so this post will focus on what you need to know about the new features and how they effect your use.
Briefly the new features include:
• Students can hand in homework to specific assignments
• Students and instructors can mark up PDFs within iTunes U
• Instructors can grade and track student progress in an integrated grade book
• Instructors can have private, one-on-one discussions with students
• Instructors can include multiple attachments per assignment
Dan Edwards has put together a great post which you can find here. I was lucky to be able to chat with him and some fellow ADEs at the launch and they have put together some useful thoughts around this. (shout out to Mat Pullen, Gav Smart and Tom Riley as well). If you are not already doing so, I suggest you give them a follow on social media as well as Fraser Speirs; whose thoughts on the update can be found here.
This update to iTunesU seems to mark a shift away from a content delivery platform to a feature packed teaching and learning platform. This puts it on a par with apps like Showbie; the goto paperless classroom for many iPad educators and the newcomer Google Classroom; which is available for any teacher or pupil with a Google Apps for Education account. Showbie has had PDF and document annotation for a while now and both apps offer cross platform support if you have a variety of devices in use in your school or have implemented a BYOD policy. The downside with this you have to select products and services which are supported across each platform/device.
One of the main disadvantages of the previous version of iTunes U was the inability to deal with the submission side of workflow. While it was a great teacher-to-student content delivery tool it lacked that ability for pupils (and teachers if they were simply enrolled in a course) to submit work. This made it very one sided and required the use of a third party option. Now, pupils can choose to submit work via the app or by using ‘open in’ option found across iOS. One of the additional options here is the ability to select a file from a cloud storage solution such as Google Drive or Dropbox. This is great for schools using Google Apps for Education. Unfortunately for staff/pupils in Scotland using Glow, OneDrive for business is not supported.
Files can be submitted as attachments and students have the opportunity to enter a comment to their teacher and start a 1to1 conversation. This is not unique to iTunes U as Showbie and Google Classroom have these features for some time – but the integration into iTunesU makes it an even more compelling option to use in schools.
One of the advantages of services such as Showbie, is the ability to have a conversation with a pupil in the same way you would have if you were in class. This is a big factor in making education an anytime anywhere experience. This does however, start the conversation over whether teachers should be required to answer questions at evenings and weekends. Teachers are some of the most overworked individuals out there and adding to this could be met with a level of negativity. That being said, with it being increasingly difficult to increase motivation and engagement in pupils; if they are actively taking part in a task, should teachers not continue to encourage that? I leave it up to you.
This is a great stand out feature. Annotate over PDFs that students have submitted and give instant feedback. The power of this feature is not one to be overlooked. There are a number of downsides – no option to add audio feedback and the images are ‘flattened’ after you have finished annotating them. This means that the pupil has to edit and resubmit their original file. Always retaining a copy of the original file is a good practice to instil in pupils.
Teachers can track and monitor the progress of individual pupils within a course/assignment. This information can be exported as a .csv file and upload to an MIS system. SEEMiS is the choice for all authorities across Scotland and can be used where appropriate. At the moment only numerical grades are supported so teachers can make decisions as to when/where this information is used. National and Higher assessments may not be appropriate here, but it may lend itself well to BGE courses.
Those are some of the standout features for me in terms of the new update. It is certainly encouraging to see the shift to a learning and teaching platform and for schools that have embraced the 1:1 iPad route, the use of iTunes U is def a no brainer. For schools that have a shared deployment or mixed with other devices, using a service that works across a range of devices and platforms may be a better choice at the moment.