Early findings from a new programme using iPads

Today I met with one of our lecturers who is soon to launch a new distance masters programme, the MA in International Education. It is planned that for this programme, every student will be furnished an iPad and instructions how to load it up with module materials.  I wanted to get an idea of how easy or hard it is for him to prepare materials for the iPad. Unfortunately for me, he hasn’t been working on that part yet, but he feels confident that using iBooks Author, it won’t be very onerous. I have only fiddled with iBooks Author a little bit myself, and I found it pretty easy but not quite as intuitive as I would have liked. I hope that my colleague’s confidence turns out to be well-founded. I will keep you posted here.

One thing I have learnt from both this programme and our Criminology programme also utilitising iPads is that it is pretty time-consuming to create distance learning materials to go on a VLE. This really isn’t very different from the time-consuming process of creating printed learning materials in the old correspondence course model. With this Education course, the lecturer has hopes that developing material for the iPad may even be easier than developing for the VLE. The ‘Criminology iPad’ module is making use of an app developer to create the materials for the course, so that’s an unusual way of producing learning material.

Apple has done much in recent months to make it easier to create learning materials for the iPad. Just the other day I created a Course using the Apple Course Manager, which is not a piece of software but a place on Apple’s website. All you need to create a course is your learning materials, a Mac with Safari, and an Apple ID. You don’t need to belong to an institution that’s in iTunes U. As for the learning materials, I quote the iTunesU Course Guidelines:

“Assignments can include many types of materials that are part of your course, such
as videos, audio files, web links, apps, books, documents, and presentations. You can
add content from the App Store and the iBookstore, and you can even upload your
own original materials.”

A course in iTunes U, comprised of various materials and links. Photo courtesy of fraserspeirs on Flickr

The course I built consisted of 4 pdf documents, 2 mp4 video files, and then I made up a course outline which I posted in the “Posts” section. Creating the course took all of 20 minutes. I then received an email from Apple with the url of my new course, and I emailed it around to a few colleagues. An instructor could email that to the students. A course must be ‘consumed’ using an Apple handheld device — iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. The student clicks the url of the course, and is told that her enrolment is pending approval. Meanwhile, the instructor receives an email saying a’ new student wants to enrol in your course’, and the instructor grants access by clicking a green tick in the Course Manager page. Once the student has access, she accesses it through the iTunes U app, which quickly downloads the materials to her device. It is surprisingly smooth and simple. I showed this method to my Education colleague, and he may end up going down this route for his programme.

Bad points? Completely proprietary to Apple. Good points? It’s so easy. Does it enable good learning? I hope to find out as part of the Places project.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE Fellow, University of Leicester

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2 thoughts on “Early findings from a new programme using iPads

  1. Hi Terese, I was interested to learn that you can create these courses without going through my institution\’s iTunes U account – the people in charge of that won\’t allow me to try it out since they see it 100% as a marketing tool, with glossy videos showing some carefully selected courses. The part I take issue with is whether what the Courses tool enables you to create is in fact a course! Where are the activities (apart from taking an MCQ quiz)? Where is the interaction with the tutor or other students? Or should all that part take place face-to-face?

    • Hi Adam, so sorry for my delay in replying. Even if an institution doesn’t have iTunes U, an instructor at that institution can set up a Course— I set one up myself and our site hasn’t launched yet. You could therefore try it out yourself without involving your institution — you just need your own Apple ID and a Mac with Safari. You are right that the Course is pretty one-way in direction. When I saw ‘Posts’ I got excited thinking this was a discussion board, and envisioned discussion boards on iPad… then I found it was just a posted message, not a discussion board. However, students can reply to the Post and the instructor receives this as an email. So there is some interaction. Also, in the Course you can put any links you want — so presumably you can link out to, I don’t know, Google plus for a discussion? It’s an idea.
      Terese Bird

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