At Apple’s recent live event at the Guggenheim in New York to launch its most recent application, iBooks Author, the company also used the occasion to introduce another education related iOS 5 app and iTunes service called iTunes U.
For several years now, colleges and universities have posted for free academic courses via iTunes podcasts. But now in iTunes U, Apple is expanding the service by providing access to complete courses from leading universities and other schools.
For now the courses are completely free–requiring only your time to work through the lectures and assignments.
The iTunes U app can be used on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. When you subscribe to a coure all the core material for the course will be automatically downloaded to the app on your device.
Links to supplemental material will also be provided for download from the App Store, the iBookstore, and the iTunes Music Store. While the supplemental material may come at a cost, most of the video lectures and PDF document handouts seem to be available for free.
The beauty of iTunes U is how it packages core material into one application. A downloaded course typically includes a brief overview, a detailed course outline of lectures and assignments, a built-in Notepad, and links to course materials. The interface and setup is similar to how you might organize an analog three-ring binder.
Though courses are best viewed on the iPad, you can sync your notes and course information between your iOS devices. Unfortunately, however, Apple has not created a Mac client for iTunes U. Nor has it done so for its iBooks 2 textbook reader.
You can access and view all the courses in iTunes U either through the iTunes U application itself, or in iTunes on your Mac or PC. iTunes U already includes several dozen courses on a wide range of topics—from Basics of Culinary, Beginners Chinese, Masters of Photography, to Stanford University’s highly rated iPad and iPhone App Development course.
The Stanford apps development course, for example, includes 19 actual live lectures, slide show presentations, in course assignments.
Even better, the course doesn’t require you to purchase any additional supplemental material. And if you’re running OS X Lion you can download Apple’s app developers application Xcode for free from the App Store. All that is required on your part for this course is your time.
Another interesting though lightweight course, titled Rights, Remixes, and Respect, is a five part series about the differences between creative inspiration, appropriation, copyright and fair use.
Kirby Ferguson, the developer for this course, provides short definitions of copyright related terms, and then presents excellent song and movie examples about sampling and remixing and creative productions. His video presentations are are linked to a website which means you don’t have to download those files to your device.
You can work through the course in less than a week, and it even ends with a couple of short quiz reviews. The course also requires a few paid download of songs from the iTunes Music Store.
Another useful and practical tool in the iTunes U app is a built-in notepad. If you want to do pretty much all your work within your mobile device, this notepad will come in quite handy. It works similarly to to the default Notepad app in Apple’s mobile devices.
While iTunes U will never be as popular as the iTunes Music Store or the App Store, it’s a great opportunity and resource for self-motivated learning. And because courses are free, you learn as much as you like without taking out a student loan.
Let us know what you think of iTunes U.