I just finished listening to the first in the three-part series of webcasts on how to implement and use iTunes U. It was a pretty exciting introduction to the application. Aside from two Apple heads talking about the software, they invited a high school and a university teacher to jump in and talk about their experiences with using iPads in the classroom.
For instance, Matt Baier, a Social Studies teacher from California at Cathedral Catholic High School, teaches all of his classes with the iPad, as his school has a 1:1 ratio for iPads to students. So every student gets an iPad!
Things that he noticed were much easier included collecting and disseminating assignments. All it takes is a simple post of the materials necessary to the iTunes U homepage and then all his students have what they need. Similarly, using various storage apps on the iPad allowed his students to turn in their assignments with a simple click.
He talked about a night when he realized that he would have to call in sick unexpectedly, and he was able to create a lesson and supply all the materials at 3 a.m. by putting them on iTunes U. He shot off a quick email to the sub outlining what the kids were doing, but there was no need for using an emergency lesson plan because he was able to let the kids know what they had to do before they even got to school that day.
One thing that struck me was the ability to create your own textbooks on iTunes U. I think this is awesome. As someone who likes to tailor their materials to suit my individual classes, being able to create my own textbook for my students is a huge bonus for me. No more skipping chapters or jumping around a huge anthology – I can decide what and when I want to do things in the book.
Another plus that was highlighted by Matt was that there is less of the “I didn’t know that was due” and “I didn’t understand the assignment” because the iPad sends push notifications to students when new posts are released and reminds them of due dates. “Centralization” was a buzzword – students had everything they needed right there on one device.
He also mentioned that students were able to communicate in a backchannel type discussion during the presidential debates. Even though the debates took place outside school hours, the students could communicate in real time using the iPads and the discussion features on iTunes U.
Another bonus? Parents with their own iOS devices can check out what their kids are doing in class. Matt mentioned that since it was an election year, some parents were checking out his materials and the projects students had created just because they were interested in the subject.
He also talked about the ability to publish student work to the district iTunes U page for everyone to see. Schools that are subscribed to iTunes U can have parents associate their Apple IDs with the district page and have access to everything the district makes available, such as the student newspaper, projects, policies, handbooks, etc.
Overall, I thought it was a pretty cool thing for schools to do. However, it depends heavily on the amount of money that can be spent to get the technology (iPads, iTunes U, etc.) and the training for teachers to be able to use it well.
My own personal concerns center around students remaining on task during instructional time and when they are allowed to work on projects using the iPad (podcasts, iMovies, etc.). I hope that there is some way that this can be monitored during class. Additionally, it’s important to remember that at first the technology may impede students’ learning. Not only will it be important to train teachers on using the technology, but also teach students how to use it as well.
Other than that, the benefits really do outweigh the potential setbacks. For instance, shy students will have a less stressful way to participate in class. Additionally, students who are absent are still connected to the classroom and are less likely to fall behind. It seems like the iPad and iTunes U have the ability to take learning outside the classroom and turn daily experiences into learning experiences with the connectivity the technology could provide.