Last week, we discussed a new iBooks Author app which Apple unveiled at its huge education event. By giving free authoring tools to educators, Apple aims to revolutionize the textbook industry by providing homegrown competition to traditional publishing companies. With educators creating their own multimedia e-textbooks for their students, Apple hopes to drive the price of textbooks down and to channel more students to iDevices and the iBookstore.
Besides the iBooks Author app, Apple also announced a few other important initiatives at their education event. One of the announcements included the release of a dedicated iTunesU app for iPads, iPods, and iPhones. While iTunesU has been around for a while, a dedicated app makes educational content easier to find. With the app, students can search for instructional materials from around the world. They can learn about astrophysics from Harvard professors or about European history from professors at Oxford. The best part is that the content is available for free! The app even allows users to subscribe to courses so they’re notified when new material from a iTunesU course is uploaded.
I’m really impressed by iTunesU and the whole “open education” movement. While it challenges some long held beliefs of what it means to learn and teach, open education frees students and educators to independently study and teach based on their interests without worrying about their geographical location, their socioeconomic status, or their physical mobility. A middle school student in Nebraska could take a class from Yale without ever leaving their living room. A high school teacher in rural Kansas could upload educational content for the world to use. Open education is truly democratizing learning.
But this democratizing process may concern some people. I know some educators will balk at providing their course material through such an open system like iTunesU. Some will be worried about intellectual property and worry that another educator will “steal” their content to use in other courses. But that’s exactly the point. With open systems, sharing is the goal. If an individual educator shares some brilliant lecture through iTunesU, the world can access it and learn from it. Other educators can have their students watch it and discuss it in their class. The brilliant lecture now has worldwide value because of its openness. This may change how some people view and value instructional material. With time, my hope is that content will no longer be valued simply because it’s hidden behind prestigious walls that limit access. Instead, I see a world where value is determined by the number of people who can access the content openly and choose to use it. If a million people download a lecture through iTunesU, doesn’t that demonstrate it’s value? I know this a huge paradigm shift for educators and that it will create some interesting challenges (especially for promotion and tenure committees as they try to evaluate how sharing “counts”). But I prefer to look at the positives. With open education options like iTunesU, it’s a really exciting time to be a learner!