After featuring Apple-related topics in the last two posts on the 8 Blog, many readers may be ready for something different. Before moving on, however, there is one more important feature of the Apple Education event that I feel needs to be discussed. Besides the release of the iBooks Author app and the dedicated iTunesU portal, Apple also showcased the course management tools that are now available through iTunesU. While I’m really excited that iTunesU is giving educators the ability to build online courses for free, I’m a little concerned about the message Apple is sending with their online tools.
Recent studies show that online learning is becoming a prevalent option for collegiate and K-12 students. For instance, in its recent study on technology use by American collegiate students, Educause reported that over 30% of students have enrolled in at least one online course during the collegiate career. The National Council of Education Statistics released a report last fall which examined online education in public secondary schools. With over 2300 school districts across the country participating, the NCES reported that 55% of schools offered some distance learning options for students and over 1.8 million students were enrolled in some sort of online course. As the tools become easier to use, these numbers will continue to grow. And that’s where Apple steps in.
With the iTunesU course management tools, an educator has the ability to create entire courses by wrapping posts, assignments and materials around recorded lectures. While these options are intended to help educators provide “content and context” to their course, the message that Apple is clearly sending is that online learning is an endeavor that students should undergo independently. None of the course management tools allow students to communicate with one another or directly to educators. There is also no way for educators to provide feedback to their students or to assess their students’ learning. Since Apple is not a degree granting institution (at least not yet…), I understand why it may have avoided including these features. But then again, maybe Apple didn’t feel communication and assessment tools were necessary. Looking at Apple’s Course Creation Guidelines, they offer several “Best Practices” for course construction. The list includes displaying content with “short titles for posts and assignments so students see the most important information at a glance.” The focus is clearly on the presentation and organization of content. While this is important stuff, online education should be more than this. As an online educator, I take great pride in interacting with my students and creating online learning communities for students to engage with and learn from their peers. Learning is social process. As a company that has tried so hard to build social opportunities into their tools, Apple should know better.