For this school year, I have been using Edmodo as the LMS for all of my classes. It’s worked better than I had anticipated, and certainly better than our school’s current system. For the period my AP students were a part of the iPad trial, I wanted to test out using iTunes U, so I created a course just to use during those five weeks.
There are enough great walkthroughs of iTunes U out there that I won’t go into much detail, but there are a lot of things that I, and my students, liked about it.
- The teacher interface for managing the course was easy to learn and pleasant to use.
- The ability to easily add content was very helpful, particularly when adding content from the iTunes Store. I added (free) apps, iBooks, and podcasts to the course, and the students had no problems finding them. In general, the students seemed to have less trouble accessing any of the posted resources than with Edmodo.
- Most students took notes in their preferred note-taking app, but the ability to take notes on books, podcasts, and lectures and have them all in one place was very slick.
- So long as the students had Notifications enabled, I could be reasonably certain that if I posted something, they would see it.
- Several students commented that they simply liked using iTunes U better, because it was so well-designed. That "delight" factor is tough to quantify, but not unimportant.
- As a teacher, I could only update the course from my computer. Not a huge problem, but as I am using my iPad more and more, this was annoying.
- Communicating with the students was easy, but that communication was only one-way. There was no way for students to turn in materials or communicate with me or the class (other than email, of course).
So, when all of my students have iPads, would I prefer iTunes U or Edmodo? I’m still not sure. I have a lot of issues with Edmodo. For one, I’m wary of any free service whose business model is unclear to me. What happens if/when Edmodo is purchased by some textbook company? I’m also not a fan of their iOS apps, which are buggy at best and non-functional at worst. Still, Edmodo does a lot of things well. Namely, it is easy for students to interact with me and their classmates. That has been even more useful this year than I would have anticipated. In addition, Edmodo’s ability to do some basic polls, quizzes, and to collect assignments can really make it a one-stop shop for most teachers. With iTunes U, I would continue to use other sites (like Quia) for online quizzes and Dropbox or Evernote for assignments. That being said, for an iPad-centric environment iTunes U is a powerful, well-designed app whose design alone makes it a great option. Fortunately I don’t have to decide today.
Using iTunes U for five weeks did really highlight one of its strengths: the ability to create a self-paced course. While my course was created as “In-Session” so that I could attach due dates to assignments, it was obvious that iTunes U would really shine in creating a self-paced learning environment. While at first that doesn’t seem to apply to a high school classroom, I began to think about how it really could help create a more student-focused environment. What if my Latin 4 class had different units, that they completed at their own pace? There could be a “War Unit” with excerpts from Caesar, Nepos, and Vergil. There could be a “Love” unit with Catullus, Ovid, and Vergil. Students would work in class, but at their own pace, on whichever unit seemed most interesting at that time. I would love to create a course like this (cf), and iTunes U would make it very doable for the teacher. Summer enrichment courses or AP review would also be great candidates for a self-directed iTunes U course.
For now though, both Edmodo and iTunes U are pretty good options for teachers. Now if our grade book and SMS software would finally enter the 21st century, I’d be in good shape.