University-level courses now available as free apps

With fees on the rise, any ways to help students save cash on expensive textbooks and also help teachers manage resources are very welcome. Now Apple’s iTunes U app for iPad allows you to subscribe to free courses from a range of universities, schools and other institutions.

Following on from his top tips on getting digital textbooks into the classroom with iBooks 2, we asked Jigsaw education consultant Rob Williams for his thoughts on why iTunes U is a great app fpr the classroom. To see it in action, check out Rob’s video tutorials above and below.

Where do the iTunes U courses come from?

“First of all, you need to download the iTunes U app for your iPad, which is free. I’ve already subscribed to a range including full music technology and astronomy courses from the Open University, but there’s also material available from top universities like Harvard, resources from museums and TED talks.”

How do you download the courses?

“Finding the materials you need is easy. You can search via a particular institution, or drill down into specific subject areas, education level, highest rated courses or search within the iTunes interface, which most students will be familiar with. To avoid classroom iPads getting clogged up with content, you subscribe to classes then only download elements when you actually need them. There’s more information on finding and downloading the courses you want in the ‘iPad in Education: How to use iTunes U (part 2)’ video.”

How are the courses constructed?

“iTunes U materials are made up of a range of media, including books, videos and audio. These elements can all be accessed directly from iTunes U, so you don’t need to switch back and forth between apps. Students can even minimise a video, pause it or leave it playing while they make notes in the Notes section of the course folder.”

Is it easy to measure student progress through the courses?

“Once a particular section has been completed, it can be ticked off in the course outline. Students can go back and reread or rewatch those elements at any time, but they always know how far through the course they are. There’s also a ‘Learning Outcomes’ section of each course set by the course’s instructor, so students can check they have achieved the particular course criteria.”

How does iTunes U integrate with the new iBooks 2 app?

“Apple are keen to push ‘joined-up’ working, and the same is the case with iTunes U. Any notes and annotations that students make in iBooks materials are stored in that particular course’s folder, so everything is all in one place. I gave a rundown of how to use iBooks in my last video – ‘iPad in education: How to use iBooks 2′ video tutorials’.”

And how much do they cost?

“Subscribing to any course in iTunes U is absolutely free. Some courses may charge a small amount for ‘in-app’ purchases – in one of my Open University courses there was the option of an additional Venn Diagram-creator app – but any charges are clearly signposted.”

Where would this fit into the curriculum?

“At the moment, there’s no feedback aspect of iTunes U, so it is more ideally used as a self-paced learning tool in addition to the traditional course materials. Once it is made possible for institutions to create the course content themselves, that’s when it will get really interesting.”


For more information on getting iPad into your classroom, get in touch. We’re Apple-certified, and can help with every step of the process, from providing iPads with AppleCare to integrating devices into your existing infrastructure. Give Rob and the team a call on 03332 409 333 or email

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