Apple announces iTunes U update with iPad Course Creation, Student Discussions & more

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Screenshot showing new iTunes U “Student Discussions” feature

Apple today announced an update to its iTunes U educational app that includes a number of new features for iPad including course creation tools, a Student Discussions feature and improved management tools for teachers.

“Education is at the core of Apple’s DNA and iTunes U is an incredibly valuable resource for teachers and students,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services. “iTunes U features an amazing selection of academic materials for everyone around the world. Now, with the ability to better manage and discuss educational content, learning becomes even more personalized on iPad.”

The new features will begin rolling out July 8 with the ability for teachers to create and manage previously uploaded lessons directly from the iPad. Apple says the course creation features will let teachers grab content from iWork, iBooks Author or “any of the over 75,000 educational apps available for iPad.” It will also let teachers use the iPad’s camera to include shots and video of real-world items in courses. The course creation feature will be available to educators in all 69 with the materials they create distributed in up 155 countries. 

As for students, a new Discussions feature will bring a social element to the app allowing students and teachers to easily interact with one another: With Discussions in the iTunes U app, students can automatically follow classroom discussions and join conversations on new topics, or set up push notifications for when new topics are started or replies are added to active exchanges. Teachers can participate in forums too, and have the ability to moderate discussions by removing any off-topic messages or replies.

In its press release, Apple said “nearly 30,000 Multi-Touch™ books have been created by independent teachers and publishers worldwide.”

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Apple launching Podcast app with iOS 6 and working on podcast-producing technology

Much like Apple did when introducing its standalone iTunes U app at its education event last January, it is also planning to launch a standalone app for podcasts. A report from AllThingsD first mentioned Apple’s plans to include the app in iOS 6 this fall. We also heard that the app is in the works for a release with the final version of iOS 6.

People familiar with Apple’s plans tell me that when its new iOS 6 software becomes widely available this fall, podcasts will have their own app, where users will be able to discover, download and play them on mobile devices. Users who access iTunes via laptop and desktop machines will still find them in that version of iTunes, though.

Apart from the podcast app that AllThingsD noted would allow users to “discover, download and play” on iOS devices, we heard separately that Apple is working on podcast-producing technology, perhaps for inclusion into this app.

As part of its process of breaking the different content categories into standalone apps, many noticed with iOS 6 that Apple removed the Podcasts, Audiobooks, and iTunes U sections from the iTunes app.

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Apple posts new iTunes U help resources

Apple created a new section on its website dedicated to the enhanced iTunes U service that was updated during last week’s education announcement. The new web-based resources available at www.apple.com/support/itunes-u contain a wealth of information and how-to topics for educators to implement the new iTunes U digital features into their workflow. Specifically, training course are available for iTunes U Public Site Manager and iTunes U Course Manager, as well as various guides on publishing on iTunes U. Educators and students can also learn about creating different types of educational content, such as audio recordings, video clips, and interactive presentations.

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Here’s the heartwarming clip played at Apple’s education event in NYC

With Apple’s education event now behind us, there is a lot to digest here. In addition, today has brought us three interesting software releases: “iBooks 2” and “iTunes U” apps for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, and the “iBooks Author” program for the Mac. If you missed our live coverage and have been wondering why all the fuss, a clip Apple played at the presser should get you up to speed.

Available for viewing  by clicking on the above image, the video sports both teachers and students who rave about the mess that is the United States education system and how Apple is arriving to the rescue. As always, the video is heartwarming and it is well worth the 7 minutes and 22 seconds of your time. You may also want to check out this resource on Apple’s website dedicated to iBooks Textbooks for iPad that contains many video tours.

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