iTunes U – Course Creation Tips

Over the past year I have been fortunate enough to work extensively with teachers and administrators on the use of iBooks Author and iTunes U. In doing this I have learnt a lot about the practical skills of both these applications. The following tips are for teachers/administrators that are delivering, or wanting to deliver, courses to students in the near future. I believe that in the classroom two fundamental principles need to be applied when using technology . Ultimately teachers are required to give pieces of content to the students and they also need to collect content. Making these two steps simple is critical to the success of the whole process.

 

Getting ‘Stuff’ to the Student – iTunes U Course Manager tips

 

The Outline – structure and restructure 

When writing courses for iTunes U, I found that I could not take my original course outlines and simply paste them in. The structure of the course when viewed in a dynamic space meant it simply did not work. For me, I found that setting my course into projects enabled my students to understand the ‘workflow’ I intended for them. Practical based subjects will operate differently to more traditional delivery modes and each needs to be adapted based on the individual’s mode of delivery. (Lets be honest, a lot of students do not look at a paper copy of an outline, this is not the case for an iTunes U course as it is integral to the process of selecting the content itself, take the time to get it right). 

The Post – the introduction to that lesson. 

The way you put the posts together needs to be considered. When writing a post you need to treat it as if the instruction can be learned by an individual with no interaction with the teacher. It should also be the introduction to what you want the student to do and how they are to do it. It needs to be the action part of the lesson and gives instructions for what is going to be completed.

Assets – your handouts and content

The post includes text but also includes ‘Assets‘. Assets are basically any item attached to a post. I stress that when you create and have assets you really really need to consider your students as the person accessing your work. I speak of this as a very practical approach. The first issue is Naming! We as teachers/administrators have a way we name out work. Normally this naming is perfectly fine for us, the teacher, but when a student downloads that asset the naming then needs to be something that they can relate to and manage.

Practical example of Naming an Asset

Scenario – I have enrolled in your iTunes U course and my first homework is to download a Pages document on Grammar. When I download that document it will open in Pages and keep the name of the file that you gave it. So if you have named the Pages document “2013 Handout Grammar” then how do I (your students) quickly and easily make sense of this document in two weeks time? So I stress, take the time to name the Assets appropriately, with names that make sense to the student because it is important to remember that they are not just downloading Assets from your course, they have 7 separate courses all asking them to download different assets. If you can imagine your own iWork document flows imagine your students’, whom are not very organized. So in recapping

– Name your assets so that your students understand the name. E.G. 10ENG Mr Smith Grammar foundations

 Multimedia Assets – lessons for WiFi

In my opinion a course with multimedia assets is going to be more successful than one without. The power of Digital Technologies is the inclusion of Audio, Video and Animation. It is important to remember two aspects. If the video is to be viewed outside of an Internet connection then the video must be embedded and downloaded. If you have an internet connection then you have two choices, allow the media to be downloaded or if the media is located on another website and you are linking to that content and it is being streamed to you.

It is also a consideration that your media is located inside your iBooks and linked with the written content if needed. Remember to NAME items with your students in mind.

Technical issues for multimedia need to be considered. As such video does not need to be at Full HD, consider your students that are having to download a two minute clip that is 500MB! 360p or 480p is more than enough and Quicktime has these settings under the export. I would also point out that uploading videos takes considerably more time than downloading. If you do it at your institution it will be faster!

Cover Images – Recognizing your book on the shelf 

In the creation of your course an important aspect that many forget is the design of the cover image. Branding is critical but more important is the issue of easily being able to recognize the book on the iTunes U shelf. This is what students will visually be drawn to so it is important to design appropriately. The title of the course should be clearly visible, the images should be bright and stand out. This image is 600×600 exactly but the title of the course is added additionally after the creation.

Skye Moroney – Course colour banner image

SPECIAL NOTE: Course Name Colour Banner

The colour of the banner where your course name shows up is determined by a very specific method (its really a bit insane). Now, reading this carefully. The 600×600 image you upload as a course cover image is where this colour is ‘sampled from’. Now you have many different colors on this course cover image but the banner is sampled from a specific place and by changing this ONE pixel it will change the banner image. If you open the image in Photoshop and then zoom in to about 1000% (use your judgment as you need to be able to count the individual pixels) you need to count 5 pixels in from the bottom left and then 5 pixels up that is the location of the sampling. If you have a totally black course cover image and change this one pixel to hot pink the bottom banner will be pink. A good friend of mine, skye moroney from eyks.com.au has designed a graphic of this, for more technical details feel free to read his post

Enrolling students – The quick way for private courses

Once you have setup a course there are a few tricks to know about the process of enrolling the students in your course. Each course has a unique nine digit code. This is the only code you need to give students to enroll in your private course. It is entered into the iTunes U app at the bottom near the catalogue.

   

Getting ‘Stuff’ from the Student – iTunes U Course Manager tips

The other side of experience is how students send you, as teachers, the work to mark/check. It is critical that this process is as easy as possible because it causes a significant impact to the teacher the student and the experience if not done well.

Separating Assets – Small books, single documents 

From experience creating large packages of work that take place over several weeks, in one post, does not serve to scaffold the work well enough for students to progress through the content easily. In digital form this is much truer than work booklets of the past. Complimenting this, the ability in iTunes U to have work very structed into posts and therefore relevant content delivered at that time, means that students remain more focused. So my advice is to have small iBooks of work. However, work that you want to receive back needs to be separated from the content being consumed in the iBooks or PDFs. By doing this a workflow as follows eventuates.

Student opens iTunes U course > Student navigates to the correct post > Student reads instruction then downloads the content > student interacts and reads content > Student then downloads the pages/word document and then completes the questions or products > Student then send this back to the teacher completed. (With your provided naming convention). 

Naming – tell the students how to name their work 

It is critical in this process to set the naming conventions for when you receive work from the students. If this is not set from the beginning students will submit work with no name, no title and your likely to end up with 57 Blank 1 documents. The naming of work by students cannot be inside the document. Students must name the file itself correctly. In the past a common convention used has been lastname subject title of assignment – This would be modified for conflicts as appropriate.

I hope this has helped your workflow and with the practical aspects of creating iTune U courses. More to come in the future.

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