♦ The biggest news today is that Apple built a LMS

Apple announced a few things at their [education event](http://www.apple.com/education/) in New York yesterday. The highlights were iBooks 2, with its textbook support, and [iBooks Author](http://www.apple.com/ibooks-author/), its companion authoring tool. (iBooks Author looks like it has a ton of potential, and might inspire me to get off my ass and start on that intro programming textbook/comic I’ve always wanted to create.)

What I found most interesting, though, was iTunes U, because I think __Apple just built a freaking learning management system (LMS)__. This may mean nothing to the tech world–and, true to form, barely registered a blip on my RSS feeds–but as a teacher, this is awfully exciting, and I have some very (perhaps unrealistic) high hopes for this. Allow me to explain.

A LMS, according to [that no-longer blacked-out site](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learning_management_system), is:

> A software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, and reporting of training programs, classroom and online events, e-learning programs, and training content.

Better-known LMSs include [Blackboard](http://blackboard.com) and [Moodle](http://moodle.org). I’ve had to suffer through local vendor [AsknLearn](http://www.asknlearn.com/LMS_School.html)’s awful, awful piece of crap when I was teaching, and by the time I returned to offer a course, they’d replaced it with Blackboard, which was no better (and many, many times more expensive). I’m now trying [CourseKit](http://coursekit.com) for a class, but it doesn’t quite feel like a mature product.

Back to iTunes U. Apple has made two key changes to iTunes U that makes it more like a LMS. From [the info page](http://www.apple.com/education/itunes-u/), iTunes U has become a way __for any educational institution__ to publish–__and track student progress on__–interactive courseware online. Elaborating on the emphasised points:

– __It’s no longer exclusive__. Previously, iTunes U was only available for select academic institutions like Oxford, Stanford, Berkeley, Yale and MIT, who’ve been offering some great free courses. Now, though, Apple has made iTunes U open to educational institutions, including K-12, in 26 countries (including Singapore, whew! You can never be sure with these things).

– __It’s no longer just a way of publishing media and documents on iTunes__. In its previous incarnation, iTunes U was just a distribution mechanism for videos and lecture notes. Apple has significantly expanded iTunes U’s capabilities to include quizzes, interactive books and assignment tracking. I.e., instructors can gather resources from other freely available courses, put them together as courses for their students, assign reading chapters in iBook textbooks, send out assignments that will deliver push notifications to students’ iOS devices, and track their progress in real time (wait, nope. Ah well.)

All this looks great. More access and greater functionality, all tied in with Apple’s strong device/platform ecosystem and the wealth of existing high-quality educational material on iTunes U. The obvious problem, though, is in that last sentence: _”all tied in”_. iTunes U as a LMS works best for schools in which all students have iPhones/iPads. This is, understandably, a business goal of Apple’s, but it’s certainly not realistic to expect most schools to set up massive iPad 1:1 programmes, and certainly not for some unproven delivery system (if anything, it’ll be for iBooks textbooks, but even that has a way to go before it becomes a compelling reason to go all-iPad).

I don’t have much more than that, I’m afraid: I’d love to try out the new iTunes U back-end Course Manager, but these are only available to educational institutions. I don’t know if the school I usually work with has signed up yet, but I’m already working on convincing them to do so, and I’ll write more if/when I get a chance to do up an iTunes U course.

(__Update__, a week later: Turns out [Apple didn’t build as much of a LMS as I thought](http://yjsoon.com/2012/01/an-instructors-experience-with-itunes-u-course-manager). I’m disappointed.)

♦ C’est la Z: a computer science teacher’s blog →

Mike Zamansky is a very experienced and highly-regarded computer science teacher in New York, and founder (I think?) of the upcoming New York City Academy of Software Engineering (here’s [Joel Spolsky](http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2012/01/13.html) on the topic). Imagine, then, my delight at discovering that he’d recently started blogging again.

I love his [latest post](http://cestlaz.blogspot.com/2011/12/my-favorite-student.html) on teaching:

> I’ve been thinking a lot about my career as a teacher recently. I decided to leave industry over twenty years ago. As teachers, particularly teachers with technical backgrounds we leave a financially lucrative field to enter one with very few financial rewards. It’s also a field very much under attack, particularly in recent years. […]
>
> So, what do I get out of the deal? Well, when I hear form my graduates, I know that I’ve made a difference. Also, the friendships I’ve developed over the years.

His other pieces are great, too — [thoughts](http://cestlaz.blogspot.com/2012/01/pretty-sneaky-sis.html) (with starter code!) on a software engineering class project that teaches design through implementation, some [reflections](http://cestlaz.blogspot.com/2011/12/ml-and-ai-courses-how-they-were-taught.html) and [suggestions](http://cestlaz.blogspot.com/2011/12/stanford-classes-what-id-do-next.html) on the Stanford profs’ CS classes, and some details of a [lesson module](http://cestlaz.blogspot.com/2011/12/wheres-waldo-text-style.html) he developed to teach 2-D arrays (again, with code). Fantastic.

♦ Abobo’s Big Adventure →

If, in the 1980s, you were blowing on NES game cartridges to try and get them to load, you _must_ play this free Flash game. It’s a loving tribute to video games of the era, with faithful–albeit, on occasion, hilariously wrong–re-creations of gameplay and characters from Double Dragon, Mario, Contra, Zelda and more:



I’m stuck on the Zelda level, but I’ve actually been re-playing it so I can finish the game and try out all the different levels. Me! Wanting to finish a game! This is new ground, people.

(Thanks [Brandon](https://twitter.com/#!/sangsara/status/152653884291162112) for the alert on the game.)

♦ Updated Instapaper Article Tools user script

I was playing around with multi-site-specific browser [Raven](http://raven.io), and I wanted to use [Instapaper Article Tools](http://elasticthreads.tumblr.com/post/675433975/safari-extensions) for Instapaper, like I did on Safari and Chrome. However, Raven doesn’t support Safari extensions, so I had to use the [user script version](http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/59917). Unfortunately, that’s based on an old version of the Instapaper website, so it didn’t work as expected. Anyway, long story short (well, still unnecessarily long), I did up a quick fix for the script:

[Download it here](http://cl.ly/DJAo).

This should work with Raven, Fluid and Firefox with Greasemonkey.

(I sent a copy to the author a couple of days ago, but I thought there’s no harm posting this here too.)

♦ Best thing ever: horse_ebooks in comic form →

One gentleman named [Burton Durand](http://burtondurand.tumblr.com/) took it upon himself to translate spambot/comedy-genius Twitter account [horse_ebooks](http://twitter.com/horse_ebooks) into comic form.

For example:

NewImage

__SO GREAT__.

horse_ebooks has become one of my most [frequently-faved](https://twitter.com/#!/yjsoon/favorites) Twitter accounts, and this comic adds greatly to the overall sense of mirth and bewilderment. I recommend reading [The Ballad of @Horse_ebooks](http://splitsider.com/2012/01/the-ballad-of-horse_ebooks) for some background on the account and how it rose to Internet stardom.

♦ “Computer Science is not Digital Literacy” →

A follow-up piece to the previous link, which argues for digital literacy over coding skills:

> Digital literacy means the the skills and confidence to take an active role in engaging in networks, and in shaping and creating opportunities – social, political, cultural, civic, and economic, and we shouldn’t be collapsing these broader rights into the relatively narrow concerns of computing science as a curriculum area.

Article via [Fraser Speirs](http://fraserspeirs.com). Mildly surprising, to me at least, is his strong support for the argument raised in the link article, given that he’s a programmer and Computer Science teacher. This [piece of his](http://speirs.org/blog/2011/12/29/three-mantras-from-the-first-two-years.html) on “technology for subjects not traditionally well-served by technology” may serve to explain why, but I’m still trying to digest all of this.

♦ BBC: ICT to be replaced by CS in schools →

From September, England’s schools will offer computer science classes instead of ICT (a.k.a. IT ‘skills’ such as PowerPoint and Excel):

> The current programme of information and communications technology (ICT) study in England’s schools will be scrapped from September, the education secretary will announce later.
>
> The subject will be replaced by compulsory lessons in more rigorous computer science and programming.

Not sure how they’ll start this up so quickly, given this glaring problem:

> “There are, of course, significant challenges to overcome, specifically with the immediate shortage of computer science teachers.”

See also [this Guardian article](http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/jan/09/computer-studies-in-schools): “Out of 28,000 teachers who qualified in 2010, just three individuals had a computer-related degree.” Similarly the case here, although the return of A-level Computing should imply that [NIE](http://www.nie.edu.sg) will be doing something about training CS teachers.

I’m still on the fence about whether CS absolutely needs to be taught at a pre-tertiary level. There was some interesting discussion on this recently between a couple of Mac developers — see [this blog post by Guy English](http://kickingbear.com/blog/archives/272) on “Scripting is the New Literacy”, a response to [this piece by Daniel Jalkut](http://www.red-sweater.com/blog/2298/learn-to-code) encouraging everyone to “Learn to Code”.

(News via [Matt Johnston](https://twitter.com/cimota).)

♦ Trollem Ipsum →

My favourite new lorem ipsum generator. [This setting](http://trollemipsum.appspot.com/?type=verge&length=confident) emulates the writing style of [The Verge](http://theverge.com):

> If you want an Android phone, this might just be your best bet, for this reason suits your needs so we would recommend this phone if you wanted this sort of thing nevertheless possibly, so as to it can’t hold a candle when is might be better than the iPhone, once only time will tell if it will be successful.
>
> Just pips the iPhone at the post, soon battery life isn’t great but not too bad either, whatever could be the best Android phone, overall better than most of its competitors as soon as just about the best in the main depends.

This, together with image placeholder generator [PlaceKitten](http://placekitten.com), makes you all set for some client-confusing design greatness.