♦ 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.)

♦ “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).)

♦ The maker movement in education →

An interview with Dale Dougherty, co-founder of O’Reilly Media and [MAKE magazine](http://makezine.com). Tim O’Reilly sums it up:

> “When you see kids at Maker Faire suddenly turned on to science and math because they want to make things, when you see them dragging their parents around with eyes shining, you realize just how dull our education system has made some of the most exciting and interesting stuff in the world.

Dougherty explains in detail the promise of the maker movement in education (and government). Pretty inspiring.

♦ TIME article on tuition in Korea →

I’ve heard this before in MOE:

> When Singapore’s Education Minister was asked last year about his nation’s reliance on private tutoring, he found one reason for hope: “We’re not as bad as the Koreans.”

But I had no idea it was this bad:

> On a wet Wednesday evening in Seoul, six government employees gather at the office to prepare for a late-night patrol. The mission is as simple as it is counterintuitive: to find children who are studying after 10 p.m. And stop them.

Fascinating, and more than a little depressing.

♦ Fraser Speirs on 1-to-X computing →

> We are already at a point where the ratio of professionals to computers is 1:2. A laptop and a smartphone are standard equipment in our society. With the advent of the tablet, we may be moving towards or beyond three computers per person. The fact of the matter, though, is that this ubiquity of computing devices is not reflected in most schools.

(There’s also a bit about how Stallman showed up to heckle him at his lecture. Wha?)