♦ 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.

♦ Codecademy Labs →

In-browser runtimes for Ruby, Python and JavaScript, by the same folks who are bringing us [browser-based programming courses](http://www.codecademy.com/courses).

Looks perfect for intro programming, albeit only on the console. Looking forward to see how it deals with exercises that are more graphical, and those which make use of external libraries.

♦ Computer Science education in the UK →

Rory Cellan-Jones of the BBC argues that Computer Science education sorely needs improvement in the UK, in order to boost the country’s waning video game industry. (That’s where Tomb Raider, Fable and Grand Theft Auto originated.)

An interesting point:

> Somehow the classroom got hijacked by ICT. And that is learning about Powerpoint, Word, Excel – useful but boring after more than a week of learning it.

There isn’t a direct Singaporean equivalent of the UK ICT curriculum, but we do have the [MOE IT Masterplan for ICT in Education](http://www.moe.gov.sg/media/press/2008/08/moe-launches-third-masterplan.php), with the [BY(i)TES score](http://cl.ly/CoRO) (3.0!) as a metric. Our requirements look a little broader than the UK’s, and cover educational technology usage in the classroom as well as “ICT leadership” (whatever that means). However, none of this says anything about delivering any “actual” Computer Science education in the classroom, which feels like a pity.

I’m still wondering what the US is doing differently that’s resulted in a [resurgence in CS education](http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/11/technology/11computing.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all) — has all this been driven entirely by the very public successes of Facebook and other Silicon Valley companies?

♦ CodeRunner →

CodeRunner is a Mac app that lets you:

> Edit and run code in AppleScript, C, C++, Java, JavaScript (Node.js), Objective-C, Perl, PHP, Python, Ruby, Shell or any other language you might have installed on your system.

This could be really useful for programming teachers — one of the big headaches we always have in the first lesson was making sure things were set up properly. There was a time we tried teaching C++, and found out that the computers’ permission settings disallowed running of _any_ shell programs, so we sang songs and dreamed of correcting missing semi-colons. Ah, fun times.

♦ What teachers really want to tell parents →

Found this article shared all over my Facebook news feed by ex-colleagues and other teachers. A decent read, but I was stupid enough to scroll down and read the comments. Ughhh. Here, I reproduce _just_ parts of the first one:

> You are underworked and over paid. Teaching is the best part time gig out there.

By the same commenter, a couple of lines later:

> Want me to come to parent open house and parent teacher meeting? Sure, stop scheduling it for 11:30am. It’s called a job. I have one. I’ll gladly meet you at 7:30.

And then again, a few lines later:

> Want to complain that you have to work some evenings grading papers? Cut the whining. There are no jobs that are 9-5, everyone takes work home.

I can definitely imagine what teachers _really_ want to tell parents like this one.

♦ Codecademy →

Codecademy teaches JavaScript programming through the browser: follow instructions, type in code, move on to the next step. This is similar to the (slightly more amusing) [Rails for Zombies](http://railsforzombies.com/).

Browser-based code classes look promising for classroom teachers: there’s no need to install compilers or even text editors, making this environment much easier to set up in a lab. Students can also continue their work easily at home, with (some level of) instant feedback from the built-in help system.

The associated [Hacker News post](http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2901156) has some interesting suggestions, and the comments from non-programmers about the course’s difficulty can be quite enlightening to anyone trying to teach a programming course.