A Big Step Away From Giant Textbooks

iTunes U alternative to traditional textbook features Duke introductory chemistry class

An innovative introductory chemistry course developed at Duke is one of the first university courses to be distributed through Apple's new iTunes U app.

The course -- taught last fall by Steve Craig using team-based learning and online resources as an alternative to traditional lectures and textbooks -- was adapted for the new iTunes U, which allows teachers to create syllabi, share digital course materials including lecture videos, and publish class notes for their students.

Apple unveiled the new iTunes U app Thursday as part of a broader education-related announcement at an event in New York City. Apple also announced a new version of its iBooks app and a new app for authoring content.

Duke is one of six colleges and universities -- including The Open University, Stanford, MIT and Yale -- that contributed more than 100 courses to the new iTunes U. Since its original release, there have been more than 700 million downloads of digital content from iTunes U, including more than 10 million downloads of Duke content.

Introductory courses like Duke's Chemistry 43 class provide a perfect opportunity to explore how digital course materials can be chunked for broad reuse, even in K-12 classrooms, said Tracy Futhey, Duke's chief information officer.

"The more we can break up materials, from giant textbooks or long lectures into smaller chunks of content, the more easily those materials can be used across courses, across disciplines, and up and down the educational stack," Futhey said.

Instead of assembling a collection of videotaped lectures, Duke faculty and researchers curated a "mashup" of Duke-created materials and the best open-access, freely available online educational resources, said Julian Lombardi, assistant vice president in the Office of Information Technology.

The collection includes more than 600 components, including video demonstrations, short clips from recorded lectures, PDFs, ePUB documents and captured whiteboard animations.

The combination of compelling open content and a flexible delivery platform means that instructors can customize the course organization quickly and easily for access anytime, anywhere, on any device.

The effort was similar to Duke's earlier involvement with iTunes U. That collaboration grew out of Duke's iPod Experiment in 2004, when the university distributed about 1,600 iPods to first-year students. Duke continued its exploration of new technologies in teaching and learning with the Duke Digital Initiative (DDI).

"We appreciate Apple's commitment to listening to our needs and finding innovative ways to address those needs as they change and technologies improve," said Lynne O'Brien, director of academic technology and instructional services. "We're looking forward to seeing how the tools evolve."

In the meantime, tools like this enable instructors to dedicate less time to traditional lectures and to use in-class time for small-group discussion and problem solving, Craig said.

"This course brings together the best of what we think is out there now, but next year there'll be better," Craig said. "We hope to continue to support the open educational movement and establish an ecosystem of schools and educators creating even better modules, which means higher quality resources for all."

Faculty interested in exploring ways to use technology in their courses can contact the Center for Instructional Technology at cit@duke.edu.