Apple has worked hard at making itself the center of the media universe in a way that is almost impossible to refute. Now that iTunes is the go to place for digital music, the iDevice franchise is the definitive series for mobile media, and the Mac is the center of the media-computing universe, it only makes sense that they would implant themselves fully into the world of Academia. Since students are already so familiar with the Apple platforms and infrastructure it would be an easy enough transition for them to continue with an existing platform for their course content, which is exactly what iTunes U is built for. The iTunes U framework is simply a branch of iTunes where students can download multimedia content from their courses, as well as additional academic material such as lectures, videos, discussions, and more. This feature has been a part of the regular iTunes Store for quite some time, which allows you to browse through content or look up things by school or interest. Now Apple has created an iTunes U app for the iPhone that makes it even easier to download and collect iTunes U content.
The iTunes U application will not be built into the iOS on your iPhone, but instead you will have to download for free from the App Store. Once it is installed you will notice that it follows a common thread between other store based iPhone apps. It has a similar functionality to iTunes and the App store in that it has a home page that shows you popular items or those grouped up into interesting sub-categories. At the bottom of the screen will be tabs that you can choose, the first of which will be Featured. The one to the right will be Top Charts, which will break up the iTunes U content into academic discipline. These will be things like Business, Engineering, Health and Medicine, Philosophy, Mathematics, and Literature. When you select one of these categories you will then see courses that are most popular in their subdivision based on download counts.
Browse is the next tab over and will load up long lists for you to browse through the courses offered by each school. This is itself broken up into three distinct categories for colleges, grade school coursework, or other types of educational institutions. When a school is selected from those listed you will then go into a format that is similar to the original Featured tab where you can see what is featured by that school, what is popular, and then look at exactly what categories you will be able to choose from.
Beyond that is the ability to do a traditional search, which is perfect if you know exactly what type of content you are looking for. If you are simply trying to find a course that may fit your needs, however, you may want to simply browse through or use the Top Charts to target specific academic categories.
Now that you have found a course that you want to download content from, or even just an individual piece of media, you can go ahead and select it from the list you are looking at. There will be an arrow to the right hand of the course title, and you can select this to then begin the download process. You can go through the entire listing for a course and download every single item so that you have the available course content.
Once you have downloaded a piece of course media, press the Library button in the upper right hand corner. This will take you to a bookshelf-modeled library, which is a format that is taken directly from iBooks. The content that you download, though it may be video and / or audio, will be available in the iTunes U Library internally and not open to be played in either the Music or Videos section. All of your coursework will be shelved here and can then be organized as you see fit.
When you select and open the content it will often appear as though it is playing in one of the multimedia segments of your iPhone, but will remain internal to iTunes U. This may include audio playback, video if it is there, a relevant image, and controls that are identical to iPod controls.
You can also select the “i” icon that is to the right of the item and it will give you information such as who is performing the lecture or who is the author, what its name is, when its release was, what type of file it is, how large it is, how long it is, and will give you the option to trash it. You can also hit the Edit button in the upper left hand corner of the Library if you would like the option to delete multiple files at once. This way you can just select all the files you want to be rid of and hit the Delete button that appears.
If you go into Settings you will find the iTunes U settings buried among the other app specific settings options since it just operates as an independent application. When you select it the only setting that will be readily available is an On / Off switch to Sync Courses and Notes. Keep this set to On, and you can expect there to be additions as the updates begin coming to this free iPhone app.
The one thing that you will have to reflect on is that you simply do not get the depth of interaction with the iTunes U app as you will with using it actually on your computer inside iTunes. There is a great deal more information, and it may be easier to integrate this content into your actual coursework when you will be able to see more clearly what is available to you. This is especially true for non-matriculated students who simply want to observe some coursework on their own for their own benefit.