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Good Content is Just the Beginning

This week Apple announced its latest contributions to the field of education, iBook Textbooks and iTunes U. According to Apple’s website:

“If you’re an educator at a university, college, or K-12 school, now you have an easy way to design and distribute complete courses featuring audio, video, books, and other content.”

With these new applications, Apple will enable educators to create and combine content, and enable students to connect to this content using iPads and other devices. This is a great development. Making loads of content available to students, and lightening their heavy backpacks in the process, is long overdue; but content alone, no matter how flexible and voluminous, does not constitute an actual course. In order for a course to be complete and effective, it must incorporate all of the legs of a Tool Integrated Learning Environment, or TILE:tilesystem-thumb-375x279-thumb-374x343


While Apple’s latest offerings present the CONTENT leg of a TILE system, they do not include a TOOL for experimenting and making stuff, or the all-important LCMS to allow instructor feedback. These omissions indicate that while Apple’s new releases can help make quality flexible content available, they do not yet offer a fully-functioning and complete education system.

Take a look at this image on Apple’s marketing page:


If I were a student in “Introductory Chemistry: Core Concepts in Chemistry,” reading text and watching videos would not be enough to help me get through the course. I would need to create something and experiment using TOOLs in an actual lab in order to fully understand the content. Education is not memorization, it is the practice of critical thinking.

Students of every discipline need “TOOL time,” regardless of whether they’re studying a science, mathematics, or even history. A course in history, for example, may require a TOOL such as Google Docs to write a paper, or participation in a forum of some kind where students and mentors can discuss their individual interpretations of events, both historic and current. Memorizing facts about the US Civil War is a one-dimensional mental exercise; comparing the events of the US Civil War to the Arab Spring and the civil war in Libya with peers and a mentor is a multi-faceted and creative educational exchange.

Apple’s new systems of content delivery, while promising in many ways, lacks TOOLs and a Learning Content Management System (LCMS). In all honesty, I can’t fault Apple for omitting this part; it’s especially challenging to build an effective, affordable, and complete LCMS system. Unfortunately, most LCMS systems are designed with the singular goal of making it easier for teachers to process ever increasing numbers students. This is of little benefit to the student and as such, the LCMS can often be an area of great frustration for both students and teachers. Our LCMS at OST is geared toward facilitating communication and the exchange of ideas between students and instructors – we want to make sure students are engaged in the act of learning and producing real projects. We know that direct communication between individual students and an accessible instructor is vital to reaching these goals. When students are able to experiment, and then seek guidance and direct specific questions about their own projects to a real and dedicated instructor, they learn more, they feel connected, and they succeed.

Apple’s iBook Textbook allows “chapter reviews” that appear as multiple choice quizzes, instructions to label an image, or to select the correct image from a field of several. These evaluation methods are easy to process, cost effective, and do not require human instructors, but they do not accurately reflect or aid student progress. We don’t utilize these methods to gauge student learning at OST, because they are not good indicators of our students’ ability to engage in the work, hands-on. Instead, our students must demonstrate knowledge and skill by making real projects and answering short essay questions. We believe that if a computer can grade a student response to a question, than it probably wasn’t worth asking.

The iBooks ecosystem is certainly an innovative way to deliver new content. Some teachers believe that flashy graphics, videos, sounds, and interactive demonstrations are necessary to get the attention of younger students. It is true, 3D graphics can help to capture a student’s interest initially, but true learning occurs when we go beyond CONTENT, make something (using TOOLs), and then interact with our mentors (using the LCMS).

This does not diminish the importance of high-quality and readily accessible content. Apple’s effort to make content available, flexible, and portable is a smart and welcome contribution. Students deserve great content that facilitates learning. In fact, students occasionally ask if our content is available in ePub or PDF format for offline viewing. We are taking steps to provide these additional resources to our students. However, we consciously devote the majority of our time working to improve our entire learning ecosystem, our TILE, as a whole: CONTENT to follow, the TOOL for making stuff, and the LCMS for feedback. The content in OST courses is continually updated, we are always working to improve existing tools and and implement new ones, and we are improving and extending our LCMS to handle new subject areas as we speak.

  • ZB


    What’s the update on new student forum for Oreilly School’s lcms? Is facebook really the way to go on this? Should other lcms and lms out there tell their students to open facebook account?


  • Josh Nutzman

    We are working to integrate an “Overflow” style forum with our courses that would not require a Facebook account.

    Many students want to share cool projects with friends and family, so we like the idea of students sharing projects using Facebook. We hope to revisit this idea in the future.


  • Chaz

    Hi Josh,

    “Good content is just the beginning” How right you are!

    Personalized feedback from mentors at the end of a lesson/class are important too. That’s what I like about OST. OST provides great content, and mentors who provide outstanding feedback.

    All the Best,

    P.S. Aspiring database admins…JoshN was my mentor for OST’s Database Admin Cert. The content was outstanding, and his mentoring equally outstanding. I find myself referring back to the classes now that I’m done.

  • Josh Nutzman

    Thanks, Chaz, I appreciate the kind words. Keep learning!

  • Stuart Bond

    Although I like the fact that more and more education can be done online, I think their is far too much money being made with the MASSIVE difference in overhead, classes should be FAR less expensive. It’s also important to note (as this article had mentioned) it’s critical for students to have some hands on learning as well. Everything cannot be done via the computer and even classes that could be argued to be possible to teach entirely on a distance learning platform such as history, should include SOME class discussions in person.