Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Barriers to Overcome

The way we learn is changing.  From the beginning of civilization, children learned from copying their parents, siblings, and friends. In time they began watching and listening to someone more knowledgeable, called a teacher.  Ultimately becoming more formal, “schools” were formed where students gathered around scholars to study and learn.  This is how it has been for the last 3 to 5 thousand years, depending on  what kind of civilization we are looking at.

Watching and listening to a teacher in a classroom live, was the way of education for my grandparents, my parents, and for me.  This means of learning is still  practiced today for the majority of pupils going to school in almost any place in the world.  This practise seemed to be the only way knowledge could be imparted, particularly to masses of students, especially if they want to have proof of completing their education, like a graduation certificate or a degree.

However, things are different now.  No longer is education taking place in a classroom with a live teacher. For some time now, the printed word is used to transmit knowledge, as are movies, and computers.  Thus, the classroom can be replaced with any location suitable for distance learning, such as your home, the library, or your friend’s study.  This allows the teacher to come to the house or to the shady spot under the apple tree where the student has opened his/her laptop.

THAT means education has now taken on a totally different way of learning.  No longer do you see live actors talking, singing, acting out the lesson, but a book presenting its pages and/or a computer giving the lectures.  Now there is no more  back and forth talking between pupil and teacher.  There is no more bell when the class begins and ends.  There is no more glancing at your neighbor to make sure you understand the lesson, or how you are keeping up with the rest of the crowd.

It’s a totally new experience, learning in a totally new way.  For once, it requires a lot more motivation to get involved now, and paying a lot more attention while actually participating.

A major barrier in many places and for many people, which needs to be overcome in order to participate in an advanced civilization’s education is motivation.  Motivation and persistent attention are the principal requirements that need to be met before any modern learning can take place.  But how?

Well, the first, and probably best, way is to have parents teach their children, from the earliest possible age on. The teaching needs to be all about motivation, concentration, and stick-to-it-iveness for whatever is ahead in the child's life. This is done, mostly by example and friendly guidance.  Unfortunately, there are large numbers of parents who may happen to parent all right, but have no idea and are totally unmotivated themselves. These parents are often ignorant, and couldn’t care less about sticking to any worthwhile pursuit at any time, or are striving toward entirely unrelated objectives.

If this scenario is the case, then the second best group of mentors and encouragers of the youngsters are other family members who do have the knowledge and are able to serve as good examples. Others, such as friends, church members and other organizational group members, official teachers, and eventually the local government can be mentors. I do feel very strongly that it is also the government’s responsibility (putting our tax dollar to work for the good of the constituents) to provide this urgently needed educational effort to help its younger citizens to become diligent learners. This mentality can assist with having a well educated society that will be healthier, happier, and contribute more to the world.

Other barriers to overcome are:

People not having computers, no access to computers, no knowledge of how to operate a computer.

No Wi-Fi or wire connection to the Internet.  It surprises me that there are many places still in the U.S.A., and countless places in third world countries, remote islands, and other less developed places that do not have this service.  Yet, paradoxically, these are precisely the locations which have far more need for modern means of learning than the rest of the civilized world.

In all these cases, I think it should be made a higher priority for their respective governments to fill this need, although, as my research shows, none of them do.  Maybe the charitable organizations from the wealthier part of the civilized world might be able to step in, at least in some situations, and help.  For example, The Straube Foundation, is doing this already, although it is on a very minuscule level.  However, if more organizations would do so, every little bit helps, plus it provides a good example for others to follow.

So, if you can, seek out and help a youngster (or oldster, if that’s the one who needs it) to become enabled, fit and proficient for learning via the Internet!

Thank you very much!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

iTunes U – An Apple Platform to access thousands of free online courses


iTunes U has been part of the iTunes Store for nearly ten years, and it remains one of the unsung heroes of Apple’s content.

According to Wikipedia (2017):
·         The iTunes Store, a software-based, online digital media store, operated by Apple Inc., opened on April 28, 2003, and has been the largest music vendor in the United States since April 2008. It is also the largest music vendor in the world since February 2010;
·         iTunes Store offers over 35 - 40 million songs, 2.2 million apps, 25,000 TV shows, and 65,000 films as of January, 2017;
·         The iTunes Store revenue in 2011s first quarter totaled nearly $1.4 billion; By May 28, 2014, the store had sold 35 billion songs worldwide;
·         As of June 2013, the iTunes Store possessed 575 million active user accounts. The iTune Store also served over 315 million mobile devices, including Apple Watches, iPods, iPhones, Apple TV, and iPads;
·         iTunes Store for iOS:  The iTunes Store allows users to purchase and download items directly to portable Apple devices, such as the iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and iPod Touch;
·         Apple offers three applications, each of which provides access to certain types of content:
o   The App Store application sells apps for iOS, and also provides updates for these apps;
o   The iTunes Store app sells music and videos; and
o   The iBooks app sells ebooks;
·         Other, free content available from the iTunes Store can be accessed from two other iOS apps:
o   The Podcast apps allow users to download, subscribe and sync podcasts; and
o   The iTunes U app provides access to educational material.


iTunes U is a dynamic, easy-to-use educational library. It is designed by Apple to distribute digital materials to students in an efficient and effective way. It features hundreds of subjects, which cater to nearly every age. ITunes U creates content from educational institutions around the world. It enables interested students to access free courses from Harvard, MIT, Oxford, La Sorbonne and other leading institutions.

Rasmus (2014) referred to iTunes U as a fantastic educational resource but probably one of the most underrated Apple platforms available. It is also pointed out that those not using iTunes U are not getting the most out of their Apple experience.

According to McElhearn (2016), iTunes U offers courses on pretty much anything you’d find in a college course catalog, and courses are offered in more than a dozen languages. There are also sections that offer courses for primary and secondary school students, along with resources that teachers can use in the classroom. It would be safe to say that anyone who wants to learn will find something to suit them on iTunes U.
iTunes U content comes in several types: audio and video lectures, PDFs or ePub files.

The iTunes U app gives students access to complete courses from leading universities and other schools. It also offers the world’s largest digital catalogue of free education content — right on the student's iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch (iPad in Education (2017).  Millions of people across the globe visit iTunes U every day using a Mac, PC, iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. Leveraging the familiar interface of the iTunes Store, iTunes U offers over 500,000 audio, video, PDF, and ePub resources as well as full courses that cover every imaginable topic. This extraordinary content comes from hundreds of colleges and universities, K–12 school districts, and respected museums, libraries, and public broadcasting stations.

Students are not currently able to receive a degree from iTunes U. However, many universities use iTunes U to distribute content for courses that offer degrees. Giving the student the ability to audit thousands of courses for free is invaluable. iTunes U provides content on just about every subject imaginable, and those interested in learning should take advantage of iTunes U to broaden their horizons.


Rasmus (2014) and McElhearn (2016), among others, have explained how to access iTunes U to download courses.  To access iTunes U, the user is to open up the iTunes app on your Mac or PC and click on "iTunes Store" on the left-hand side. Select the iTunes U button on the top right side of your iTunes Store toolbar (it's the tab to the right of Podcasts) and you're in. Here you’ll find a wealth of lectures that you can browse by university affiliation, subject, most downloaded, or noteworthy courses.

For listening on the go, content can be downloaded from the iTunes U app, using your  Mac, PC,  iPhone or iPad. A user may download a course onto your mobile device by download the iTunes U app from the App Store. Just open iTunes U app, click on "Catalog" located on the upper right-hand corner, find a series you're interested in, and click "Subscribe". The content is then delivered directly to you, whether the course is a series of lectures, videos, PDFs, or an entire book.

After downloading the course content, you are given the choice to learn the subject matter at your own pace. You may also decide whether to use your computer, iPad or iPhone. The student has the option to set the pace speed on your mobile device. You may slow down a lecture to half speed (perfect for diligent note-takers) or speed up the lecture to double-time (perfect for those trying to fit an in-depth French Revolution lecture into a 20-minute commute) - just press the 1x button on the lower right-hand side of your screen to scroll through the options.


iTunes U offers students free courses created and taught by instructors from leading universities and other institutions; the student can view all assignments and updates from the instructor in one place, and check off assignments as they complete them; take notes and highlight text in iBooks and see them consolidated for easy reviewing in the iTunes U app; access course materials,( including audio, video, books, documents & presentations, and apps)and  access new iBooks textbooks for iPad.

One of the biggest advantages to using iTunes U is its availability on the iPhone and iPad – anyone can access iTunes U content on any iOS device using the iTunes U app.

Though iTunes U lacks the interactive features of Khan Academy, it makes up for it with portability, sheer depth of information available, and the fact that no real prior knowledge is needed. Khan Academy is more reliable as a supplement to in-class learning than iTunes U is. Need to re-learn molecular orbit theory before your organic chemistry exam? Try Khan Academy. Want to learn about something more random, like the best way to report UK news to the German or French news media from a Reuters/Oxford-grade journalist? A quick search in the iTunes U catalogue will take care of that for you.

Unfortunately, no course credit is available from the iTunes U affiliate universities. However, the fact that the content is free is rather remarkable.

Another issue with iTunes U is the content is not easily shared. While sharing a TED Talk with your Facebook friends is easy; sharing an iTunes U lecture with the same friends is difficult.


One can only complain so much about a platform that gives away Ivy League courses for free. Despite minor issues, iTunes U is undoubtedly a great and underused resource in the Apple world. Furthermore, iTunes U had some upgrades and more upgrades are expected in the future.

For more details please click here or check out the references (see below) consulted for this posting.


·         iPad in Education (2017). Create & innovate with iTunes U. Available online at: http://www.ipadpd.com/itunes-u.html   Retrieved February 19, 2017.
·         McElhearn, Kirk (2016). iTunes U: Free education to make you smarter. Available online at: http://www.macworld.com/article/1163267/education/get-smarter-with-itunes-u.html   Retrieved February 19, 2017.
·         Rasmus, Grace (2014). What is iTunes U? Everything you need to know about iTunes U, and how to get the most out of it. Available online at: http://www.macworld.co.uk/feature/iosapps/everything-you-need-know-about-itunes-u-3505231/   Retrieved February 19, 2017.
·         Wikipedia (2017). iTunes Store. Available online at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITunes_Store   Retrieved February 19, 2017.

Posted by Dr. Nat Tuivavalagi

Monday, February 13, 2017

Free Courses at edX–A Global, Education Community of 10 Million students

Background: edX is an online learning destination and a massive open online course (MOOC) provider. With more than 90 global partners, edX hosts online university-level courses in a wide range of courses from some of the world’s best universities and institutions to learners everywhere. EdX is unique in that it is a nonprofit organization and runs on open-source software.

Mission & Leadership: The edX mission is to increase access to high-quality education for everyone, everywhere; enhance teaching and learning on campus and online; and advance teaching and learning through research. Wendy Cebula, former COO of Vistaprint, is the edX President and Chief Operating Officer while Anant Agarwal is the CEO. Anant (with Gerry Sussman, Chris Terman, and PiotrMitros) taught the first edX course on circuits and electronics, which drew 155,000 students from 162 countries. Anant’s  Scientific American work on organic computing was selected as  one of 10 World-Changing Ideas in 2011, and Anant was named in Forbes' list of top 15 education innovators in 2012.

Milestones: May 2012 - edX was founded by scientists from Harvard and MIT; 2013– edX partnered with Stanford; June 2013– edX reached 1 million students; September 2014 - edX announced a high school initiative; October 2014 - edX announced Professional Education courses; March 2015 – edX partnered with Microsoft; April 2015 - edX partnered with Arizona State University to launch the Global Freshman Academy; March 2016 - edX has more than 7 million students taking more than 700 courses online; February 2017 – edX has more than 10 million Users.

How It Works: edX enables anyone wanting to learn, to take free online courses from Harvard, MIT, UC Berkeley, Microsoft, Tsinghua University, The Smithsonian, The University of Texas, Australia National University, Boston University, and others. Getting started is easy - everyone is welcome, courses are open 24/7, and no application is necessary. Students learn from the world's top professors and leading industry experts through captivating lectures and presentations; build knowledge and expertise with interactive labs, experiments, and assessments; and connect with learners from around the globe in easy-to-use discussion forums. Students take courses on their own schedule — anytime, anywhere. It is  best to get started with DemoX - the edX Demo Course.

DemoX: The fun and interactive course is designed to help students explore the edX learning experience. This program is helpful in getting you started before beginning a selected course in edX. DemoX is actually a brief course in itself, showing new students how to take a course on edX, and how to navigate the edX platform and complete their chosen course. Students will also be assisted in choosing a course that best fits their interests, needs, and dreams. Also, DemoX shows students how to connect with others taking the same course; how to answer problems on the edX platform; and how grades work in edX courses.

Subject Areas: The more than 700 courses offered by edX come under the following 30 categories:
Education & Teacher Training
Art & Culture
Biology & Life Sciences
Energy & Earth Sciences
Business & Management
Environmental Studies
Computer Science
Food & Nutrition
Philosophy & Ethics
Data Analysis & Statistics
Health & Safety
Economics & Finance
Social Sciences

Functionality - Nature of edX Courses:  The edX courses consist of weekly learning sequences. Each learning sequence is composed of short videos interspersed with interactive learning exercises, where students can immediately practice the concepts from the videos. The courses often include tutorial videos (that are similar to small on-campus discussion groups), an online textbook, and an online discussion forum where students can post and review questions and comments amongst each other and Teaching Assistants. Where applicable, online laboratories are incorporated into the course. For example, in edX's first MOOC — a circuits and electronics course — Ali Mohamed ( who was the best student) built virtual circuits in an online lab. EdX offers certificates of successful completion and some courses are credit-eligible.

Are edX courses really free? There is no cost for students taking edX courses when they enroll in the audit track mode, which does not offer certificates (but students may print their progress chart, during each course taken, as proof of participation). However, if students want to earn a verified certificate for a course, there is a fee that will vary depending on the course. The fees for the verified track usually range between $50 USD and $300 USD.

Archived Courses: Many of edX’s past courses are available as archives. These courses can only be audited. Some features, such as the discussion forums, may not be available.

Financial Assistance: As a not-for-profit program, edX uses students’ contributions to  provide quality education to everyone around the world. It improves learning through research. While edX has established a minimum fee, many learners contribute more than the minimum to help support the edX mission. The funds go towards class creation and improving edX. Financial assistance is available for those in need.

What is a verified course certificate? For a $25 fee students can verify their identity by submitting a typed sample and uploading their image on a webcam. On subsequent logins, the system makes sure that students identity matches with the previous log in. At the end of the course students get a certificate with the word “verified” on it.

Programs: Those with serious interest in a subject area can take a series of courses and gain a special certificate.  These three  certificates are available:
·         MicroMasters Certificate: A series of Master’s-level courses to advance students’ careers, created by top universities and recognized by companies. MicroMasters Programs are credit-eligible, provide in-demand knowledge and may be applied to accelerate a Master's Degree.
·         Professional Certificate: Designed by industry leaders and top universities to enhance professional skills, Professional Certificates and develop the proficiency and expertise that employers are looking for.
·         XSeries Certificate: Created by world-renowned experts and top universities, XSeries are designed to provide a deep understanding of key subjects through a series of courses.

Getting high school graduates ready for College/ University:
·         edX offer free online test prep and introductory courses to prepare students for college/ university
·         helps bridge the college readiness gap – the difference between what students learn in high school and the knowledge they need to succeed in colleges or universities
·         The program offers specially designed courses from top high schools, secondary schools and universities to help students prepare for test such as : Advanced Placement (AP®) Exams and CLEP® Exams, as well as introductory courses to help students get ahead.  

Getting Started:To explore edX and to try out DemoX, the free edX Demo Course, please click here.

Posted by: Dr. Nat Tuivavalagi