iTunes U lets people download college courses with all the included materials, and study a subject on their iOS device.
As a recently released product there are currently not many courses to take at iTunes U (about 30 at the time of release), but it's pretty easy to predict the app will probably gain more traction as we approach the fall when classes resume for a new year. Of the courses offered, many big-name schools have contributed their coursework including Yale, MIT, Harvard, and several others.
The interface for the iTunes U app shares the look and layout of iBooks, showing you a bookcase with your already downloaded content shown. Touching the Catalog button in the upper right sends you to the store that has the familiar iTunes Store layout. Like the iTunes Store, you'll be able to look at a What's Hot list, New Courses that have recently appeared on iTunes U, and Categories so you can drill down to the subjects you're interested in. Across the bottom of the interface, you have buttons for Featured courses; Top Charts for popular courses; a Browse button to look at courses from different schools and grade levels; and a search button. Anyone who has browsed the iTunes Store should have no trouble navigating the catalog.
Once you've chosen a course, touch a Subscribe Free button and iTunes U automatically downloads the core material. Courses that require supplemental material (which may include content from the iBookstore or the iTunes App Store) can be purchased from the included list of source materials after you subscribe.
Once you open a course, the interface changes depending on how the course was designed, but there are some key elements that always remain the same. You can touch the screen to view a course overview, read about the instructor, look at an outline for the course, and look at course requirements. You also have buttons across the bottom for Posts, lectures you can watch in video form and reading assignments for the entire course; Notes, which are separated into Course notes and Book notes; and Materials, which breaks down the audio, reading, and other materials required for the course. It's important to note that, while you can subscribe to a course for free, to get the materials required, you will need to purchase the various books for the course. These will not cost as much as what you might buy at the campus bookstore, but it will require a substantial investment.
Even though we didn't take a course from beginning to end, it's easy to see how iTunes U will be useful to students, and the layout of the app is extremely intuitive, matching other common interface elements of Apple products. If you're looking to take some serious courses on your iOS device or brush up on things you've already learned, this app is the obvious one to download.
iTunes U provides everything an instructor needs to bring the classroom together on iPad--build lessons with apps and your own materials, collect and grade assignments from students, start class discussions or talk with students one-on-one to answer questions and provide feedback.
iTunes U also allows anyone with an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to learn from the world's largest collection of free education content--including public courses and collections from leading schools, universities, museums, and cultural institutions.
What's new in this version:
Mark up photos with instructions or comments using built-in annotation tools
Quickly send video messages and feedback in 1:1 chats between teachers and students