Education & Family

Top independent school puts lessons free on iTunes

Stephen Perse course on iTunes U Image copyright Other
Image caption Courses from the school are available online beside university courses

A leading independent school is making dozens of its courses available free online, so lessons can be downloaded by pupils or teachers at other schools.

The ground-breaking initiative by Stephen Perse Foundation school in Cambridge will make A-level, IB and GCSE courses available online.

They can be downloaded free through Apple's iTunes U service.

Principal Tricia Kelleher says: "The digital world requires teachers, like everyone else, to work differently."

The Stephen Perse Foundation, one of the country's highest achieving schools, has been experimenting with digital learning, with every pupil having their own iPad.

Digital text-books

The school has been building digital support materials for each subject, including video, audio, written materials and links to online resources.

These digital text-books, produced by teachers for their specific lessons, form a library of materials for pupils to follow in class and for revision.

Image copyright Other
Image caption Every pupil in the school has an iPad

But from the new school year, these materials developed for this fee-paying school are being made available free online for students in the UK or anywhere else in the world.

In what will be one of the biggest such projects in the UK, there will be 87 course units on iTunes U, which is the non-charging academic version of iTunes. They include both exam subjects and lessons for pupils aged 11 to 14.

The iTunes U service has been associated with higher education, with many leading universities around the world making thousands of courses available.

There have been more than one billion downloads, with the current chart-topping collection being Philosophy for Beginners from Oxford University.

But the Stephen Perse Foundation has used iTunes U to offer a set of courses specifically for school-level subjects.

'Amazing step'

Simon Armitage, a senior teacher at the school who has used the digital resources with geography classes, said: "I think we are just at the beginning of the transformation of the way in which we teach in schools.

"Having the iTunes U units available to the world is an amazing step to take. Teachers have taken information from the web for years. This is a chance to put something back which could be interesting and useful to other teachers, schools and students."

Ms Kelleher, the school's principal, said that the focus "shouldn't be on the technology, it should always be on the learning".

But she said teachers can be "frustrated by the static nature of traditional textbooks. They are often expensive and out of date almost as soon as they are published."

Developing the digital course materials, which pupils can use at school or at home, has been "very positive" and rather than reducing the role of the teacher, she says that it makes the teacher "more important than ever".

The "novelty value" stage of using technology in schools soon wears off, she says. But students and teachers are seeing the practical advantages of online, digital materials.

"We are now seeing technology in schools enter a new era."

The idea of using shared, customised digital materials on the iTunes U platform has been taken a step further in Texas in the United States.

There are 14 school districts in the US state which collectively produce and share online course materials, which are designed to support the local curriculum and testing system.

There are 58 teachers working on content development for the online service, focusing on maths, science, social studies and English.

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