How to publish a course on iPod

Friday nights, Friday nights. Friday nights are supposed to be for fun. For long dinners and late movies, and then a little nightcap before going to bed.

Except for geeks.

I’m only a mini-geek, so I only spent about 3 hours fiddling with technology.

But this past week Friday I got my first course up and running on an iPod. And it’s unbelievably simple.

The course consists of a series of text components – which can be basically any text you want – and some audio tracks. You access the course via the Notes menu in your iPod, and when the audio tracks are referenced, you simply click the middle select button on your iPod to play them while you continue reading the note.

How to publish a course on iPod
iPod speaks a subset of HTML – a very small subset, as far as I know. (Oddly enough, the files you transfer to your iPod have to be simple text (.txt) files and not HTML (.html) files.)

The syntax will be very familiar to anyone who has any experience with HTML:

  • Page titles: <title>this is the title</title>
  • Links: <a href=”link.txt”>this text is a link</a>
  • Line breaks: the standard <br>
  • Paragraphs: the standard <p>
  • Song/audio links: <a href=”song=My Unique Song Name”>Link to song</a>

There’s a few more – check Make Magazine for details.

Here’s a critical one, though, if you want to link audio into your course but do not want users to leave the environment of your course. Use the song/audio link mentioned about, but add the following meta tag to the top of your page: <meta name=”NowPlaying” content=”false”>. That will make the song (or audio track with training content) play while the text content remains on the screen … which is what I wanted for my little app.

All-in-all, very simple, and very cool.

My kingdom for an installer
There is one shortfall, however: no installer app or standard installer procedure. Apple needs to build something in for automatic installation.

Right now, the install procedure is as follows:

  1. Drag song/audio tracks to iTunes
  2. Sync
  3. In iTunes preferences, enable Disk Mode
  4. Drag notes bundle into iPods Notes area

That probably involves connecting/disconnecting the iPod twice, not to mention futzing with preferences. Dragging the notes bundle into the iPod notes area is dead easy, but I’ve seen way too many dead easy procedures on a computer give … umm … inexperienced users fits to believe this this is not a problem. And I haven’t even listed the part about re-connecting your iPod and disabling Disk Mode so that you can sync your music again.

Realistically, I think Apple sees the potential of iPods as learning devices with both audio and video content. Hopefully that will impell them to create some sort of mechanism that is drag-n-drop friendly for users – for example, download a zipped course, drop it on iTunes, and based on some metadata, iTunes just knows what to do with it.

Probably, however, Apple will create some kind of solution based on the iTunes Music Store.

And this is how I think they’ll do it.

More, more, more
As far as I can find out, however, there is no way of affecting either the font or size of the text you publish on iPod.

That would be a very nice feature, since (as you can see in the screenshot above) the default iPod Notes text is rather thin and spidery. I’d like to be able to beef it up a bit … make it bold or something like that.

In terms of courses, adding assessment is always a nice feature – even if it’s just self-assessment for the learner.

Currently, the only way you can add assessment to an iPod course is via branching: asking a question with a number of answers, each of which is a link. By following the link of the selected answer, the user both selects an option and (by virtue of what you put at the linked file) finds out if he/she is right or wrong.

Summing up
Adding a course to an iPod is incredibly easy … and will probably get even easier.

It would be nice if Apple would publish some specs on what you can or can’t do with Notes (in terms of tags that are supported). I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like that in the medium-term future.

But I can already see that iPod could become a very strong e-learning platform over the next 2-4 years.

 


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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Hey, I just wanted to say this was a great post! I didn’t know you could do so much with an iPod. I mean, I of course knew about the disk mode capabilities. But I didn’t know you could sync text files with the audio. This looks pretty cool!

  • Your kingdom for an installer? We’ve got it – and we don’t even need your kingdom – in fact, you can try iWriter for free.

    John, we launched iWriter (www.talkingpanda.com/iwriter), a study tools builder for iPod, shortly after you wrote this post (and your iTunes Education Store post). iWriter is a client-based (Mac/Win/Universal) tool with which to build education tools for iPod, and comes with an easy-to-use installer with which to simply and effectively share those tools. Take a look – we’d love to hear what you think.