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Apple's Virtual University Patent Finally Comes to Light

1. COVER - Apple Invents Virtual U

On April 18, 2013, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals the nuts and bolts behind Apple's Virtual University known as iTunes U. Apple's invention is about systems, methods, and computer program products for accessing e-learning courses from an online resource. Particular implementations of the e-learning application disclosed, provide one or more of the following advantages: The e-learning application provides simple and intuitive GUIs that allow students to browse, select, enroll and interact with online courses, including facilitating data input by the student, giving the student better manual control to navigate the course and providing the student with better visual feedback for interacting with the course.

Apple's Patent Background


Web-based instruction (WBI) is a network-enabled transfer of skills and knowledge using computer applications and processes. Online education courses delivered through a network (e.g., the Internet, intranet/extranet) can be self-paced or led by an instructor, and include various types of media, such as text, images, animation, streaming video and audio. Content for WBI can be developed by instructors using content authoring applications and delivered to students over the network.


Apple's patent application is all about iTunes U. Interestingly this patent is dated October 2011 even though the program has been out longer.


1B - Apple's iTune U patent comes to light

Apple's Virtual University


Apple's invention is about systems, methods, and computer program products for accessing e-learning courses from an online resource. Graphical user interfaces (GUIs) allow students to enroll in online courses or collections of other media (e.g., video files, presentations).


2 Virtual U

In-Session and Self-Paced Courses


The online courses can include in-session and self-paced courses. The courses can be delivered over a network to any number and types of student operated devices. An e-learning application running on the student-operated device provides various user interface elements that allow the student to browse, select, enroll and interact with online courses.


3. Virtual U

Virtual Spiral Bound Notebook


In some implementations, the GUIs provide a display object (e.g., a virtual spiral-bound notebook) that includes tabs that can be selected by the student to navigate pages of an online course to access information, materials, posts and notes. The posts can include a text message from the instructor, one or more assignments for the course and materials for one or more assignments. Notes can be created by the user and aggregated under the notes tab for easy access.


The iTunes Catalog of Courses


In some implementations, the student can log into their account on an online store using a browser or other application. The student can search a catalog of education courses, including featured courses and courses that are popular or ranked high by other students. In some implementations, a search engine can be included to allow students to search for courses in the catalog based on search terms. When the student is logged into their account, the student is presented with a GUI that includes a virtual bookshelf display object and a virtual notepad display object.


4. Virtual U

The virtual bookshelf can include a number of shelves displaying thumbnails or icons representing courses for which the student is currently enrolled or is otherwise of interest to the student. The virtual notepad can include a timeline of posts related to the courses. The posts can be sorted using any desired sort criteria (e.g., chronologic order by date of post, alphabetical order by title or author). One or more user interface elements can be provided that allows the student to filter what is displayed in the timeline. For example, the user can select a user interface element to display only posts or only assignments in the timeline.


To interact with an online course, the student can select the course from the virtual bookshelf by clicking or touching the thumbnail or icon corresponding to the course.


A GUI is presented to the student that includes a content display area and a side bar. The content display area can display the course content, such as text or media (e.g., digital photos, videos, audio). The side bar displays a list of descriptors of course content. The student can select a descriptor in the list to navigate to the corresponding course content. Some examples of course content include but are not limited to, course descriptions, course outlines and instructor profiles.


5. Virtual U

As previously described, the GUI for the course can present a display object that has the appearance of a spiral bound notebook with tabs (e.g., side tabs). The student can select a tab to access various types of course content. For example, the tabs of the notebook could be labeled with different types of content: Information (Info), Materials, Posts and Notes. When the Information tab is selected, the student is presented with information according to the type of information currently selected in the side bar.


For example, when the Information tab is selected, the sidebar lists the text descriptors Description, Outline and Instructor. When the student selects Description, a course description is displayed in the content display area. When the student selects Outline, a course outline is displayed in the content display area. When the student selects Instructor, the instructor's personal information or biography is displayed.


Materials Tab


6. Virtual U

When the student selects the Materials tab, text descriptors for materials are displayed in the content display area and the sidebar updates to show a list of descriptors for various types of materials (e.g., video, audio, books, documents, applications). Each descriptor in the list represents a material for the course. User interface elements can be associated with each descriptor in the list to allow the student to download materials from a network resource (e.g., online store or virtual university). Users can also be provided with a user interface element for purchasing the materials from the network resource. There can also be a user interface element that can be selected to provide more information on the materials. In some implementations, the list of materials for the course under the Materials tab includes links to video or audio, which when selected will launch playback of the video or audio on the device either from a network service or locally if the materials have been downloaded to the device. These links can also contain start and stop times for helping the user focus on important portions of video or audio identified by the instructor. In some implementations, links can be provided under the Materials tab to open ebooks or electronic publications. The links can direct the user to specific sections of the ebooks or electronic publications. In some implementations, links can be provided that launch applications, such as a document reader, presentation applications and the like. The applications can open inline and give the user the option to open the application in other appropriate applications.


Posts Tab


When the student selects the Posts tab, a list of posts for the course are displayed in the content display area and a list of topic descriptors corresponding to the posts are displayed in the sidebar. A count of the number of posts for each topic can be displayed proximate the corresponding topic descriptor. Each post in the content display area can include a snippet of text from the post and an assignment pane showing descriptors for assignments added to the post.


7. Virtual U

The user can select a user interface element to read the post or select an assignment from the assignment pane. A user interface element can allow the user to select between displaying posts and assignments in the content display area. Another user interface element can allow the student to display in the side bar topic descriptors or mini calendars for each month, with the dates when assignments are due bolded or otherwise highlighted in the mini calendar. The user can also navigate the posts and assignments by outline topic descriptors in the side bar in addition to calendar view. In some implementations, post can be used to facilitate two-way conversations between the user and the instructor. In other implementations, users can collaborate with each other (e.g., study groups) using posts, share notes and work on projects together.


8. Virtual U

Notes Tab


When the student selects the Notes tab, a list of notes for the course is displayed in the content display area and a list of descriptors for sources of the notes (e.g., textbooks) is displayed in the sidebar. Notes can be created by the user and aggregated from a number of source materials associated with the course. For example, a course may have four textbooks. The user may take notes in each of those textbooks, but because those textbooks are also associated with the course, the notes are aggregated into a single location in the GUI (e.g., under the notes tab), together other notes the user may have taken within the course. Notes can also be aggregated from a variety of media sources including but not limited to books, videos, audio, presentations, slideshows and any other desired media associated with the course.


9. Virtual U

In some implementations, the user can create notes by selecting (e.g., highlight text) a portion of course content and generate a virtual note based on that content. The user can select a note from the content display area to navigate to the page in the course materials (e.g., textbook page) where the note was created.


A number of implementations have been described in this patent application. Nevertheless, it will be understood that various modifications may be made. For example, many of the examples presented in this document were presented in the context of an ebook. The systems and techniques presented herein are also applicable to other electronic text such as electronic newspaper, electronic magazine and electronic documents.


Patent Credits


Apple credits Jason    Ediger, Eric Baily, William Bachman, Alan Cannistraro, Michael Nino, Matthew Fukuda and Elbert Chen as the inventors of patent application 20130095464 which was originally filed in Q4 2011.


Another patent related to iTunes U is found under patent application 20130095463 titled "Content Authoring Application." 


PA - Bar - Notice

Patently Apple presents a detailed summary of patent applications with associated graphics for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for full and accurate details. Revelations found in patent applications shouldn't be interpreted as rumor or fast-tracked according to rumor timetables. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.


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