As part of its iBooks 2 announcement event this morning, Apple demoed a new app called iTunes U (U for university, naturally). It's essentially a portal for posting course information.
Apple says about 1,000 colleges and universities are already using this service to deliver its course information to students using an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. The iTunes U service originally launched four years ago and has thus far been used mainly to deliver lectures, but today the company showcased its refurb, complete with the independent app. (Duke, HACC, MIT, The Open University, and Yale apparently had early access to the new iTunes U features.)
Here's how it works, according to Apple's demo using a chemistry course at Duke University: Students get an overview of the class, details about the professor, the syllabus, and info about office hours and class credits. There are tabs for Info, Posts, Notes, and Materials. Under the Posts tab, teachers can share updates with students, including assignments and even a to-do list where items can be checked off as they're completed. iTunes U also offers direct integration with iBooks, so if a professor posts an assignment, you can be directed to the appropriate section in your iBook.
Engadget reports that the iTunes U app is free and available today. Starting today, K-12 schools will also be able to use the service. Apple touted iTunes U as making courses easy to access and free for all, though you'll have to shell out for the iBooks, of course.