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ipadoct13An update to Apple’s iTunes U app, announced this morning, will let teachers create and manage courses directly on the iPad for the first time, as the company tries to integrate its tablet more deeply into classrooms.

Teachers will now be able to develop content for their students on their iPad by importing files from iBooks Author, iWork and the iPad’s video and image library. That means it’s easy for educators to take photos of their trip to a volcano, for example, and then easily share that information back with their class.

In addition, students will now have access to discussion tools that make it easy for them to talk about what’s going on in class. People who are enrolled in private iTunes U courses will have access to message boards where they can discuss course material with their fellow students, and they can receive push notifications whenever there’s a new message. Teachers will be able to moderate the discussion, and delete posts as they see fit.

All of this is designed to make the iPad a more compelling product for educators, especially as back-to-school shopping season heats up. Apple already has significant penetration in the education sector, but the tools announced today could do more to lock schools into Apple’s ecosystem.

The education tech space has heated up in recent years, with several companies competing to become the device of choice for teachers. Amazon bought education tech company Tenmarks last year in order to boost offerings on its Kindle Fire tablets, and Microsoft continues to push the Surface as a device for all kinds of work, including education.

Apple said the new features will be available with an update on July 8. People interested in downloading the iTunes U app for free can find it in the iOS App Store.

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