Buying textbooks for school may have just gotten a little bit easier. Introducing the iTunes U app, the latest addition to the iTunes U service that began as a collection of free video lectures and audio podcasts created by a variety of respected higher learning institutions like Stanford University and Oxford University. The app allows students to view course materials, receive updates from instructors, and organize class notes, so the question now is: Can education go paperless?

“The all-new iTunes U app enables students anywhere to tap into entire courses from the world's most prestigious universities,” says Eddy Cue, senior vice president of Internet Software and Services at Apple. “Never before have educators been able to offer their full courses in such an innovative way, allowing anyone who’s interested in a particular topic to learn from anywhere in the world, not just the classroom.”

Using the app is as simple as clicking on the desired course. Students have access to all course materials, like books, lecture notes, audio streams, and video. Multimedia is streamed with a single tap, and book chapters can be marked when a reading assignment has been completed. At the end of a course, all relevant materials can be organized for study and review in preparation for final exams, and the class can be rated.

The app is also a useful tool for teachers, who can use it to maintain communication with their students. Instructors using the app can post messages to students who will then receive a notification that they have a message. Teachers can provide instant updates to students, like new assignments or due date reminders for homework, and that's not all. Other features of the iTunes U app include:

  • Sections labeled "Info," "Posts," "Notes" and "Materials."
  • Access to info like office hours, teacher details, and the class syllabus.
  • A task list.
  • Class notes with text that can be modified or highlighted.
  • Software to sign up for new classes.
  • Organization in virtual binders, a familiar format to students who are still getting used to digital course materials.
  • A rating system for courses and professors.

Three major textbook publishers – Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – are already on board. The free iTunes U service is currently available in 123 countries, and over 1,000 universities already use the iTunes U software. So what do you think – can digital textbooks be the future of education?