Stanford's free online iPhone and iPad courses return with peer-to-peer help, a first for iTunes U

Participants in the latest version of Stanford's popular iPhone and iPad apps online course will find help and inspiration 24 hours a day through Piazza, a peer-to-peer social learning site.

This summer, Stanford will again offer a free online video course on creating apps for the iPhone and iPad – but with a difference.

This time, participants will have their questions answered by course instructors ("course captains") and by their fellow online learners. This peer-to-peer social feature is a first for Stanford online courses.

It is also a first for any course hosted on iTunes U, which will once again carry the iPhone/iPad course.

The course will run June 25 to Aug. 27. Registration opens June 19 and ends July 6.

The new social media aspect of the course builds on a technology many students already use: Piazza, a social learning platform. Stanford students taking the classroom version of Paul Hegarty's programming course, on which the online course is based, have used Piazza.

Earlier versions of the 10-week apps course have proved enormously popular, with individual lecture videos downloaded more than 10 million times.

The inclusion of Piazza will enhance the learning experience, said Brent Izutsu, Stanford's program manager for iTunes U. "There is an enormous potential for collaboration and community-building though Q&A and problem-solving with friends from across the globe," he said.

Those enrolled in the iTunes U class are expected to answer questions as well as ask them, while the course captains facilitate discussions and drive students toward correct answers.

"Stanford's experiment with iTunes U points the way toward an unprecedented expansion in the availability of not just content but active online learning around the world," said Pooja Sankar, the founder and CEO of Piazza.

If the on-campus version of the course is any indication, students will participate actively through the social platform, both as teachers and learners. Last fall Hegarty and the 74 students and teaching assistants involved with the course made more than 1,850 contributions to the class on Piazza, with active students contributing multiple times throughout the day and night.

"Hegarty's course material is amazingly clear," said Kevin Shutzberg, a Stanford student, "but iOS development is challenging and subtle. I commend students who download it and work through it on their own, but if my experience is any indication, they'll have a much better time working with others."

Like other free online courses offered by Stanford, there will be no grades or Stanford credits in this summer's iOS course. Students are expected to hack for the joy of it. But there is another incentive. The first 1,000 to register may have their own apps – the final project of the course – evaluated for special showcasing on Stanford's iTunes U site.

Although the course videos can be watched online at any time, the full benefit of working with fellow students comes from moving through the course week by week at the prescribed pace with the other students.

When Stanford's first iPhone apps course appeared online in 2009, it made iTunes U history by rocketing to a million downloads in just seven weeks.

At around the same time, Sankar, then a student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, developed the idea for Piazza, based on her educational experiences. It is now a part of dozens of Stanford courses.

Find out more about the class and register here.

Brent Izutsu, Senior Program Manager, Stanford on iTunes U and Stanford on YouTube: (650) 736-0784,

Dan Stober, Stanford News Service: (650) 721-6965,