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Duke's free iPod program has mixed results

Students were eager to use the gadgets to record lectures, but formats and licensing were "barriers to adoption," study says.

The university that gave each of its incoming first-year students an iPod has evaluated the success of the pilot program--and declared that the results were mixed. iPods at Duke

Duke University gave all of its 1,650 freshmen the Apple Computer music player, as well as a voice recorder, in autumn 2004 to "encourage creative uses of technology." One year later, the university has found that 60 percent of the students used the device to record academic material, while 28 percent used the device for storage.

"Initial planning for academic iPod use focused on audio playback; however, digital recording capabilities ultimately generated the highest level of student and faculty interest," according to the report released last week by the university's Center for Instructional Technology.

Humanities students, particularly those studying music and foreign languages, made the most use of the devices, though the whole first year of engineering students had to use the device in a project for their computational methods class, the report said.

Among the classes that took part in the experiment were those for Spanish, in which students were evaluated on iPod recordings of themselves speaking the language. Electrical and computing engineering students, meanwhile, used the devices to record pulse rates.

"The iPod increased the frequency and depth of student interaction with audio course content through portable and flexible access offered by the iPod," the report said.

However, some of the iPod-toting students experienced difficulties with their gadgets. Problems with formats and licensing were considered "barriers to adoption." In addition, Duke found a lack of awareness among students as to what to do with the device and a lack of training resources.

The iPod program, which cost the university $500,000 for the academic year, will continue. However, the devices will be distributed only to those taking particular classes.

Jo Best of reported from London.