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Duke puts restrictions on free iPod program

Last fall, all 1,600 incoming first-year students got one. But next year will be different. Photo: iPods on campus

Duke University students will be able to get a free iPod next year, but only if they enroll in certain courses, the school said Wednesday.

Last fall, Duke handed out the iconic white digital music players to all 1,600 incoming first-year students. For next year, the school plans to hand out devices only to students who enroll in classes that use the iPod as part of the curriculum.

iPods at Duke

Duke said it made the decision to offer the iPods "in a more targeted manner" after a preliminary review of its iPod program. The school said it will also look at other technologies that might assist classroom learning, including wireless devices.

"We weren't sure what to expect when we launched this project, but we've been pleased by how it's succeeded in encouraging many faculty and students to consider new ways of using the technology in fields from engineering to foreign languages," provost Peter Lange said in a memo to school faculty. "We've been focusing on iPods and other mobile computing, but our wider goal is to integrate technology broadly into the teaching and learning process. The iPods have helped jump-start this process, and we plan to keep pushing ahead."

Duke's program garnered widespread attention. Although the players have proved popular on school campuses, in most cases it has been students, and not the school, that is paying for the devices.

The school said it found that somewhat less than 40 percent of first-year students had enrolled in a class that used the iPod. Music and language classes are among the most frequent educational uses for the devices. Other students have used iPods for gathering field notes, recording classes or as portable hard drives. In one of the more esoteric examples, the devices were used as signal generators in an engineering class.

Under Duke's revamped program, students who get an iPod will get to keep the device and will be expected to have it on hand for any future classes that incorporate the player. Sophomores will be expected to use the iPods they got last year. Duke said it did not know how much it will spend on iPods next year, or how many students will receive one, but it expects the price tag to be less than the roughly $500,000 spent for last year's giveaway.

Faculty reaction to the program has been mixed, according to Lynne O'Brien, the Duke official who coordinated the program through the school's Center for Information Technology.

"Some faculty are enthused about using iPods in courses, and others don't see any real purpose for them," O'Brien said in a statement. "But without the iPods experiment, we wouldn't be having such active discussions about what value new technologies have in teaching."

For the spring term, there are 16 Duke classes incorporating the iPod. In many cases, the iPods are used mainly to record and listen to class lectures; in "Newspaper Reporting," student journalists will use the iPod to record their interviews, while in "Fullness of Being," students will use the iPod to create "projects exploring how people experience various cultural environments," recording settings such as a pool hall, movie theater or party.

"Intensive Intermediate Turkish Language and Culture" might also be a little more popular this semester, as the iPod will be used to help train students' ears to the sounds of conversational Turkish through songs, news broadcasts, poems, stories and audio from film scenes.