Duke University has decided not to reprise last year’s experimental mass handout of Apple Computer’s iPod portable digital players to all incoming freshman. Instead, only students enrolled in certain classes will get the free hard-disk devices in the future, Duke said. The school’s decision is based on an evaluation of the first-of-its-kind program, which found mixed results.

Early results of the iPod program review indicate that 75 percent of freshmen surveyed used the iPods for academic purposes. Of those students, half used the iPods as per instruction, and half used them of their own accord. The university said this latter development “indicates great potential for creative new uses of the devices.”

The school, which hoped the $300 players would enhance students’ learning by allowing them to record lectures, capture oral notes, and play language-training recordings, spent $500,000 on the pilot project.

That covered the iPods, salary for an academic computing specialist, and grants to faculty members who participated in the program.

The preliminary results of the project review found that the audio recording option, enabled by a Belkin voice recorder peripheral device provided to all freshmen, was the most useful capability. The review found that the audio recording worked best at close range and was not as successful in capturing lectures in a classroom environment.

Not surprisingly, patterns of iPod use suggest the technology was more popular for academic disciplines in which audio content is a primary medium, such as language instruction and music. The review found that iPods also were used in courses in which technology is part of the content, such as computer science and engineering. Disciplines in which audio media or technology form a natural part of the course of study–including economics, religion, writing, environment, cultural anthropology, education, and public policy–also found use for the devices.

Students reported that they thought the iPods were “underutilized” or “had potential” that was not realized in course work. They said the devices could be used in the classroom to record or listen to lectures, as flash cards for study and review, for language classes, and to download class schedules.

Faculty reported greater student interest and participation in class discussions, field research, and independent projects incorporating the iPods. Instructors also reported better quality of student work that resulted in better projects, more effective presentations that made use of audio, and more accurate and unbiased quoting of sources via iPod-recorded interview notes.

Both faculty and students cited a lack of specific ideas for academic use was one of the shortcomings of the program when it was introduced last fall. Students also said they had problems with the battery life when recording, and the inability to share files directly between iPods was problematic. Professors said they had difficulties finding a seamless way to store and disseminate MP3 content, limited academic content that could make use of the iPods, and problems obtaining copyright permissions.

Duke now plans to issue free iPods only to students enrolled in selected classes. Tracy Futhey, Duke’s vice president for information technology, said the scope will depend on the demand from faculty. It could lead to greater iPod distribution by Duke once professors have had time to plan fall courses.

In a memo to faculty, Peter Lange, the university’s provost and senior academic officer, said the administration was pleased with how the free iPod project encouraged faculty and students “to consider new ways of using the technology in fields from engineering to foreign languages.”

He said the iPods helped the school jump-start a process of broadly integrating technology into the teaching and learning process. iPods now will be folded into a new, more technologically all-encompassing program that has been dubbed the Duke Digital Initiative (DDI).

The DDI program will “provide support for the use and integration of digital audio, images, and video in courses.” The university is planning to create an inventory of digital cameras and possibly video players for students to check out and use. Tablet computing and alternate input mechanisms to support handwriting or stylus input for diagrams, graphics, and other possible uses also is being considered.

In addition, Duke officials will look at ways to extend an existing classroom personal response system used in lecture courses to enable the immediate tabulation and display of student feedback on the classroom or workgroup level. Collaboration technologies that permit social networking also are on the table.

Last year, newly arrived freshmen were given iPods as a welcome gift engraved with the school’s crest and the words “Class of 2008.” (See “Duke to provide freshmen with iPods.”)

Some students questioned the need for the giveaway, given that many students already owned iPods or similar devices, with some saying the money would be better spent on financial aid or campus security. But Duke says the money came from a fund set aside for special technology initiatives.

Links:

Duke iPod initiative
http://www.duke.edu/ipod