Duke U re-ups for iPod distro

Following a preliminary review of its year-long effort to incorporate Apple iPods into the curriculum, Duke University will continue distributing the devices to students next year, although in a more targeted manner, while also exploring other educational applications of multimedia technologies, school officials announced Wednesday.

Last fall, the university distributed about 1,600 iPods pre-loaded with orientation material to all incoming first-year students. Next year, Duke will shift distribution away from an entire class of students and will focus instead on making the devices available to specific courses upon the request of faculty members at all undergraduate levels.

The university’s Center for Instructional Technology (CIT) will coordinate the use and distribution of the devices, which will be given to any student who enrolls in a course whose proposed use of iPods is coordinated through CIT. Students who receive an iPod through the program will own the device and be expected to retain it for future use in any other Duke classes using iPods.

In his memo to the faculty announcing the decision, Peter Lange, the university’s provost and senior academic officer, said he and others were encouraged by a review of preliminary results from the Duke iPod First-Year Experience.

“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,” Lange said. “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.”

The project has gained momentum throughout the year, Lange said. In the fall, more than 600 first-year students enrolled in at least one course that used iPods. Many of these courses were for music or a foreign language, and the students used their iPods to record or receive audio files. As students began experimenting with the devices, they also began using them for gathering field notes, conducting interviews, podcasting or audio blogging, as well as for portable hard drives or as signal generators in an engineering class.

Interest also has grown among the faculty. “The iPod project got the faculty talking about technology, and not only about iPods,” said Lynne O’Brien, who coordinated the project through CIT. “Some faculty are enthused about using iPods in courses, and others don’t see any real purpose for them. But without the iPods experiment, we wouldn’t be having such active discussions about what value new technologies have in teaching.”

CIT coordinated the implementation of iPods in 11 courses in the fall and 17 in the spring, and discovered an additional amount of ad-hoc use by faculty without direct CIT support.

Daniel Foster developed his theater studies class before he knew about the iPod project, but incorporated the technology once he learned of its availability. “I hadn’t planned on having a performance aspect of the class, but the iPods allowed students to rehearse in class and produce their own shows, which at the end of the class will become podcasts,” he said.

He said his students also could skim through audio recordings of performances being discussed in class to find specific reference points — similar to looking through a book for a specific page.

Economics professor Lori Leachman uses the audio component to record her lectures, which students can access and review on their computers or iPods. She calls the iPod “an accessory to the learning process.”

In collaboration with other university departments, CIT recently systematically evaluated how the iPods have been used to date. Officials said the university needed to decide whether to continue utilizing iPods beyond the year-long pilot project, even though it is not yet complete and feedback is still coming in. Favorable preliminary findings guided the decision to continue to explore uses for iPods in an academic setting; CIT is expected to complete its review by June 15, O’Brien said.

Lange said the university would pay for next year’s program with funds previously set aside for strategic technology initiatives, rather than with operational or student funds. First-, third- and fourth-year undergraduates will be eligible to receive iPods, while sophomores will be expected to continue using the iPods they received last fall. While costs for supporting iPod use under the new program will vary depending on how many courses adopt the technology, the costs are expected to be below those of the past year.

Tracy Futhey, Duke’s vice president for information technology and chief information officer, said Duke will continue to use iPods because of their digital audio recording and playback capability, mobility and ease of use. She emphasized that Duke would work simultaneously with faculty and students to continue exploring other kinds of mobile multimedia technologies that might promote effective teaching and learning.

“No single technology meets every need right now, although the iPod has been ideal for digital audio applications,” she said. “Next year, as our work with iPods becomes more routine, we’re going to take what we’ve learned and focus on how to better deliver content to iPods. We’re also going to explore other kinds of technology uses that involve things like video and wireless communications.”

Duke will strengthen its support, infrastructure and content for the iPod project as it moves into its second year, and introduce technologies that complement the iPod’s use for digital audio listening and recording, Futhey said. Duke also will seek to fill gaps where iPod technology was limited, such as with high-quality recording of lectures.

Futhey said one of the project’s most important outcomes to date has been to demonstrate how iPods or other devices might extend learning experiences beyond the classroom. “The mobility of digital media really seems to add to the academic experience, such as by allowing students to listen to lectures or other educational material while riding on a bus between classes,” Futhey said. “Duke students, like those at other campuses, are always on the go, and we’re interested in ways to maximize learning, even if they’re walking across the quad or sitting in their room late at night.”

O’Brien said another, less-expected outcome has been to raise awareness within the higher education community about Duke’s initiatives with iPods and other new technologies. “People from all around the world have approached us with an interest in collaborating with our researchers and others,” she said.

From Duke University

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.