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Duke University's Use of iPod Not Frivolous

By David Menzies, Duke University MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Sep 2, 2004 1:49 PM PT

On August 19, Duke University kicked off the Duke iPod First-Year Experience, a year-long pilot program examining a new way to stimulate creative uses of digital technology in academic and campus life.

Duke University's Use of iPod Not Frivolous

In his August 25 piece, "Attend School -- Get Cool Stuff," Brad Dick criticized this effort by Duke, writing erroneous information forming the basis of his criticism.

Dick wrote that the funding for the Duke iPod First-Year Experience comes from taxpayer monies. Duke University is a private -- not a public -- university, and the iPod project funding does not come from any federally supported grant.

The $500,000 for this pilot program comes from a Duke fund set aside for innovative uses of technology -- and does not come out of the university's operational budget. A July 19 Duke press release about the project refers to "grant funding for faculty," but nowhere does it allude to this funding as being comprised of federal money.

Dick also wrote that "Calling an Apple iPod loaded with 5,000 songs an educational tool is like telling your parents you need an HDTV because you want to watch the Weather Channel."

As a matter of clarification, the Duke iPods are not, in fact, loaded with 5,000 songs. More than 1,500 incoming freshmen were given iPods, all of which came preloaded with orientation content (in both spoken voice and text form) about Duke's academic environment; health and safety contact numbers; student life; and activities. The only preloaded songs on these iPods are the Duke fight song and alma mater.

Special Web Site

Dick went on to note that "Duke also will create a special Web site modeled on the Apple iTunes site, where students can download music and course content, including language lessons, recorded lectures and audio books. Doesn't this all sound so academically important?"

Regarding the Web site, less than a month after distribution, Duke already has five academic and course iPod projects up and running: Fundamentals of Digital Signal Processing; Perspectives on Information Science and Information Studies; Living Downstream: Ethics, Communities and Water Conservation; Intensive Elementary Spanish; and Computational Methods in Engineering. Two more have been identified this week, and many other faculty have made proposals that have yet to be reviewed.

Duke students receiving iPods will be using them throughout the year to download course information, record field interviews and class lectures, and in various as-yet-determined innovative ways to enhance their academic experience.

As an example, in the Fundamentals of Digital Signal Processing course, students will use their iPods to record environmental sounds and collect pulse rate data during physical activity. These recordings will be brought to the laboratory to be visualized, manipulated and analyzed. Using iPods as recording-storage devices will both provide a real-world component to the course and facilitate data transfer and student collaboration, introducing a hands-on laboratory to provide real applications for theoretical concepts presented in class.

No Rubber Stamp

Although the various Duke faculty, staff and administrators participating in this collaborative project are excited about its possibilities, the university is not simply rubber-stamping free iPods for future first-year students.

Duke's Center for Instructional Technology is developing metrics by which to measure the success or failure of the various academic uses of iPods in this pilot program in order for the university to make an informed, educated decision next spring about whether to move forward with developing future uses for the iPods within the academic environment or moving in a different direction.

Updated information about the Duke iPod First-Year Experience can be found online at www.duke.edu/ipod.


David Menzies is manager of the Duke University Office of Information Technology - News and Information.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Brad Dick's column was a syndicated piece from Primedia Incorporated.


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