When iPod goes collegiate
When Kenneth Rogerson walked into his newspaper journalism class on the first day of the school year, the professor could barely contain his excitement.Skip to next paragraph
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After a quick introduction he broke the big news: "We got the grant," he told his class. "You all get iPods."
As if on cue, the students exhaled an audible "whoa" and exchanged elated glances. Duke University in Durham, N.C., had already made many a headline as the first school ever to provide all incoming freshmen with their own 20-gigabyte iPods - enough space to store up to 5,000 songs.
Now, thanks to a grant program set up within Duke, some upperclassmen were overjoyed to also become recipients of the slim white gadgets.
But by this spring, the school had already announced its intention to scale back the iPod giveaway, which initially had cost Duke $500,000. Next fall, only students enrolled in courses such as music and language instruction, where the iPod has direct application as a learning tool, will receive the devices.
The iPod's debut in college classrooms seems to be provoking an odd mix of euphoria and bafflement.
There are many - faculty and students alike - who rave about the iPod's potential. But there are also a considerable number who scratch their heads and say that the excitement over use of the device in classrooms reminds them of the fable of the emperor's new (and nonexistent) clothes.
At Duke, the school's internal review of the success of the iPod's first foray into academics indicated mixed results.
On the one hand, about 75 percent of freshmen surveyed said they used the iPods for their academic work. Half the time, they said, they used them in ways recommended by professors, but for the rest they devised uses of their own.
Some of the most popular student uses included recording lectures, taking oral notes, and even using the devices to create electronic flash cards.
Professors reported that students seemed more engaged in classes where they could use the iPods. They also cited strong student use of the audio capabilities of the iPod in their presentations, and more accuracy in quoting from interviews they did using the iPods.
But at the same time, some of the students said that while the iPods have potential in the classroom, they are still underutilized.
An editorial in the student newspaper "The Chronicle" even urged Duke to dismantle the program.
In the survey both students and faculty said more specific ideas of iPod use in the classroom were needed. Some also complained of the inability to share files from iPod to iPod.
Those unfamiliar with the iPod may be wondering how a well-marketed MP3 player got so wrapped up with the learning experience in the first place.
The thing to remember is size. A 20-gig hard drive is like having a laptop in the palm of your hand.
It doesn't shuffle through thousands of playlists - it can record audio files, capture images, store documents, and then organize them. The iPod isn't just changing the way students take notes - it's turning college into a realm of perpetual connectivity.
"We want students to be able to take the professor with them wherever they go," says William Lynch, director of Drexel University's school of education in Philadelphia, which will hand out iPods to faculty and freshmen this fall.
Drexel's iPod initiative has been more clearly thought out than Duke's trial run. Professors can upload class assignments, readings, audio files, and other material to a secure server where the students access the information, download it to their iPods, and take it to class, the library, the gym - wherever.
(Students can also communicate with one another through "podcasting," the newest type of blogging in the form of audio files, as opposed to those in text.)
Yet, in what can only be described as a twist of irony, some educators worry that through this perpetual connectivity iPods will actually encourage isolation. Why strike up a conversation on the way to class when you can choose from thousands of songs in your headphones?
In fact, why use an iPod for class at all when those gigabytes can also be filled with anything from Beethoven to Britney Spears?