Duke U. hands freshmen free iPods

Spencer Kallick, Northwestern U.

(U-WIRE) EVANSTON, Ill. – Bringing mobile technology to campus, Duke University purchased 1,650 Apple iPods for incoming freshmen this fall.

Although many universities are looking into similar offers, Northwestern University currently has no plans to make such an investment.

“So far the response from the community is that this isn’t a priority,” said Wendy Woodward, director of Technology Support Services at NU.

During orientation, Duke freshmen received the 20-GB iPods, which retail for about $300.

The units came preloaded with an academic calendar, the president’s convocation address and the Duke fight song. Students also have access to a specially designed Web site that lets them download class lectures and readings.

“Hearing the lectures again can definitely be helpful,” Duke freshman Katie Karsh said in a phone interview. “Not many classes use it because they found out about it late in the summer so they weren’t really able to incorporate it into their lesson plans.”

Some at Duke worry that class attendance might drop if students are able to listen in later. But Karsh said her economics professor warned that if class population dwindled, she would stop posting the lectures.

According to a Duke press release, the project’s total cost could exceed $500,000, which includes hiring an academic computing specialist for the project, counting associated research costs and purchasing the iPods.

Duke decided to pursue the iPod project only after extensive input from teachers and professionals, said David Menzies, manager of the school’s Office of Information Technology.

The money came from a special technology fund set aside two years ago, he added.

Some NU students said they weren’t sure if the iPods would be useful.

“If the school is going to spend money for something, it should be something that is greatly beneficial instead of something that just saves us some time,” said Courtney Soderberg, a communication freshman.

Other students echoed Soderberg’s concern.

“It would be a cool feature,” said freshman Mark Patterson, “but I would like to see my money go toward another section of Spanish.”

Nevertheless, NU is investigating which mobile technology device would be best for the campus, Woodward said.

“While we recognize that mobility is very much a part of where we are at today, our customers are telling us that they don’t want to be forced into one place,” Woodward said. “We try to do all we can to embrace that choice.”

NU is open to exploring all forms of technology, she added. If students are interested in lobbying for mobile technology, they can go through groups such as the Associated Student Government’s Information Technology Committee.

In the spring, the Duke pilot program will be reviewed to decide if it should be continued. The iPods then also will become the personal property of each Duke freshman.