A detailed report about the seeding of iPods to students has appeared on the Web site for Duke University's Chronicle. The University emphasises that this report was compiled by a student and in no way represents the views of the University.

The report includes comment from students and faculty about the successes and the failures of the $500,000 project. A "thorough and systematic" evaluation of the project will be finalized within two weeks.

According to the report, the project has had to overcome many difficulties, from technology problems to lack of student academic use, but there are many advocates of the initiative. The effectiveness of the experiment has not yet been fully explored, however, and the future of the iPod project is currently in limbo.

Admitting that Duke could have dealt better with technology problems, director of the Centre for Instructional Technology (CIT) Lynne O’Brien said that should the project be continued the necessary support will be in place. She explained: "We weren’t quite ready in some ways for all the things you need to make a project successful."

Popular pod

But despite teething problems, the popularity of the iPod has enhanced the popularity of the project. Vice president for information technology and chief information officer Tracy Futhey said: "Because the iPods have broad appeal, a request for students to use them in a particular course was unlikely to meet with resistance, as could be the case with technology that wasn’t as easy to use, or a technology that remained in students’ desk drawers rather than carried with them as part of their everyday lives.

"By focusing this project around a piece of equipment that we knew people would want to have with them, we thought it was also more likely that students and faculty would use their imagination to think about what other kinds of uses they might make of it."

The goal of the project was to provide teachers with new technologies to enhance course content and provide new angles to explore the same material. Officials hoped to find a device students were familiar with that could also be used academically. The iPod was selected, and 1,650 freshmen received a free 20GB iPods and voice recorders.

Natural fit

Futhey added that the iPod project was a natural fit into academia. She was impressed with the multitude of uses professors have found for the device.

She explained: "Until this project, iPods were mostly considered to be an entertainment device, but no one had explored their untapped potential for education. The idea behind this project was to put an incredibly easy to use, highly mobile and versatile device into the hands of our creative faculty and students to find out what kinds of academic uses they would discover."

Many teachers have embraced the iPods, integrating them fully into the curriculum, according to the Chronicle report. More than 30 courses used the devices to varying degrees, in particular the departments of music and languages.

Anthony Kelley, a professor in the Department of Music, said: "The iPod is a happy medium that made the material more convenient. I thought it was a daring venture for Duke to at least try something different to make the first year experience something memorable. The project definitely succeeded – you can see all the white cables dangling out of ears.”

Foreign students are also big utilises of the iPods, primarily for its ability to record lectures.

Stunt scepticism

However, some students are more sceptical about the validity of the project. Freshman Dan Cook said: "I think it was a media stunt. We are an up-and-coming school, looking for ways to promote ourselves. Apple is too, so it is perfect."

Another student hinted that few freshmen are using their iPods as intended. Janie Lorber said: "I could count on one hand the amount of freshmen I saw recording classes last semester. Nobody uses them for academic purposes. I think it is kind of embarrassing that every freshman got an iPod. I think it makes us look rich and silly."

Whatever the outcome, once the academic year concludes CIT will keep the loaner pool of iPods available for next year, O'Brien added: "I don’t really know the outcome, but I hope that faculty who know that iPods will be in their sophomore students’ hands next year will feel they have the opportunity to try some new things also. I’m sure there will be some continued opportunity for people to experiment."