DURHAM, North Carolina – Newly arrived Duke University freshmen got something considerably snazzier than the usual Blue Devils T-shirts and ball caps: Their goodie bags included a free iPod digital music player engraved with the school’s crest and the words “Class of 2008.”
The university says the unique welcoming gifts, which Apple normally sells for $300, will be used as high-tech educational tools to record lectures, capture scientific data and play language-training recordings. But it’s not altogether clear to many that the university will be able to carry through on its vow to make the gadgets more than a toy for playing the latest from the likes of Coldplay and Hoobastank.
Emily LaDue, a junior from Levittown, New York, says the giveaway “makes no sense” and that the money Duke is spending on the venture is better used for financial aid and campus security.
“From the freshmen I spoke with, I really don’t think the iPods will encourage creativity,” LaDue said.
The project is being funded with money the school set aside for a one-time innovative technology purpose, and it’s not known whether the program will continue after this academic year. The $500,000 price tag includes the iPods themselves, salary for an academic computing specialist and grants to faculty members who participate.
The school approached Apple about the project and got the iPods at a discount. Each student also got a $10 gift certificate to buy music from a Duke-only iTunes Music Store website developed by Apple. Other details of Duke’s contract with Apple remain confidential, but Greg Joswiak, Apple’s vice president of hardware product marketing, said the company is monitoring the project closely.
“The whole iPod thing has grown into this ecosystem that’s far beyond anything anybody could of dreamed up,” Joswiak said.
Duke handed out iPods to 1,650 freshmen on a mid-August evening. For those who already owned iPods, the freebie offered a chance to turn a quick buck or do someone a favor. Peter Lormier, a freshman from New Haven, Connecticut, plans to sell his on eBay. Daniel Phan of Bedminster, New Jersey, said he would give his sister the one he just got for his high school graduation.
The Duke iPods will remain property of the university until the end of the school year, after which they belong to the students. If a student’s iPod is stolen or lost, the school won’t hand over a new one.
The iPods being given to students have 20 GB of storage and a $35 voice-recorder attachment. They come pre-loaded with welcome messages from school president Richard Brodhead and provost Peter Lange, the school’s alma mater and fight song, information about campus buildings and North Carolina’s Research Triangle area, as well as tips from current students on studying.
Upperclassmen who are enrolled in classes that utilize iPods will be given a loaner, but the freebies are for freshmen only.
Tracy Futhey, Duke’s vice president for information technology, said the program aims to expand the realm of uses for the iPod.
“People think about technology and think about everyday things in a very specific box,” Futhey said. “The box they’ve put the iPod in to date is a box that screams entertainment…. We’re trying to break open that box and find other ways to use the devices.”
Faculty say they’re not yet sure how useful the iPods will be. Since Duke announced the project last month, Lynn O’Brien, director of Duke’s Center for Instructional Technology, has fielded many ideas from faculty interested in incorporating iPods in their teaching, some more feasible than others.
“It truly is an experiment, and we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen,” O’Brien said.
Sally Schauman, an adjunct professor in the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, plans to have students in a class on community-building and urban water conservation use their iPods to record notes as they conduct research.
“I’m not sure how it’s going to work out,” she said. “I have hopes that it will allow students to gather more data. Students write papers well, but getting them to take careful notes in the field is not easy.”
Futhey understands the skepticism that has greeted the notion of using what many view as a toy in an academic setting, but points out that it took years for the laptop computers that are now mandatory equipment for many college students to catch on.
“I recognized that many people, when they first look at it, think it might be a gimmick, but it certainly isn’t,” she said.