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IPod Experiment at Duke University Plays Out With Mixed Results

I’m Bob Doughty with the VOA Special English Education Report.

A year ago, we told you about an experiment at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. The university gave each first-year student an iPod from Apple Computer. More than one thousand six hundred students received one last August.

Apple iPods are small digital players most commonly used for music. But the ones at Duke also came with a voice recorder.

University officials wanted to know how students and professors would put iPods to educational use. Now, Duke researchers from the Center for Instructional Technology have reported the results of the experiment.

In all, about fifty classes with a total of more than one thousand two hundred students used iPod technology. The classes included not only foreign languages and music, as expected, but also economics, education and engineering.

Seventy-five percent of the first-year students questioned reported having used their iPod for at least one purpose in their studies.

The most popular use was to record such things as classroom lectures or field notes. Sixty percent of students said they used the recording ability for educational purposes.

The iPods could also be used to store files, to move them from one computer to another. Yet many users said they did not know that.

The report says the extent to which recorded lectures improve student performance remains unknown. Many students and faculty expressed concerns that class attendance could suffer. One student commented: "It gives the message that coming to lecture or paying attention is not important because everything will be online later anyway."

The report says students were more likely to use content if it came already loaded on their iPod. But some professors found only limited uses for the technology. The recording quality was not very good in all situations. Not only that, some publishers refused to permit students to record copyrighted material.

There were also some technical difficulties. Yet the report says even several faculty members who had never used educational technology before had success in the project.

In any case, Duke University does not plan to give iPods to all first-year students this fall, just those in classes that used them the most.

This VOA Special English Education Report was written by Nancy Steinbach. Our reports are all on the Web at I'm Bob Doughty.