Duke freshmen given iPods in trial project
By Michael Felberbaum
DURHAM, N.C. 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 "Class of 2008."
Freshman Cara Ansher of Washington receives her free Apple iPod at Duke University in Durham, N.C. The brand-new MP3 players, a Class of 2008 welcome gift, are part of a $500,000 high-tech project.
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 tunes.
Emily LaDue, a junior from Levittown, N.Y., says the giveaway "makes no sense" and the money would be better spent on financial aid or campus security. "From the freshmen I spoke with, I really don't think the iPods will encourage creativity," LaDue said.
The project is being paid for with money the school set aside for a one-time innovative technology purpose. It's not known whether the program will continue after this year. The $500,000 price tag includes the iPods, salary for an academic computing specialist and grants to faculty 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 Web site 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. For those who already owned iPods, the freebie offered a chance to turn a quick buck or do someone a favor.
The Duke iPods remain property of the university until the end of the school year, then belong to the students.
The Duke iPods have 20 gigabytes of storage and a $35 voice-recorder attachment. They come preloaded with welcome messages, school songs, information about the campus and tips on studying.
Upperclassmen enrolled in classes that use 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 uses for the iPod. "People think about technology and think about everyday things in a very specific box. The box they've put the iPod in to date is a box that screams entertainment," Futhey said. "We're trying to break open that box and find other ways to use the devices."
Faculty say they're not 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 teaching.
"It truly is an experiment, and we don't know exactly what's going to happen," O'Brien said.