Duke University’s iPod program revolutionizing students’ experiences with language studies

“Duke spent more than one half million dollars this fall to supply each incoming freshman with an Apple iPod. The program is aimed at getting lectures, language materials, Duke maps and fight songs into the hands of each incoming freshman,” Alexander Rafael and Emily Anderson report for Newsweek.

“For Lisa Merschel, a professor in the Spanish department at Duke, the program has revolutionized her students’ experience with language. ‘Before, I would just play a CD in front of the whole class and there would be some students whose eyes would glaze over after the first couple of seconds and some who would get this intense look of fear on their faces,’ she explains. ‘With the iPods, each student can listen at their own pace and they have the control to pause or replay certain parts… I find that the slower students have more confidence.’ The technology has made her grading process more efficient as well. ‘It’s digital, easier, and faster.’ Merschel even believes that the iPod program has helped to break down traditional barriers between professors and students. ‘It’s extremely beneficial, especially for languages, and I have to say I’m getting a much closer relationship with my students,'” Rafael and Anderson report.

Still, not all students are convinced. ‘They’re really useful to listen to music on – while I go running or on the bus – but mostly I don’t need them for my classes and I haven’t heard of anyone needing them. I think the program has a lot of room for growth. If the professors get more involved and know more ways to use the iPod during their classes, it would be really beneficial,’ says Katie Brehm, a freshman at Duke,” Rafael and Anderson report.

Full article here.


  1. Well if anyone needs to remind themselves how truly awlful the Windoze interface is, go ahead and download this opensource “OpenOffice” program for Mac OS X.


    Reports I hear they are redoing it so it matches Mac OS X, but at least you can use a free cross platform Office program.

    No wonder Windoze users are a depressed bitter lot.

  2. I would say this is another reason to have a built-in microphone for a “student” version of the iPod, but all you need is the professors to get involved by recording their lectures and posting them to a server so students can download them to their computers and then their iPods.

    Now if you could get iListen or Via Voice to take an mp3 or AAC file and have it create transcripts. If it is all digital, you should be able to take a one hour lecture and create the transcript in about 5 minutes.

  3. The statement by the student illustrates a lack of imaginative thinking. I would record every lecture and have it for reference. She is probably right that the teachers need to think more on how they can integrate the ipod into their classes though.

    If I was a teacher I would have every lecture available for download and assign students to listen to additional mini lectures for homework that they would be quizzed on. Rather than hand out worksheets I would have them as notes to be downloaded put in their ipod also. The iPod photo would be even more helpful though. You could have the students download slide shows and pictures to be used for review.

    I am sure once you got into it there would be a lot of other possible applications that would come to mind.

  4. Benn,

    In the U.S., at the college/university level, students are required to purchase their/our own textbooks. Books are only provided for students in the K-12 grade (elementary & secondary) levels.

    This story merely illustrates how a (major) US university is trying to utilize existing technology for the benefit of its students.

  5. I have been involved with the Duke iPod project as a part of an academic consortium working directly with Apple (I am not on the Duke faculty, but I am in higher education at another University) … we have been discussing the applications for some time and they are really doing some amazing things … it will take some time for it to really catch on. They have worked with Apple to create an academic version of the music store — it is a great idea and one that should grow as a model ofr content distribution.

    Someone here said something like, all faculty have to do is record lectures and students will listen … well, I’ve been experimenting with that this semester with mixed results. The real power of the iPod is in its ability to do so much more — it can be used for assessment (with the built in ratings system), for creating “choose your own ending” style interactive scenarios that students can work through, and of course audio programs. With RSS enclosures, faculty can drop content directly on students’ desktops as they see fit. Here’s an example:


    The big rub in the Duke (or any other) project is that faculty have to take the lead to get the materials to students. When we release new instructional technology initiatives at my University, we focus our adoption efforts on faculty — students get it very quickly. Its faculty who have to take time, develop places for it in their classrooms and develop a comfort level with it. The bottom line is that Duke has made incredible progress on several fronts — their ability to work with Apple to build a customized �store,� building a support unit within the University, and for providing a vision for this type of mobile technology. The full effects and adoption will take several years — if it is going be successful. Sorry for the long rant.

  6. Thanks for the info Cole – very interesting stuff you are doing there, keep up the good work. Personally though, as I have said before, the priority should be for proper funding of text books at Universities before money is spent on luxury items like iPods, or at the very least make sure that the Campus library is well stocked, which in many cases it is not.

  7. Benn, you keep on harping on textbooks at universities. In the USA, UNIVERSITIES DON’T SUPPLY THE TEXTBOOKS! They simply tell the students which books to buy.

    And I’ve never seen a library at a USA university which was not well-stocked. We here in the “colonies”, not having nearly as long a literary tradition as the UK, have developed an appreciation for literature that only converts can understand.

    However, we’re pretty good with technology, and its application to the classroom, too. And a half-million dollars (only �300K or so) isn’t much to spend on this – that’s probably only the tuition of 20 students or so.

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