Duke University in Durham, N.C., has inked a deal with Apple Computer to distribute iPods to all incoming freshmen this August.

Duke University in Durham, N.C., has inked a deal with Apple Computer to distribute iPods to all incoming freshmen this August.

The 1,650 members of the incoming freshman class will each receive a 20-GB iPod at orientation on Aug. 19. The devices will come preloaded with Duke-related content, such as orientation information and the school's academic calendar.

Duke is also licensing Apple iTunes software to distribute a special version of iTunes that offers students the ability to download course content provided by faculty, including language lessons, music, recorded lectures and audiobooks.

Additionally, students will be able to purchase music through the iTunes Music Store.

The iPod distribution is part of a pilot program between Duke and Apple that will be evaluated after one year. Duke is paying for the project with strategic planning funds that it has set aside for one-time innovative technology purposes, rather than with funds that might be used for other operational programs.

"We're approaching this as an experiment, one we hope will motivate our faculty and students to think creatively about using digital audio content and a mobile computing environment to advance educational goals," says Tracy Futhey, Duke's VP for information technology. "We think the power and flexibility of these devices offer some real advantages over other media used to distribute educational content, such as CD-ROMs and DVDs."

Provost Peter Lange says Duke is limiting the iPod distribution to the freshman class because it will make it easier for the university to evaluate the educational innovation driven by the devices.

The effort is part of a larger Apple initiative to spread the reach of iTunes and iPod onto college campuses.

Apple has started a program called "iTunes on Campus" that allows colleges to obtain free institutional licenses to distribute iTunes to students.