The iPod is the most high-profile member of a family of devices known as hard-disk mp3 players. They contain a mini hard drive (the same as you would find inside a laptop), and are capable of storing up 60 gigabytes of data -about the size of a good specification PC. However, the iPod is far from the only device of its kind on the market (although Apple is the only manufacturer really pushing educational usage), as manufacturers such as Creative, iRiver, Xclef and Philips all offer machines with similar capabilities.
So what makes these machines useful in the classroom? First, they're not just for playing music. Most devices now offer the ability to record directly on to them, which means you can use them for dictation, for taking and reading notes or for recording anything from musical ideas through to French conversation.
Imagine students studying languages being able to record and play back excerpts of conversation at any point during the day, and to record and assess their own speaking skills. Some of the devices even allow you to read (although not edit) text files, whether it be books, essays, class notes or even lesson plans.
The sheer size of the machine (the amount of data it can handle) means that you have the equivalent of a back-up hard drive for your main computer. Its physical size means that you can put it in your pocket and transfer files between home and school, or between different machines in the school.
What's more, most of these devises can be connected to Mac and PC computers. They can be a cheap and effective way of getting files from one to the other.
Anything you can store on your computer, you can store on an iPod or mp3 player. On top of this, Apple's release of the iPod Photo means that you can now store and view picture files. However, as ever, the UK is lagging behind America. Duke University, for example, in Durham, North Carolina, is currently giving iPods to all its incoming students. They are preloaded with information about everything from classes to the academic calendar, and students can download faculty-provided course content.
Trials like this means the portable hard-disk is another important part of the jigsaw puzzle that is ICT provision for all.
What's available www.advancedmp3players.co.uk
iPod in the classroom www.apple.comukeducationipod
* More about mp3 players is archived at www.tes.co.uk