Those ubiquitous white earpieces could be more useful in the classroom than you might think. Michael Shaw reports
It has become the must-have music tool for the 21st century pop consumer, a fashion symbol which is making compact disc players increasingly obsolete.
But now the iPod, and other MP3 players, are being taken up as educational tools in schools, as some teachers insist that the new technology improves pupils' learning.
A handful of UK schools have begun "podcasting", in which audio files are put on the internet so they can be downloaded on to the music players.
At Frank Wise, an Oxfordshire school for pupils with severe learning difficulties, teenagers this week used microphones attached to iPods to record reports about the closure of Banbury's open-air swimming pool.
Sean O'Sullivan, deputy headteacher, launched the project after filing his own report on the pool closure for citizenship lessons.
He said information technology helped the pupils to develop their speaking, listening, computing and citizenship skills. "Just getting the pupils to use the iPods - creating playlists, moving music around - has been a great way to teach them about manipulating digital files," he said.
Other schools which are podcasting include Musselburgh grammar in East Lothian, Scotland, which earlier this month became the first school to produce a series of regularly-updated podcasts by pupils.
Although podcasting is a recent development, many schools have been putting audio files online for at least two years.
More than 200 UK schools subscribe so they can post radio shows on the Radio Waves website, which won the innovation award at last year's British Education and Teaching with Technology show (Bett). However, their offerings differ from podcasting because, like most internet radio, they are designed to be played on the website, rather than downloaded.
Podcasting - a user's guide
HOW TO DO IT
Pupils and teachers record and edit an audio recording, then save it as an MP3 file. They upload it on to an internet server and set up a program called an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed. Technical details can be found in "Exploiting the educational potential of podcasting" at www.recap.ltd.uk
The most obvious is in computing lessons. However, teachers could create podcast guides to introduce new pupils to their schools, to highlight animal habitats around the school grounds for science lessons, or to give background for geography field trips.
Copyright and licensing laws are extremely strict, which is why relatively few BBC programmes are podcast. Schools would have to be extremely careful about using any music which they had not made themselves.
MP3 players and iPods cost pound;50 to pound;250 each. Microphones can be bought for pound;20.