File this one under “Apple is secretly buying up schools with their healthy stack of cash.” I’m only kidding, but in a move that probably has a lot of parents eyeing their teen’s list of required materials with a considerable amount of suspicion, the University of Missouri is making Apple’s iPhone and/or iPod touch a requirement for some incoming freshmen. It’s true that many programs make having an Apple (s aapl) computer a requirement, because of the industry-specific software and programs they teach with and for, but even Stanford’s iPhone development course doesn’t have the devices themselves as a requirement, making this a notable first.
The “requirement” in this case is more like a recommendation, though, since it won’t be monitored or enforced. And it doesn’t apply to all students at the university, only those in the journalism program. The reasoning behind requiring students to have the devices is not that they can listen to music or play Bejeweled 2 if they find their lectures boring, but that they can use their iPhone and iPod touch to augment their learning experience. Administrators at the university are hoping that by recording and listening to their lectures more than once, knowledge retention and understanding will go up.
A number of questions spring to mind: Why not just make a portable recording device of any kind a requirement? Apparently, the university isn’t actually trying to push students into an Apple purchase so much as they are trying to give them the opportunity to make one, should they so desire. The reason they attached “required” to the iPhone and iPod touch is so that the hardware would then qualify for inclusion in financial aid requests. And why Apple? Familiarity, according to the administration, although some students aren’t so sure, and have started a Facebook protest group, citing a possible conflict of interest between the school and the Cupertino-based electronics company.
I’m of the opinion that while this smacks of product placement or some kind of innovative marketing relationship, the effect is relatively harmless at worst, and genuinely helpful to some at best. By specifying a platform like the iPod touch and iPhone, the school also sets itself up for developing and releasing school and program-specific apps later on. Heck, I wish more schools would make Apple notebooks and desktops “required” in the same way, so that you could likewise claim those in your student expenses. The challenge is making sure that “required” on paper doesn’t become “required” in effect, and put students who don’t opt-in at an educational disadvantage.