While a growing number of institutions are requiring first-year students to come armed with laptop computers, the University of South Dakota is opting for their much more compact counterparts - handhelds.
It is believed to be the first time a US university has required all new undergraduates to use such technology. It will affect about 1,300 students in the 2001-02 academic year.
The cost of the devices, supplied by Palm, will be largely met by the university's foundation, though students will be required to make small payments spread across four semesters.
James Abbott, university president, said students lived in a mobile society and the university had to use the latest technology to extend learning beyond the classroom walls.
The Palms can be loaded with reference materials, coursework organisers and other applications that would considerably lighten the 9kg load in a typical student's backpack, Mr Abbott said.
"We look forward to working with Palm to develop better ways to enhance the educational experience of our students and the teaching experience for our staff," he said.
Mike Lorion, Palm's vice-president of education, likened the university's introduction of handhelds to moves made by universities in the early 1980s that led to the adoption of personal computers on campuses worldwide.
Handheld devices weigh little more than 100g. They will allow students to use email and the internet, without the need for wires, take notes (collapsible keyboards can be attached), draw, collect data, manage assignments and play games.
About 500 education-specific applications and accessories had been created by Palm developers for students and academics, Mr Lorion said.