Bates says students could be using them sooner rather than later.

It started not too long ago with a simple question, courtesy of Crookston School Board member Frank Fee: Should the board explore the possibility of purchasing a fleet of Apple iPads for students to use in school every day, in pretty much every class?

That question eventually spurred a fact-finding mission in May to the Little Falls School District, with school district Technology Director Kevin Weber and CHS social studies teacher Tim Moe hoping to see firsthand how that school district was putting its fleet of iPads to use as everyday learning tools. Little Falls schools have done so much with their iPads that they were one of only 200 school districts across the nation this past year to win a prestigious award from Apple.

"They've really, truly embraced the technology for adding benefit to their students," Weber told the school board after the trip.

With Crookston High School in its second year of a "bring-your-own-device" model of integrating technology into learning – students with their own devices can bring them to school and login to a secure wireless network at the school – some are starting to wonder if the BYOD approach creates a climate of haves and have-nots, or at least a climate of students possessing cutting-edge, trendy devices versus students who have something older, cheaper and less functional.

Would an iPad for everyone, or at least an iPad for, say, everyone at the high school, or everyone from fifth grade and older, revolutionize learning here? That seems to be the question making the rounds lately.

"The iPads are an interesting shift in educational thought," Superintendent Chris Bates said. "The big questions are how do you purchase them and how do you replace them in three or four years...basically, it's a sustainability question."

Or, as Weber put it, it's really not a sustainability question, it's a sustainability requirement. Because, he said, as he's researched school districts that lease or purchase iPads or some other tablet – Little Falls entered into a lease with Apple – they don't go back to the educational delivery model that doesn't involve an electronic device for everyone. "The comment we've heard is that once you make the commitment of time, money, effort and training and everyone getting used to it, you can't stop now," Weber said. "You can't give up and turn back the clock."

In the first year of a 10-year operating levy referendum that's bringing in around $1 million a year in general education revenue, the school board spent almost $200,000 on a new wireless infrastructure and new Apple computers for teachers. This year, it appears the bulk of the technology purchases, totaling around $125,000 will focus on putting new computers in testing/student labs at Highland School and CHS, and a small inventory of iPads at Washington School.

But in the years to come, there is much to be determined. Bates said a move to iPads could happen sooner than some people might think, like maybe next year. As time passes, he added, Apple seems to be working to make it easier and more affordable for school districts to enter into lease/sell back agreements. "They are aware this is the big issue for those looking to start something," Bates said.

The superintendent said one resource for local dollars could be a shift of money from a curriculum budget that for generations has spent countless dollars on traditional textbooks for students, textbooks that can become at least partially obsolete in rapid fashion, depending on the subject matter.

In Crookston, with a new social studies curriculum next up for implementation, Curriculum Committee Chair Denice Oliver, also the Washington School principal, has found like-minded social studies teachers who feel it's the ideal subject to take a technological leap by utilizing electronic curricula that never fall behind the times.

"Denice and I have had a number of conversations on this and we are hoping the social science work this summer may provide us with a model to follow in the future," Bates said.

Little Falls

Weber acknowledged some classes in Little Falls are easier to incorporate iPads into than others. And the school district leaders there have learned countless lessons on durability, security and data storage. But they're finding that with iPads, student-athletes and other students who spend a lot of time on a bus are taking advantage of what was typically lots of downtown by doing homework on their iPads.

"Everyone, some faster than others, is finding ways to be innovative and creative as they look for ways to use the iPads in every classroom," Weber said. "Students are storing their data in Google Apps, in the cloud. They're virtually becoming paperless. They still might print something from a file, but more often, teachers make a PDF document and students can go out and grab it. Or they'll Dropbox an assignment to a teacher."

But other than talking about creativity and innovative thinking, are the iPads in Little Falls enhancing learning? Are students smarter? Are they performing better? That's what everyone seemingly wants to know, Weber said. "Is it visible in test scores? Probably not yet," he said. "I think time will have to tell."

It would be hard to gauge the impact on testing right now, he added, because a group of students with iPads would have to be studied and compared with a group of similar students in the same school with no access to the iPads. "I'm not sure how you'd do that and be fair about it," he said.