"When you think about it, these are A.P. classes and National Writing Project classes, and 4 in 10 say they are using these devices," said Kristen Purcell, associate director for research at Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project. "That's 6 in 10 who aren't using them. We still have a lot of room for growth."
In coming years, growth seems to be the norm.
Christine Quinn, the speaker of the New York City Council, has suggested replacing textbooks — they cost the city $100 million a year — with tablets. Schools in Los Angeles last month allocated $50 million to start buying tablets for every student; the project is expected to cost $500 million by the time it is completed. Schools in McAllen, Texas, distributed 6,800 Apple tablets last year at a cost of $20.5 million.
But it's not just the biggest school districts making the shift. The Eanes Independent School District in Austin is distributing more than 2,000 iPads to every student, from kindergarteners to high school seniors. The cost: $1.2 million.
Students, unlike some of their parents, aren't blinking.
"The biggest challenge is that they're growing up as digital natives, but when they get to the school door, they have to leave that at the door," said Scott Kinney, who trains teachers on how to use Discovery Education's products, which work on various platforms. "Kids are very comfortable with these things, so why aren't we reaching them in a way that's most beneficial to students?"
Discovery, the top digital content provider to U.S. schools, recognizes its potential to keep students interested with the most up-to-date material. For instance, it updated its science lessons for students in grades six through high school to incorporate Superstorm Sandy within weeks of its making landfall.