A new report shows that the Lakeville district's investment in technology is paying off in terms of student learning and motivation.

Of the 31 classrooms or programs that completed research on newly issued iPads last year, 23 reported increases in student engagement, 24 reported that student motivation went up and 20 observed gains in student learning, according to the iLearn Resarch report, discussed at Tuesday's school board meeting.

"This is innovation at its best and I'm really excited about that," said Roz Peterson, board chairwoman.

Superintendent Lisa Snyder said she was happy with the results, but not surprised.

"I've read a lot of the research on the utilization and need for digital tools for learning," she said. "So I wasn't very surprised that it was going to be successful."

Trish Harvey, the district's digital learning coordinator, said that classes not reporting gains either saw no change or had teachers who were reluctant to attribute progress only to iPad use. No one reported negative results, she said.

In order to receive the iPads, teachers had to apply for an iLearn grant from the district in late 2011. In all, 32 classrooms, groups of classrooms or special programs got iPads, with 108 teachers involved and 1,900 iPads distributed.

To qualify, teachers had to have a plan for incorporating the devices and conduct research on student motivation, engagement and learning. Each teacher or team chose how to measure the three areas.

Nine classes had one iPad per student (a 1:1 model), 11 classrooms had their own set and seven groups of teachers shared a set among several classes. Five grants went to media centers.

"I'm most excited about the results of the 1:1 classrooms," said Harvey. "That's also where we saw the greatest gains."

Chris Myers, the district's digital learning coach, said that teachers who shared iPads among several classes reported that it was challenging. Sharing a set was really no different from taking students to the computer lab, he said, with teachers less likely to use them in high-level ways.

Snyder said that she was "interested and intrigued" by this finding and that it will likely affect the district's future decisions.

Myers said another significant theme was that for teachers, "one of the most useful means of using iPads" was "the ability to get instant feedback."

Instead of giving a pretest and correcting it later to find out what students know, Myers explained, there are several apps that let teachers quiz students and receive instant results.

Teachers' role is key

Snyder said that the fact that the teachers receiving iPads were enthusiastic about technology likely affected the report's positive outcomes. Teachers must be comfortable with technology and have plenty of training opportunities if they're going to use technology well, she said.

"Quality teachers are a necessity," said Myers. "A lot of people think that if you throw an iPad in the classroom, it's going to be transformative."

But there has to be a purpose to how technology is used, Myers added. With the grant, the district encouraged teachers to actually change how they teach when using the devices. Instead of just replacing a work sheet with an iPad activity, the goal was to use the technology in innovative ways.

Harvey noted that a gifted class used iPads to have "face time" with their penpals in Colorado, something unimaginable without the devices, she said.

Teachers said that learning to use iPads took a lot of time, Myers said, with one stating that it was like being a first-year teacher all over again. But eventually, using iPads can also save teachers time, he noted.

Harvey said there's been a palpable change in the district since the grant began, with more teachers excited to use technology, rather than afraid. Teachers who have iPads are sharing their experiences with other teachers, she said.

"It's been exciting for me personally," said Myers, who taught social studies in Lakeville for six years. "I see the attitudes changing."

Looking to the future

Some of the methods used to measure student learning in the report included standardized test scores, like the MCA and MAP tests, district benchmarks and teacher-designed assessments. In other cases, students' work samples were reviewed. Student and teacher comments were also included.

At the meeting, two board members said they wanted more student-achievement data, specifically comparing standardized test scores of classes using iPads with those that don't have them.

"We need to have better data versus just what the teacher came up with," board member Michelle Volk said.

Snyder said she understood the desire for more proof, but that she believed the teacher-led research provided a truthful picture.

On Tuesday, the district approved a technology plan providing laptops for all teachers next year. After a year of teachers being mobile, "we're really going to be positioned well to look at [going] 1:1 or expanding the bring-your-own-device program we already have," Snyder said.

Board member Jim Skelly said he was excited about the report and implementing technology further. "It feels like personal technology is a game changer in education."

Erin Adler • 952-746-3283