In January 2010, when Apple unveiled the iPad, no one was sure exactly where it would fit in the world of technogadgets. Was it a notebook computer? An e-book reader? An oversized smartphone minus the phone part? For educators, the new device inevitably raised the question: Is this something we can use in the classroom to improve learning for students?

A little more than a year later, the answer appears to be "yes." Google the words "iPad" and "classroom," and you’ll get 12.7 million hits. Add into the mix the dozens of devices other companies have created to compete with the iPad, and it’s a reasonable bet that tablet computers are on their way to being a major part of education technology—from kindergartners to college students … at least until the next new thing.

Here are some examples of schools and universities incorporating the new education technology devices into their curriculum:

•The Bancroft School, an independent day school in Worcester, Mass., is urging all of its students in its middle and upper schools (grades 6 to 12) to acquire an iPad in 2011-12; in 2012-13, all students in those grades will be required to have an iPad for use at home and school.

"With a tablet that can access the Internet, handle word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, upload interactive textbooks, and access thousands of educational apps, the time is right for 1:1 learning at Bancroft School," the school says.

•In Auburn, Maine, officials are aiming even younger. The school committee decided earlier this year to acquire iPad2s—the upgraded version of the gadget—for each kindergarten student. The computers are a key part of an effort to boost students’ reading and math performance. The Advantage 2014 program seeks to raise third-grade students’ mastery rates in literacy and numeracy to 90 percent in 2014-15. The scores for Auburn’s third-grade students in spring 2001 were 63 percent for literacy and 60 percent for numeracy.

"The iPads will be Auburn kindergarten family devices—intended to be used by students with their classroom teachers during the school day and by parents and children together at home," the district says. "iPads will purposefully support and extend every child’s literacy and numeracy learning. Auburn kindergarten teachers will collaborate with special educators and other specialists to use the iPads effectively to support not only literacy and numeracy efforts, but also occupational, physical and speech therapy, physical education, art, music, and other educational programs."

•The 3,500-student South St. Paul (Minn.) district decided last month to acquire 600 iPads for student use. Each of two elementary schools will receive five carts of 30 iPads; the district’s secondary building will be outfitted with nine carts of 30 iPads, and its alternative school will get one cart of 30 iPads. Another 280 iPads will be provided to teachers and administrators.

•At Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pa., all new full-time students in 2011 will be provided an iPad2 (as well as a MacBook laptop). Last year, the university became the first to provide iPads to every full-time student and faculty member—about 1,850 of the devices.

"New discoveries, like learning itself, happen every day, everywhere people gather to discuss ideas, solve problems or share creative expression," the university says. "And we want our academic community to have 24/7 access to that world of learning, in addition to the tools they need to engage in it fully."

School officials say the devices will enhance learning by enabling students and teachers to create content with sound, video and graphics, and providing virtually unlimited access to primary source data. The tablets are small and light enough to be unobtrusive in classrooms and have enough battery power to last an entire school day without recharging.