When a carpenter starts a project, he does not pick up his hammer to get inspired, engaged, or motivated. What motivates him is the concept, the vision, of what he might be able to do—and the knowledge that he eventually can create something that can be shared with others.

What do hammers have to do with iPads? iPads, like hammers, are tools. While the screen might shine, the apps might glisten, and the device might impress, iPads are fundamentally tools that can be used—well, or not so well—in the classroom.

If the iPad is not being used as an “object to think with,” to construct understanding and support purposeful learning (like connecting students to the world around them), then it’s a tool that is not being used to its full potential.

Ultimately, it’s impossible to separate the device from the user. The iPad is what you make of it, so start dreaming of what you’d like students to do! As Greg Kulowiec of EdTechTeacher puts it:

“Start with the end goal in mind—the inspiration, the challenge—and then determine if an iPad can be used not to teach new content to students, but to help them achieve this end goal. To demonstrate their learning and share this understanding with their peers, a broader audience, and even potentially the world.”

As we remind teachers, the challenge of integrating iPads into instruction is not learning apps. It’s not learning how to use a particular tool; it’s imagining the innovative ways in which the tool can be used. It’s conceiving ways in which the iPad is a pathway to new challenges, new creativity, new collaborations, new connections, and ultimately new opportunities for students to demonstrate and share their understanding.

iPads are neither good nor bad. They are simply iPads. Used effectively, they’re a learning tool for students to demonstrate their understanding in creative ways. Yet, if we lose sight of the real challenge before us, we become susceptible to “app chasing,” or the elusive quest to find the next “cool” app or the app that will teach for us.

To avoid this trap, I would urge you to join Kristen in answering the critical, guiding question: “What should we do?”

Tom Daccord is Director of EdTechTeacher.