In a growing sea of iPad classrooms, we must recognize that these devices are not merely gadgets for consumption, but rather portable learning and creation devices. A student can work at a desk, in a courtyard, on a bus, or virtually anywhere, and create just about anything. The iPad allows the classroom to exist outside of the school building, or learning to happen anywhere, for that matter. An iPad can be used to examine molecules kinesthetically in 3D (pinch, zoom, etc.), create a video, compose a song, create a multimedia book, and much, much more. The flexibility and portability of these devices can make them a wonderful platform from which students and educators can explore, play, and create.

Nurturing innovative and entrepreneurial minds requires several major shifts. School communities need to agree on their vision for students. They need to develop assessments that measure progress towards creativity, innovation, and collaboration (perhaps to run in parallel to established assessments). Teachers need to come together as a faculty to develop new pedagogies and a new instructional language, as a community, to discuss preparing students for these new goals. And then, nearly every school community that goes through this journey discovers that the pedagogy they want for their students requires ubiquitous access to computing devices, and the iPad can be a compelling option for many schools.

In a sense, the choice of device should come last, logically, in these conversations. But if it’s the opportunity to introduce a new device that sparks these conversations, then so much the better.

The real force behind the “why iPads” question is not really about the tool, but rather about our methodology, vision, and objectives as educators. It provides us the opportunity to really examine what type of students we want to mold. And while I am advocating that the iPad can be an incredibly powerful tool in the realm of creating innovative young minds, I also recognize and readily state that it is likely not the end-all, be-all of education. In this fast-paced world, a new device or even multiple devices could readily replace it.

We need to get out of the mind frame that a single tool can be the answer. If we want to stay the country of innovation and creativity, then we need to ensure that the pedagogical vision of our institutions and the tools we adopt reflect that objective. If we ignore the question, if we avoid the conversation, then we are missing out on the opportunity to truly shape the future of the world in which we live.

Tom Daccord is the director of EdTechTeacher, a professional learning organization, and has worked with K-12 schools and universities in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.