Education Cheat Sheet: Examining Technology and Learning

Technology is rapidly changing the world and classrooms. How can we teach our kids how to be ready in an ever-evolving education and work environment?

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As parents, we’re all concerned about screen time. When your child’s daily homework shifts from pencil and paper to a computer and iPad, is it a good thing? Island Pacific Academy faculty and staff examine the issue.

In short, we’ll learn:

  • How quickly technology and the job market is changing versus a few decades ago.
  • What to ask yourself about your child’s technology use.
  • One key question to ask your keiki’s school about how technical tools are used.

By 2020, the educational tech industry is projected to reach $250 billion per year worldwide, growing on average at 17 percent every year.  Schools and parents are inundated with educational opportunities, varying from complex software, to 3D printers, to eventually incorporating virtual reality as a tool for learning.  To sift through the chaos, I often find myself switching from platform to platform, and getting lost in the paradox between educational opportunity and disastrous distraction.

It’s also important to note how rapidly technology is evolving.  About 20 years ago, when I started middle school, families usually did not own more than one computer that could connect to the internet.  That didn’t change much until I graduated high school.  

Now, average growth trends show significant changes happen in less than four years. This means we can no longer focus on a particular device or specific software which may become obsolete by the time students graduate college, or even high school. In addition, the job market is evolving. According to the documentary Shift Happens, the top 10 jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004. Seven years later we have a growing gig economy and technological innovations that are creating work options such as YouTuber, Uber Driver, and Fiverr Seller that nobody heard of just a few years ago. So, we need to teach adaptive skills, and we need to consider possible complications that come with new technological opportunities.

Maybe we need to start with a simple but fundamental question: are we inspiring passive or active learners?  For example, if students are taking notes on smartboards or projectors, they are passively copying information, and not thinking innovatively.  Are we utilizing technology differently from the archaic slide projector?

The key is to have students engage with their education, taking ownership as they develop a passionate inquiry. Kids need to actively learn adaptive skills: how to sift through data and research, how to create presentations or write papers, how to manipulate a specific piece of tech for an intended purpose, etc.

In other words, maybe the type of technology or platform used is less important than how it is incorporated into the curriculum.  Are we empowering students?  Are we inspiring student ownership?

At Island Pacific Academy, I’ve seen firsthand how students take ownership over their own education through educational tech.  In Digital Art classes, students learn concepts of design, using videography and photography to make passionate statements about political or social issues.   IPA students organized an event to help victims of Hurricane Harvey called “Aloha for Texas”. By promoting the evening of fun activities through social media, they raised thousands of dollars.

At the elementary school, teachers implement strategies to prepare students for the unknown future. We incorporate real-world learning experiences such as a student-run credit union and a lo’i clean up. We also develop a strong sense of place through campus beautification projects and cultural explorations. The result: passion, compassion and improved problem-solving skills.  To support these constant connections, we provide iPads, putting technology at the focal point for learning.

But as we continually incorporate technology into our curriculum, the issue does become more complicated than just asking one question.  Since technology is growing at a rapid rate, the science behind its usage is not entirely clear.  It’s difficult to find research on particular platforms or specific programs.

However, there is some research into how certain technology affects sleep and behavior.  According to Scientific American, bright screens can trick your brain into thinking night is day by affecting one’s melatonin production. Researchers add that “cognitive stimulation” increases brain activity, making it much more difficult to sleep.

Other research has potentially even more damaging effects.  One study found that video games can be as addictive as substances and gambling.  This study specifically raises questions about the extent to which we need to monitor tech use.

Parent’s Homework:

Here is some advice that I’ve gathered from various teachers and doctors:

  • When looking at schools, ask less about what type of technology they are using and more about how technology is incorporated into the curriculum.  What does a typical lesson look like?  How is that tech integration related to the school’s mission and core philosophy?
  • Keep open communication.  Ask your child what games they are playing.  Find out how they feel when playing those games and when they are using technology.  A judgement-free conversation can lead to more authentic discussion.
  • Don’t sleep next to your phone.  Phones and screens are addictive and, especially during adolescence, if sleep is disruptive, then behavior, moods, and long-term brain development are also affected.  If you use your phone as an alarm, put it out of reach (which incidentally will make it a better alarm in the morning as well).
  • Model the behavior.  If you don’t want your child on his or her phone 24 hours a day, you also need to put yours away at times.

Ultimately, this issue is far more complicated, but it does not mean we shouldn’t start the conversation.  I believe we should always evaluate the purpose and method of technology, instead of focusing primarily on platform or software.  Maybe that will help all of us find our way back when we occasionally get lost in the digital chaos.

Island Pacific Academy, 909 Haumea St., Kapolei. (808) 674-3523,

Education Cheat Sheet is a collaboration between HONOLULU Family magazine and Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools to help Hawai‘i parents understand the educational trends and terminology in today’s classrooms. You can find a new column on every third Monday of the month. Click here to read more.