Keep your heart with all vigilance,

for from it flow the springs of life.

Why Teachers Should Know TPACK

Reproduced by permission of the publisher,  © 2012 by

Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by

One of the lessons I remember vividly from my trainee teacher days was being shown the effective use of a whiteboard. After sitting in for one of my lessons, my Cooperating Teacher showed how the whiteboard could be used to 'build up' and effectively display what I was teaching. 

Before, I'd describe my use of the whiteboard as a scribble board - write whatever comes to mind in whatever space available. After that lesson, I started becoming more mindful how the whiteboard was used as a teaching and learning tool. 

Using TPACK as a frame for analysis, we can safely assume that my grasp of Content Knowledge (CK) was adequate. So too was my Technological Knowledge (TK) - how hard can it be to use a whiteboard? As a trainee teacher, the Pedagogical Knowledge (PK) had much room for growth but it wasn't absent either. Having to write lesson plans that were reviewed before it was carried out in class, I was using the appropriate pedagogy to teach the content in a way that was intellectually accessible to students - Pedagogical-Content Knowledge (PCK).

However, as I hadn't planned how the whiteboard would be used, it wasn't effective for teaching and learning. The board could have been divided into segments for each part of the lesson. As it is being filled, students would see the progress of the lesson and the content that they had to learn. While I knew how to write on a whiteboard, it wasn't being used to aid the pedagogy (TPK) nor did it help make the content easier to grasp (TCK). 

Lee Shulman introduced pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) showing that teachers have 'specialised knowledge that sets them apart from other professions'. TPACK builds on PCK by adding a third dimension - technology. 

"TPACK framework tries to capture by describing their knowledge as a deep, pragmatic, and nuanced understanding of three knowledge bases - content, pedagogy, and technology." ~ Mishra & Koehler

Good teachers are not defined by the three knowledge bases alone but by how these knowledge bases are integrated to design for learning. 

TPACK is a powerful frame for teachers to ascertain their gaps in knowledge and its integration. We can see from my example as a trainee teacher that I had sufficient technical knowledge to write on a whiteboard but hadn't integrated it effectively into my teaching practice. 

Mishra and Koehler recognise that technology is bound by context - defined by what's novel and trending - and reclaim technology as 'everything that is artificial' to include things we wouldn't normally consider as technology such as the pencil. In that light, training and equipping teachers to use technology effectively for teaching and learning has been absent before computers were introduced into the classroom. I do not remember nor know of any teacher training course that focuses on the effective use of the whiteboard, pen and paper as tools for teaching and learning. 

Gaps in each of these knowledge bases can be filled with the training and reading materials. However, the integration of the knowledge bases is achieved by learning from one another. TPACK is context bound. Both the kindergarten teacher and university professor would struggle if their classes were swapped but for very different reasons. 

As a design framework, TPACK helps teachers consider the separate knowledge bases and its integration. Each of the seven domains (PK, CK, TK, PCK, TPK, TCK, TPCK) is an opportunity to generate questions to guide lesson design.

[...] the separation of teaching into content, pedagogy and technology is not necessarily straightforward or even something that good teachers to consciously.
— Mishra & Koehler

I find the TPACK framework both useful for professional development and in the design for learning. It provides better clarity to understand the professional knowledge that teachers need and consequently, allows for more deliberate professional development. TPACK may not provide a lesson template but I think that is where its strength lie. Instead of quick-fix answers, it generates questions that if teachers consider carefully, provides the professional confidence in the design for learning. 

Further Reading:

Too Cool For School? No Way! by Punya Mishra & Matthew J. Koehler


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