TPACK: Finding the solution to the “wicked” problem of teaching with technology

The concept of TPACK (Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge) has definitely left a strong  impression on me as a teacher. It sums up the entire Education process in one acronym: TPACK or Total PACKage. This one acronym gives us a comprehensive view of the entire educative process. We live in a world full of choices today. This is true for the field of Education as well. Be it “what we teach,” “how we teach,” “what technology we use for teaching,” what context we are teaching in,” or “how our students learn”: all this is ever changing and dynamic in today’s world.

We talk about technology today, but the technology was always present in our classrooms. The blackboard that we used in our classes for so long, was a technology. But slowly technology evolved and took a shape that we are used to in the present time. How we use this for effective teaching of the concepts that we want our students to learn is the “wicked question” that we as teachers answer almost every day in our classrooms.

Untitled drawing (3)Teachers must know and understand the subjects they teach, including knowledge of central facts, concepts, theories and procedures within a given field, along with a knowledge of pedagogical strategies that involve various elements of student learning, classroom management, lesson plan development, and implementation, and student evaluation.

I agree with Dr. Mishra when he says that technology changes:

 

  • How we teach. (Pedagogy)
  • What we Teach. (Content)
  • The context in which teaching/learning happens.

 

We as teachers unconsciously make these decisions every day: what to teach, how to teach and what to use to make learning easier for our students. The concept of TPACK is new to me but I feel that I have been applying this every day during my classes. But now it does get me to think consciously about these decisions and has given me a deeper insight into the process of using technology for better teaching and effective learning.

Image of students working on Chromebooks.

Today classrooms have more technology than ever before. Using it effectively is the challenge teachers face.

Today we have technology at our disposal which is a big advantage. I have been using technology such as Chromebooks, projector, internet access for students, and students’ own devices in my own classroom along with different pedagogical strategies such as group discussions, brainstorming, Socratic seminars, think pair share, and peer review, to name a few. We can now teach using methods which were not even conceivable earlier. For example, while students work on an independent reading activity for my class, I create a google doc and share it with my students. Students are required to respond to the prompt presented to them in the doc and others can join in and comment or ask questions or give answers. This engages students in online discussion and even students who hesitate to speak in front of others join in the online discussion.

My high school classes are composed of adolescent students from multicultural backgrounds. Engaging adolescents in classwork and maintaining their focus and attention is a challenge. Most of them don’t have English as their mother tongue. Some of the students are proficient with all four English language skills; others are still developing all or some of those skills. Most students struggle with writing skills. But I also have students who are good at writing but struggle with speaking skills. So different backgrounds, different previous experiences, and different skill levels, all these lead to different student needs. This makes teaching challenging and when you meet these needs it is really satisfying.

TPACK has given me a fresh insight into how we are unconsciously making decisions and using technology for effective teaching and learning in today’s classrooms. TPACK definitely has an impact on these decisions when I make them for my classes. One thing that I always have in mind is that technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Whenever I use technology, I think of its utility for that particular content, and its compatibility with the pedagogical strategies that I am using, keeping in mind the context and environment of my classroom.

Dr. Mishra has also brought focus on the idea of using creativity in making everyday teaching effective. Most technological tools we use (Office software, Blogs, etc.) are not designed for teachers, and we have to find creative ways of using them for educational purposes. I also try to find more creative and more useful ways in which I can use technology in my classroom. For this, I make use of our collaboration time and the PLC meetings that we have at school and also search for new avenues online.

I totally agree with the following three things:

  • Teaching with technology is a wicked problem.
  • Wicked problems require creative solutions that are novel, effective and whole.
  • Teachers are the designers of the total package.

Quality teaching is the transformation of the content. It is the act of learning to think in a disciplined manner. Technology gives us new opportunities to connect with the content and use new pedagogical strategies to pass the content to our students. The Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge (TPACK) has given me the knowledge that is needed to effectively integrate technology in my classroom. It has also given me an understanding of the complex interactions between the various knowledge components. These interactions happen differently across diverse contexts, and thus there is no one perfect way of teaching and integrating technology in our classrooms.

We as teachers need to apply technology creatively and productively by recognizing when technology can assist or impede the achievement of a goal, and to continually adapt to changes in technology. When technology is effectively applied in the educational field, we reach a stage that Dr. Mishra called “dynamic equilibrium”. This means that “a change in any one of the factors has to be compensated by changes in the others,” to make teaching and learning, engaging and effective.

Technology in Our Teaching

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By Timothy Costello

What is TPACK and how does it play a role?

I will be the first to admit when I started teaching; I resorted to my “comfort zone” of what I knew. This was notes on the whiteboard, work sheets and/or assigned homework out of a student consumable…LOTS of consumables. Was this efficient? Yes it was, the same thing had been done for decades. However, I began to ask myself if it was effective? My answer was no…it was busy work, time consuming and labor intensive (for students and teacher). And oh the response and looks on students faces when handing out more worksheets. So, entering from stage right, technology. The question then became how do I integrate technology into my teaching more than just a document camera or a projector? I discovered TPACK.

Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge, or TPACK, focuses on the complex and multi-dimensional aspects of teacher knowledge while simultaneously determining the information required by instructors for technology integration within their teaching. The core of TPACK’s foundation is the interconnection of the three primary forms of knowledge: Content Knowledge (CK), Pedagogical Knowledge (PK) and Technological Knowledge (TK). However, each of these primary forms does not exist in isolation; they overlap each other much like a Venn diagram (see above).

Effective technology integration within our teaching regarding pedagogy and specific subject matter necessitates developing relationships between each component. There are many factors such as grade-level, culture (schools and student body) and instructional staff affecting technology integration. Therefore, no combination of technology, content or pedagogy will pertain to every teacher or school. Let’s examine the relationships between the core principles of TPACK.

For the sake of time and space, I will not define technology, pedagogy or content knowledge, we all know what they are. However, it is the interplay between each of them we will examine:

Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK): transpires when the subject matter is transformed for teaching. This occurs when the instructor interprets the material and then finds multiple ways to represents it. This incorporates everything including curriculum, instruction, learning and assessment and pedagogy. Hence, the reason it is classified as PCK (Shulman, 1986).

Technological Content Knowledge (TCK): teachers need to understand how technology and content hinder and influence one another. Teachers can no longer master just the subject matter they teach, but how it can be changed by utilizing certain technologies. Instructors should understand what technologies are best suited for their subject domain and how the relationship may change both the technology and the subject matter (Koehler and Mishra, 2009).

Technological Pedagogical Knowledge (TPK): this is exemplified when technology is used in particular ways in altering teaching and learning. This includes knowing the limits of tech tools as related to pedagogical designs and strategies (Koehler and Mishra, 2009).

Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK): TPACK is different from the knowledge of all three disciplines individually. It is effective teaching with technology, demanding an understanding of concepts using technology, pedagogical strategies exploiting technology in ways to teach the content as well as pedagogical strategies when activating student’s prior knowledge in learning content.

In conclusion, when I discovered TPACK I had to ask myself where I fell in the diagram. Last year, as a brand-new intern teacher, I was confident in my content knowledge. However, I had very little confidence in my pedagogy and I was fairly confident with technology. This year, as a part of EdTech Cadre I have discovered more tech tools and their effectiveness with different pedagogical strategies, while I am still working on my pedagogy. My question to all of you is: Where are you on the TPACK Venn Diagram?