Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What is TPACK missing?


How many discussions, blog posts,and tweets have you read saying"It's not about the tools" or "We need to focus on the pedagogy" or "Just purchasing technology will not change the way teachers teach." We criticize schools for adopting shiny tech and expecting it to radically change schools. Studies show that teachers just keep teaching the same way as always trading in blackboards for whiteboards for IWB's and exchanging overhead projectors for bullet points in PowerPoint on LCD's.

TPACK is an attempt to articulate the proper balance of technology integration into education. It seeks to find the intersection of technology, pedagogy, and content. The "sweet spot" is where all three of these are balanced and intersect. While I understand and appreciate this diagram it really does not help me with the how to make this happen.

Saying that we need to focus on pedagogy first before technology is not helpful because it does not define what good pedagogy is.(at least not in my admitted limited reading about it) That is my problem with TPACK.

Recently I had problem based learning (PBL) training from the Buck Institute. In my humble opinion PBL is the pedagogy that we should be advocating for. It is student centered, inquiry based, with authentic tasks, community involvement, and a real audience.Teachers start either with the standards or an interesting problem and tie it to the standards. Then teachers develop a guiding question for students to explore with further essential questions to define it in more detail. Students collaboratively research and explore the problem and create some kind of proof of learning that they present to the community as their final product and assessment.

All of this process can be done without any technology, but it is easier, more efficient, and offers more opportunities for depth and collaboration WITH technology. Research can be done through the internet instead of books. Writing can be done in a word processor instead of on paper. But the real gains are that social networking tools can be used to gain information not found in books. Collaborative writing can be done in GDocs. Interesting final products can be made such as web based wikis or produced on computers such as podcasts or movies. Computers also allow different groups of students to take the project in unique directions that are difficult to achieve when using limited paper materials.

So if I was an administrator considering a major technology implementation such as going 1:1 with some kind of internet device, I would start with PBL training. I would have every teacher go through the training preferably even a year before the technology was purchased. Then I would create time for teachers to work together and discuss PBL implementations in their classrooms. I believe that PBL is the pedagogy that would lead to a successful technology integration program.

When the time came to add the technology teachers would "naturally" add it to their PBL projects. After teachers had created great project ideas they would look to technology to support the learning goals through research, writing, and collaborating. They would look at technology options for students to create "proof of learning" and presentations. Teachers and students would hit the "sweet spot" in TPACK.

So TPACK experts, where am I wrong? Am I misrepresenting it in anyway?

Teachers, how many of you have taken an education class on PBL in undergrad or graduate school? I never remember even hearing it mentioned.

College of Education professors, is PBL a required part of the coursework at your school? If no, why not?

I am not (quite) ready to declare PBL the only pedagogy schools should use, but variations of it seem to be the best practice to me. Anyone got a different pedagogy that they think is equal or superior to it?


  1. In reflecting on my own experiences and the NBPTS standards, I'm curious about where "knowledge of students" or "relationship building knowledge" might fit into TPACK. Your thoughts?

    Best regards,

  2. Another great question, Chad. I am not an expert on TPACK, but perhaps it is included under the outer context circle?

    I agree that building relationships is an important skill set that teachers should have/develop.

    Perhaps TPACK is too centered on the teacher and not on the learner?

  3. @Kax - I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Punya Mishra speak on TPACK earlier this year. I remember him explicitly saying that TPACK was pedagogy-neutral. In other words, the framework itself does not advocate for direct instruction over PBL or vice versa. I'm not sure if TPACK is/was intended to explicitly describe the "how" - perhaps Punya will stop by and chime in first hand!?

    @Chad - I believe the blue dotted circle in the diagram is for "context" which encompasses relationships, etc.

  4. Michael, thanks for your post. I am in Singapore right now, preparing for a full day workshop (something like what Matt T underwent a couple of months ago) so I will be brief. Matt is correct in saying that the TPACK framework by itself does NOT lean towards one pedagogical style or the other. All it suggests is that the pedagogical style should fit with the content to be covered and the technology that is being used to teach.

    Now, this does not mean that I personally don't have a preference for certain kinds of pedagogy. PBL is one that I like a lot - but I like a lot of other things as well. There is a value to small group activities as there is to a lecture. Clearly if we are emphasizing higher order thinking skills - we need to move away from simple rote-learning tasks. It is just that TPACK per se does not lean one way or the other. It does not speak to the broader goals of education.

    Some of my more recent work has focussed on these broader goals - and in that there are many areas (if not all) that we will be in agreement.

    Finally, TPACK does not privilege content, technology or pedagogy. In fact we have argued (quite clearly) that there are situations where one or the other is the driver. See the advent of online learning - it was the technology of the web that has driven new pedagogies and new ways of representing content. So in this case technology came first - and the other two adjusted to meet its needs. Other situations may call for one or the other to be the driver. The point here is that at the end of the day, these three have to work together. So we have never said that pedagogy has to come first. I know some others may have made that argument but Matt Koehler and I have been extra careful NOT to do that.

    I have already written more than I thought I would. Keep up the good work. take care ~ punya

  5. Thanks Matt, I was hoping you would add in as I know you like the model. So if TPACK is pedagogy-neutral is it really that helpful? It seems like common sense to me to balance the different circles of it.

    To me, pedagogy is the most important thing to change in schools. I think that is what people are admitting when they say, "It is not about the tools."

    Matt (or others), how do you feel about the pedagogy being neutral?

  6. Ok did not see the comment from Punya before I posted the last comment. For those of you who may not know he is the architect of TPACK so I appreciate him commenting and clarifying his framework.

    I would like to clarify that the PBL method includes all methods of instruction including lectures along with collaborative group work. The difference is that lectures are driven by what students need to solve their problem and may be in small groups or in whole class.

    But to get back to the main point I want to re-ask the question from the last question. I do not really disagree with the TPACK framework at all, but am left wondering if it does not try to change pedagogy from teacher-centered to student-centered is it really all that useful?

  7. I think what TPACK advocates would want is for the development of PBL to be made with technology in mind. For example, what can they do if they are 1:1 that they wouldn't be able to do otherwise? Which problems are invalidated by easy access to Google and Wolfram|Alpha?

  8. PBL is a part of my courses. However, so is, Learning Cycle, Concept Attainment, Enhanced Discovery Learning, Gradual Release, and others. What I find so very interesting about the teaching models that are effective, is their commonalities. It is these commonalities that I focus on in my courses rather than the specific models.

    Some commonalities include:
    Peer interaction
    student decision making
    teacher questioning
    use of concrete representations
    consideration of students' prior knowledge
    consideration of students' developmental level

  9. John,

    PBL is heavily integrated with technology today. I am making the argument that training teachers in PBL methods BEFORE buying massive tech purchases would teach teachers how to think differently about learning so that when they receive the technology they would be able to envision how it could be transformative, not just more of the same.

    I don't think Google or Wolfram Alpha negate PBL because it asks deeper questions that need to be researched, but can't just be copied and pasted from somewhere. PBL involves analyzing, synthesizing, creating, and critiquing.


    Thanks Jerrid for the other examples. I find myself feeling like a PBL evangelist, partially because I do not know many other models to compare it to. I just know that "traditional" sit and git everyday does not work for many kids.

    I need to explore some of the other models, but student-centered is one of the most important factors in my opinion.

  10. PBL would be my preferred approach to learning-centered lessons but I am preparing them for the "real world" and there are schools where such an approach is frowned upon. We used to focus on a PBL-style curriculum in some of our math ed course, but then we got emails from former students saying that they did not know how to apply what we had done in class to a traditional text. Now, I try to help them to be educational problem-solvers regardless of the circumstances they find themselves in.

    This got me to wondering if the circles in the venn Diagram might represent disks that could spin. Depending on the pedagogy, technology, and content you would end up with different intersecting parts. Just a though - not well formed.

    This was my take on Dr. Mishra's talk at GVSU:

  11. Hi Mike,

    I enjoy reading your blog and recently came across your presentation on ways to use Gdocs in the classroom. My school is adopting Gmail for ed in Sept 2011, so I am creating a blog of great resources for them to use. Can I include your presentation on my blog, please? Thanks!

  12. Stephanie,

    My blog is Creative Commons material for non-profit purposes so feel free. I am curious which presentation you are referring to? I don't remember doing one specifically on that topic.

  13. We use the TPACK framework to help science teacher trainers in Cambodia improve their teaching. We focus both on pedagogy, technology and content.

    We have started with pedagogy, focusing on low-cost techniques to adopt a student-centered approach. I believe this goes somewhat broader than PBL, and it includes formative assessment techniques, strategic reading, note taking and creative writing techniques, conceptual science teaching etc. Throughout training sessions we spend a lot of time on lesson content, since moving from a rote-learning/ teacher-centered approach to a student-centered approach requires a much stronger understanding of the content, an aspect often neglected in education programmes.

    After two years we're starting to install computer rooms and teaching them to use animations and simulations.

    I found your suggestion to start with pedagogy training before purchasing technology very worthwhile. Nevertheless, teachers (and even more directors and government staff) remain heavily focused on the shiny technology they hope to acquire, which they (and parents) see as the embodiment of progress.

  14. Stefaan,

    Thanks for sharing your practical use of TPACK. I found it particularly interesting to hear about it in another country.

    I am glad that you agree that pedagogy training should come first. Are you finding the computer installations two years into it helpful?

    I understand that it would be a cultural shift to teach PBL first or at least at the same time as the technology implementation, but an important one I think.