Sunday, October 23, 2011

TPACK framework

In discussions involving technology integration in education, the acronym TPACK meaning Technological, Pedagogical And Content Knowledge takes prominence. For some people, it may be anew thing and for others, it’s not. At least for a professional teacher like me somehow, the literal meaning of TPACK components seem familiar to me. But still I have a stream of questions lingering in my mind. For instance, what was the main idea around TPACK? What details surrounds it? How can it be implemented successfully? Does it work in all contexts? Well, the answer to these questions may or may not be easy but I will discuss them. To start with, TPACK is simply an attempt to identify the kind of knowledge required by teachers in order to integrate technology in their teaching as well as how these knowledge mixes up in very complicated ways to support good teaching. To represent TPACK, we draw three circles each representing a knowledge domain base (Mishra and Kohler, 2009).
To begin, let us explore the main domains of knowledge essential when integrating technology as advanced by the TPACK framework.

§   The first required domain of knowledge is technology (TK). This represents technical knowledge such as the ability to use technical devices like computers, internet, software, interactive whiteboards and other standard technologies like books, blackboard or chalk.
§   The second domain of knowledge is the content knowledge (CK).In high school for example, this is the subject matter that is to be learnt or taught to the students. For instance, being a Mathematics or a history teacher.
§   The last domain is pedagogical knowledge (PK) which looks at how to teach. For example you may be an expert in Mathematics but this does not necessarily mean that you can teach it. You need pedagogical knowledge.
A close look at TPACK reveals that its approach goes beyond seeing the Pedagogical, technological and content knowledge bases in isolation. There are other sub-domains of knowledge that lies at the intersections between the three main knowledge domains. For instance, there is a sub-domain of knowledge called pedagogical content knowledge (PCK).This is where the pedagogical and the content knowledge of the subject matter meets to allow you to effectively teach that specific content. Another sub domain is the technological content knowledge (TCK) area in which one knows the technology and how it relates to his content knowledge. For example, if you are a teacher of Mathematics you know how to use technology to support your study or search in that field of Mathematics and so on. Again there is the technological pedagogical knowledge (TPK) in which you know how to use technology to support teaching. Finally, the whole idea of TPACK is to get out something that can help us learn with technology. Therefore the emphasis is at centre of the intersection where we get all the three domains namely Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge hence the acronym TPACK. This is the central point of focus in the TPACK framework. It emphasizes how technology, pedagogy and the content work together in a very complicated way to support good teaching.
Despite its appealing nature,TPACK has been under some attacks because its proposals seem to suggest that the entire framework package can work in any technological integration process. In defense, the proponents of TPACK responded by putting a dotted circle around the TPACK. This they call the contexts. This is to mean that for example, if you are in a high school, the way TPACK works will be very different if you are in higher education sector. Similarly if you are in the cooperate sector, again TPACK will be very different as well.
 Reflections on the added value of TPACK
Here I attempt to identify the areas in which TPACK has added value in practice and then concludes by criticizing shortcomings of TPACK from my own analysis and experience. To start with in my opinion, TPACK has added value in four areas namely, teaching, teacher training institutions, in-service teacher development and in the educational ICT policy standards.
Impact of TPACK on Teaching
At centre of the intersection are all the three domains namely Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge (TPACK).It is true that good technology integration is about understanding and negotiating the relationships between these three components of knowledge. For example, a teacher who is capable of negotiating these relationships represents a form of expertise different from and greater than, the knowledge of a disciplinary expert (say a mathematician or a historian), a technology expert (a computer scientist) and a pedagogical expert (an experienced educator). Effective technology integration for pedagogy around specific subject matter like Mathematics requires developing sensitivity to the dynamic, transactional relationship between all three components. Good teaching means understanding how technology relates to pedagogy and content to be taught. We need technology to support teaching and not vice-versa. As Mishra & Kohler (2009) put it’’ knowing how to use technology is not knowing how to teach with it’’. Good teachers know the content, develops good pedagogical strategies inform of meaningful classroom activities for the content and can use and choose which technology can best support their lesson objectives. In addition, they know exactly where, how and when to incorporate technology during their lessons to maximize learning outcomes. It is not that easy in practice as TPACK portrays. All it takes is a skilful competent teacher armed with TPACK.
Impact of TPACK on teacher training
As the world goes digital, institutions are also trying to go digital. Courtesy of TPACK, teacher training institutions over the world are revolutionizing their training to be TPACK compliant. As a consequence they are trying to equip student teachers with technological knowledge (TK) in addition to pedagogical content knowledge (PCK).Call it TPACK. This prepares them to be responsive to needs of the modern digital world and to maximize the benefits of technology in their practice.
Impact of TPACK professional development
The emergence of TPACK has put pressure on schools to train their staff on technological skills as well. Teachers and staff who are not technology compliant continuously upgrade their technological knowledge so that they use it in instruction, communication, analyzing data and to assess and evaluate their students. Moreover, today’s student handles technology daily away from school. Teachers must cope in order to appeal to their learning interests. In this case TPACK offers the remedy framework that school leaders use to evaluate and thus organize training for his staff.
Impact of TPACK on Policy
TPACK seems to influence educational policy makers as well, both at the national, local and at the schools levels. As the world becomes a digital village, policy makers spend sleepless nights trying to institute changes that match digital changes so that their education system remains relevant and competitive. As a result, TPACK provides a framework that guides them in defining ICT standards that the teachers, school leaders and students must attain. For instance teachers must sit and pass basic ICT foundation course to be licensed as a practicing teacher. This simply means that the teacher must be TPACK compliant to practice.
Based on experience, I do observe one shortcoming of TPACK. It does not indicate the process in the technology integration. I mean for effective teaching, the three forms of knowledge cannot be assumed to bear the same weight as TPACK suggests. One domain must precede the others and so on. For instance, what knowledge domain is critical in making a good teacher in the classroom from the onset? Is it technology? content? Or pedagogy? This is a difficult question to answer but I feel that Pedagogy and content existed long before technology. In fact, Aristotle and Plato who were both teachers, taught without using technology and their students understood them. After all in teaching and learning the ability to achieve your lesson objectives is the key. So technology supports good teaching and not vice-versa. Take a look at online teaching for instance, where you still need a good teacher to facilitate. My point is that even though technology is necessary; we must not forget that there are effective teachers out there making effective teaching just like Aristotle and Plato without using sophisticated technology. This is a common practice especially in third world countries. For this reason we need to assign some level of priority in TPACK knowledge domains so as not to lose the meaning of effective teaching. Say for instance a good teacher must first be knowledgeable in content (CK). You cannot teach what you don’t know. Secondly, know how to teach it (Pedagogy).Lastly technology will support you to accomplish the two. However, you can effectively meet your lesson objectives without technology say through improvisation using locally available materials. It must then be clear that technology will not teach or organize your pedagogical techniques for you neither will it tell you that this is the best area or time for you to use it. It’s up to a good teacher to do that. Therefore, to me technology is simply a garbage in and garbage out tool. In other words, you use it well, it gives you good results. You use it badly the results will also be bad for your teaching no matter how well you know how to use the technology. I thus suggest that for teaching, TPACK need to incorporate priority progression from Content followed by Pedagogy and finally technology. You are a good teacher first and if he can use technology then it’s even better and not vice-versa. Currently, TPACK seem to send a signal that you can start from any domain of it components and still remain an effective teacher. This is a wrong notion as far as teaching is concerned and as far as am concerned.
TPACK is a good attempt to define the knowledge domains namely technology, pedagogy and content that teachers need to integrate technology for good teaching. It is also a good framework that impacts developments in areas of teaching, professional development, teacher training and policy. In the line of teaching, TPACK needs to prioritize content followed by pedagogy and finally technology in that order so that the meaning of effective teaching is upheld.

 Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 9(1), 60-70.


  1. Hi Elisha, interesting post! I am most intrigued by your argument "TPACK needs to prioritize content followed by pedagogy and finally technology in that order so that the meaning of effective teaching is upheld." and the things that you say before this. I think most people will agree with you. But you also know my ideas by now I guess, so... what if a teacher HAS to use an interactive whiteboard? Or what if a teacher HAS to apply a collaborative learning approach? Should he/she just ignore this and start with the content anyway?

  2. I like this food for thought- working with interactive whiteboard or using collaborative learning. I still stick to content, pedagogy and then technology progression because if your intention is to promote learning then you must have laid out learning objectives to achieve from the learning process .This means you first of all plan for the lesson to establish exactly when and what technology to use.Even in collaborative learning, the teacher is a facilitator and key to this is that the teacher must establish in advance what he wants to facilitate, when and how to do it.Only then will he choose the best technology to aid him in that endeavor.Meaning he will consider content and pedagogy well in advance before settling on technology to aid his teaching and learning process.