What is TPACK?

On the surface, TPACK seems like a simple idea that is easy to explain, but it’s one of those ideas that the more you learn about it the more complex it seems.  TPACK is a theoretical framework developed by Mishra and Koehler to aid teachers in effectively integrating technology into the classroom.  The authors of TPACK have promoted its use for teacher education programs.

TPACK stands for Technological, Pedigogical and Content Knowledge.  The way I understand it, TPACK is the intersection of the three areas of technology, pedagogy and content.  It is at this intersection where good teaching happens.  To better understand TPACK, it is important to understand each component of it.

Technology can be difficult to define, but basically includes the tools a teacher uses to teach.  For example, I use a projector attached to a computer in my classroom.  These tools help me to teach by projecting documents, the daily agenda, videos, Internet content, student work and more onto the board so that the class can see them.  There are many tools of technology that teachers use, many of which were not designed for education.  Teachers often adapt tools to make them useful in the classroom.  For example, before I started using Google Docs, my students often used email to mail their work home so that they could continue working on a home computer.  Email was not necessarily designed for this purpose, but it was an effective tool when used this way.

Pedagogy is the “how” of teaching.  I think of pedagogy as the application of learning theories in the classroom.  Good teachers master the craft of teaching by trying various methods to meet the needs of their students.  Teachers take into account a child’s stage of development and background in deciding how to teach that child.  A person with expertise in a subject area (content knowledge) does not necessarily know how to teach that subject.  Pedagogy brings good teaching to the classroom.

Content is simply the “what” of teaching.  The content is what a teacher wants the students to learn.  Obviously, the content varies depending on what level and subject area is being taught.  A high school calculus teacher teaches very different content than a third grade reading teacher.

The authors of TPACK say technology, content and pedagogy should not be thought of as separate entities to address in the classroom.  They have developed a Venn Diagram which clearly illustrates how these areas overlap.  Where technology, content and pedagogy overlap, teachers make thoughtful decisions about the effective use of technology to promote deep learning in their classrooms.  This might seem like something teachers would naturally do, but there is much evidence to show that technology has often been considered a separate entity in education.  In order to make the most effective use of technology, the authors say, TPACK must be considered.

The idea of TPACK is still new to me and therefore my ideas are still being molded by the new knowledge I gain in this area.  I will attempt to provide an example of how I could use TPACK in my classroom below.

I teach seventh grade language arts using a reading and writing workshop approach.  My students read many self-selected books throughout the year.  Until now, conversations about books have mostly been limited to our time together in the classroom.  Technology, however, creates many opportunities for more book conversations.  My students could write blogs about books they are reading, use google hangouts to having out-of-school book talks among themselves or with me, compose documents collaboratively using Google Docs that relate to their books, design a web page using Padlet about their book, have a video-conference with students in other schools reading the same book and more.  In this way, I will be using technology to achieve more with my students, while still focusing on the content of reading and the pedagogy which encourages social interaction among students.

I believe that keeping TPACK in mind when using new technology in the classroom will help me to stay focused on how technology can lead to truly deeper understanding for students.

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