Yakety Yak, Go TPACK!

*Title credit to Liz Boltz, MAET year 2 instructor.

As my first week of MAET year 2 comes to a close, I thought it relevant to reflect on what I have learned thus far on my journey to becoming a better educator.

The very first project presented to us for this summer stems from a concept we learned last summer in MAET year 1: the TPACK framework for instructional design. What is TPACK, you ask? TPACK is the convergence of technological knowledge, pedagogical knowledge and content knowledge within a specific context.

TPACK-new-1

Diagram from the TPACK article – linked on this page

The TPACK framework for instructional design suggests that the best teaching or classroom instruction occurs when all three components (a teacher’s technological knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and content knowledge) work together to develop and deliver a lesson. If a teacher is missing one of the three elements of the TPACK framework, or is not using each element equally, the lesson is not optimal for student success.

Technological knowledge is just what it sounds like – your knowledge of the technology you are integrating into your lesson. There are two common misconceptions educators have when it comes to technology integration: first is that technology means computers, and second is that if it’s cool, it’s probably good for teaching. Both of these are false.

Technology refers not just to computers, but to anything not organic to the learning environment. This definition opens up the idea of technology integration to a whole new world of possibilities – ever ask your kids to write something on a post it note to conduct conversations? That’s technology. Ask your students to tweet out their exit ticket using their smartphone? That’s technology. Give your students a calculator so they can graph complex equations? That’s technology. Even using that projector to show content to your students is integrating technology. Whether high tech, or low tech, the integration of these tools is essential to the learning environment for students.

Many teachers like to focus on integrating high tech tools into their classroom because they are flashy and engaging and usually promise to work. As Punya Mishra and Matthew Koehler (the Spartans that developed the TPACK framework) would argue, “the fact that a technology is innovative and popular does not make it an educational technology.” Now that is not to say that innovative and popular tools can’t be educational technology, but it is our job as pedagogical and content experts to make that determination for our students (hence TPACK).

Pedagogy and content often have more universally accepted definitions, pedagogy refers to the act of teaching, and the content is the subject matter. In other words, the convergence of these two domains is what we are teaching (content) and how we are teaching it (pedagogy).

With that in mind, we can see how the TPACK framework aims to marry each of these three elements into a meaningful way. In order to create the best lesson, teachers need to have content knowledge (the material they are teaching), pedagogical knowledge (the methods they are using to teach it) and technological knowledge (knowledge of the tools they are using to deliver the content).

What this relationship suggests, is that when change happens in one of the three areas, the other two must also adjust to compensate. For instance, if a teacher integrates a new form of technology into a lesson, they must also change their pedagogical approach to that lesson as well as change the content they are covering to ensure the lesson stays at its optimal effectiveness. These three elements must be mutually dependant on one another. Every lesson should strive to have perfect balance of technological knowledge, content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge – if it does, it will reach the “sweet spot” of instructional design.

One element of TPACK that educators often fail to address, is the overall context. In this case, context refers to the setting in which these lessons are taking place (on the TPACK diagram, context is the dotted circle) – consider all the factors of your classroom. Are you 1-to-1? Are you BYOD? Do you have block periods or short periods? Do you have 30 students in a class or 10? All of these factors go into setting the context for your lesson. This context, though easily forgotten, is crucial to the effective development and delivery of a lesson using the TPACK framework. Not every teacher works within the same context, so their lessons will have to adapt to their special circumstances. By the same token, the context is important in determining the way in which the technological knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and content knowledge will converge.

In short: TPACK is the way in which you layer your content knowledge, your pedagogical knowledge, and your technological knowledge to develop the most effective lessons.

So that’s what TPACK is, but now you’re wondering (or maybe you’re not) what the heck I’m doing with it? Well, I’m attempting to overhaul a unit of study, both as teacher and as EdTech consultant. I will use the TPACK framework to analyze a problem of practice I have extrapolated from my own curriculum, as well as use the TPACK framework to provide solutions or alternative approaches to a colleague’s problem of practice.

What you will find below, is step one of my TPACK journey – identifying and analyzing my problem of practice. We were asked to think about a unit of study our students continually struggle to grasp. We used the TPACK framework to break down each element of the lesson, and will then will hand it off to an EdTech consultant (our classmates) who use the TPACK framework to reconstruct it with alternative approaches and possible solutions. Check out my analysis of my problem of practice: teaching students to identify, modify, and construct rhetoric using effective language and conventions.

MeganElizabethSessa-TPACKUnitAnalysis

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2009). Using the TPACK Framework: You Can Have Your Hot Tools and Teach with Them, Too. ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 14-18. Retrieved July 2, 2017, from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ839143.pdf

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