Facilitating the Use of Technology in the Classroom
Integrating technology into education, by its very nature, is a rich, situated and multi-faceted problem. Technology can have a transformative impact on virtually every aspect of how educators do their jobs, from personal productivity tools, to communication, to delivering lessons enhanced by multimedia, to creating technology-based student projects, and even (increasingly) using technology to aid with assessment. Technology integration is all of those things and more.
Because the problems of technology integration are so varied, it is sometimes difficult to get a handle on what our role is, or to isolate what our end goals ought to be. How do we know we are doing a good job? What criteria do we use to evaluate success in technology integration?
I was pleased to stumble across a framework for thinking about technology integration in a comprehensive way, the TPACK Framework. TPACK stands for Technological, Pedagogical and Content Knowledge. The definitive description of TPACK was articulated in 2006 by Punya Mishra and Matthew J. Koehler. It has been around, in one form or another, since at least 1998, so I was somewhat surprised (and a little embarrassed) that I hadn't heard of it before, since I pride myself on being pretty well informed.
Although the concept has a lot of momentum in academia, it doesn't seem to be all that widely discussed among working technology educators. Since my initial discovery, I have noticed a Tweet or two on the subject, but isn't one of those keywords that seems to pop up all the time. Which is too bad, because I find it pretty useful.
This venn diagram (credit: http://www.tpack.org) does a pretty good job illustrating the TPACK approach. At the most basic level, it asks us to consider our Technological Knowledge (TK - our knowledge of technological tools and how to use them), Pedagogical Knowledge (PK - our knowledge about the processes and practices of teaching and learning) and the Content Knowledge (CK -the subject matter itself).
In planning or evaluating a technology integrated activity, for example, it is useful to consider whether students have the necessarily technological skills (the TK) to be successful - do they know how to use the tool, application or software, or is specific instruction required? It is also essential to consider whether the lesson meets pedagogical standards (the PK). For example, is it a rich, student-centered activity based on sound constructivist principles? Finally, the question of whether the activity is successful in helping the learner acquire the desired skills, knowledge, or understandings (the CK) must be considered too.
For classroom teachers and technology facilitators, there is much that could be gained simply by considering these three basic criteria. I have often seen technology-based activities fail because one of those basic areas was not given sufficient thought.
Using the TPACK framework is a great way to make sure we are considering the big picture when designing, implementing or evaluating what we are doing, whether our work is with students or colleagues.
Of course, for those of us interested in a more nuanced, academic approach to our practice, TPACK really gets interesting when we start to seriously consider where these areas intersect and interact with each other. I won't attempt to describe the finer points here, but I am including a list of resources below for those that are interested.
I firmly believe, however, that TPACK is a useful way of looking at technology integration in a more systematic and structured way. It's a concept that should be considered essential Content Knowledge for everyone in education, but particularly the technology-focused educator.