Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Integrating Technology: Explaining TPACK Theory

As we educators are faced again with the possibility of teaching 100% online in the fall, we can be better prepared for this undertaking than in March. As I said in my previous blog post, remote teaching requires a completely different set of skills and knowledge than classroom teaching. I have posted here on this blog about the SAMR model which is a good way to envision technology usage and the creation of new meaning in a Bloom's Taxonomy way. Although the SAMR model is understandable, critics argue that it focuses too much on a finished product at the end of a unit and that educators rush up the SAMR model to get to the higher levels, when in fact, like when using Bloom's, it is okay for teachers to focus on lower levels of critical thinking as needed. As this blog post title states, I am going to focus here on TPACK theory. 

Like the SAMR model, TPACK theory is another way to view the application of instructional technology to the classroom. TPACK stands for Technological Pedagogical And Content Knowledge. Formerly known as the PACK theory before Technology was added to the acronym, this theory is a Venn Diagram of three domains: Technology Knowledge, Pedagogical Knowledge, and Content Knowledge:

  • Technology Knowledge - Do I have a working knowledge of various information and web app technologies? Do I understand instructional technology theory? Do I have an understanding on instructional technology design?
  • Pedagogical Knowledge - Do I understand learning theory? Do I understand how to teach my content area in a developmentally-appropriate manner which is suitable for all learners? Do I understand how to facilitate and to scaffold lessons for the development of higher order thinking in students and for the creation of new meaning? Do I even adhere to a particular learning theory? 
  • Content Knowledge - Do I understand my subject area?  
When these three domains intersect properly, the TPACK is formed. The goal is that sweetspot in the center where all three domains intersect and where educators present subject material through the proper use of technology for the development of critical thinking in preparing students to be 21st century digital citizens.

So often, even without a knowledge of TPACK, we educators attempt to implement all three domains but fall short usually with only two intersections:
  • Pedagogical/Content - Educators know how to present their content with an understanding of learning theory and how students acquire knowledge but continue to implement 20th century tools for its delivery. We need to remember that today's students are 21st century learners who need to be using 21st century learning applications. 
  • Content/Technology - Educators know their subject material and know their technology but do not understand learning theory or how to use technology properly for student learning and the development of higher order thinking. I call this "throwing technology at students" and results in either disconnecting students or just entertaining students without engaging them.
  • Technology/Pedagogical - Educators know how to implement technology to instill critical thinking in students but address subject material in a very limited scope due to a lack of knowledge. This does not occur often.
Do you see yourself in any of the above examples?

Although the TPACK model looks good on paper as a Venn diagram, the major criticism surrounds: What the heck does that center sweetspot even look like in the classroom? At least with the SAMR model, there is a finished product or artifact at the end which illustrates the end goal! While I confess that I too do not "know" what that sweetspot looks like, however, I will continue to implement TPACK as a planning guide. So as I begin to look ahead now to the possibility of teaching 100% online again and begin to create online lessons, I am asking myself these questions IN THIS ORDER:
  • Content Knowledge: What is skill or content do I need to teach? Do I know what I am teaching? As educators, this is probably the easiest of the three knowledge domains for us.
  • Technological Knowledge: What technologies do I want to implement for this lesson? Does my use of technology line up with instructional technology theory? If I were to be teaching 100% online, I would have to address this question before addressing pedagogical knowledge. However, many times, the technology will naturally lend itself to the focus/goal of the lesson, while other times, it may be necessary to seek new ones which will support your goal. 
  • Pedagogical Knowledge: How can I implement Comprehensible Input in this lesson? How can I ensure that I am addressing the learning needs of all students? What are my student learning goals for this lesson? Is my lesson addressing higher order thinking in students? When addressing these questions, in many ways, one must also ask if the use of particular technology can achieve these goals. This is where Technological and Pedagogical Knowledge overlap. 
Examples of TPACK thought process in lesson planning:

In many ways, I hope that I have not oversimplified TPACK theory, but hopefully this theory can help guide you when creating online lessons or even in-person lessons for the classroom. 

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