Category Archives: TPACK

What is TPACK missing?


How many discussions, blog posts,and tweets have you read saying”It’s not about the tools” or “We need to focus on the pedagogy” or “Just purchasing technology will not change the way teachers teach.” We criticize schools for adopting shiny tech and expecting it to radically change schools. Studies show that teachers just keep teaching the same way as always trading in blackboards for whiteboards for IWB’s and exchanging overhead projectors for bullet points in PowerPoint on LCD’s.

TPACK is an attempt to articulate the proper balance of technology integration into education. It seeks to find the intersection of technology, pedagogy, and content. The “sweet spot” is where all three of these are balanced and intersect. While I understand and appreciate this diagram it really does not help me with the how to make this happen.

Saying that we need to focus on pedagogy first before technology is not helpful because it does not define what good pedagogy is.(at least not in my admitted limited reading about it) That is my problem with TPACK.

Recently I had problem based learning (PBL) training from the Buck Institute. In my humble opinion PBL is the pedagogy that we should be advocating for. It is student centered, inquiry based, with authentic tasks, community involvement, and a real audience.Teachers start either with the standards or an interesting problem and tie it to the standards. Then teachers develop a guiding question for students to explore with further essential questions to define it in more detail. Students collaboratively research and explore the problem and create some kind of proof of learning that they present to the community as their final product and assessment.

All of this process can be done without any technology, but it is easier, more efficient, and offers more opportunities for depth and collaboration WITH technology. Research can be done through the internet instead of books. Writing can be done in a word processor instead of on paper. But the real gains are that social networking tools can be used to gain information not found in books. Collaborative writing can be done in GDocs. Interesting final products can be made such as web based wikis or produced on computers such as podcasts or movies. Computers also allow different groups of students to take the project in unique directions that are difficult to achieve when using limited paper materials.

So if I was an administrator considering a major technology implementation such as going 1:1 with some kind of internet device, I would start with PBL training. I would have every teacher go through the training preferably even a year before the technology was purchased. Then I would create time for teachers to work together and discuss PBL implementations in their classrooms. I believe that PBL is the pedagogy that would lead to a successful technology integration program.

When the time came to add the technology teachers would “naturally” add it to their PBL projects. After teachers had created great project ideas they would look to technology to support the learning goals through research, writing, and collaborating. They would look at technology options for students to create “proof of learning” and presentations. Teachers and students would hit the “sweet spot” in TPACK.

So TPACK experts, where am I wrong? Am I misrepresenting it in anyway?

Teachers, how many of you have taken an education class on PBL in undergrad or graduate school? I never remember even hearing it mentioned.

College of Education professors, is PBL a required part of the coursework at your school? If no, why not?

I am not (quite) ready to declare PBL the only pedagogy schools should use, but variations of it seem to be the best practice to me. Anyone got a different pedagogy that they think is equal or superior to it?

Frozen Water Crystals in Church

I love my pastor, Rob Bell, because he always challenges in relevant ways. He showed pictures of Dr. Emoto’s work demonstrating how thoughts (words written on paper and taped onto glasses) affect the patterns of frozen water crystals. This clip shows some of them.

Clip is at

The logical, skeptical part of me has trouble comprehending this, but it demonstrates the power of thoughts. We all have had feelings where we can sense a tension in the air between people even when no words have been spoken. My wife has an incredible sixth sense about people and situations. Dr. Emoto’s work possibly shows the science behind those feelings.

As a teacher who is getting very excited about Web 2.0 teaching and tools, I have been following many conversations on blogs and on twitter. I am excited as I change my teaching style through the new tools available. I was also considering the TPACK model as shown to me by Matt Townsley here. We were tweeting about the importance of curriculum and pedagogy driving the proper use of technology and not vice-versa. As many have argued, it’s not about the technology.

I could not help but think that with all of the excitement in blogs and twitter about the new tools, we always need to focus on the students first. The old cliche “they don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care” still rings true. The water crystals reminded me of this again. Our students need our positive thoughts and verbal encouragement as much as they need the “new tools”. Take time, especially now in the crazy end of the year, to positively affirm all the good you can find in every student.