At the Heart of TPACK: A Pedagogical Model

At the Heart of TPACK: A Pedagogical Model
Darri Stephens June 16, 2020

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We know that education loves its acronyms, and yet sometimes the hardest part is remembering what each stands for, never mind what each means! Recently we dived into the SAMR Model (pronounced “sammer”), to learn how technology can be used as a Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, or Redefinition when designing learning experiences. TPACK, which stands for Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge, is another helpful framework for you and your colleagues to look at when considering how educational technology fits into your current daily teaching practices. But the first step to understanding TPACK (pronounced “tee-pack”) is to take a look at the Venn diagram:

Technological Pedagogocal Content Knowledge (TPACK) Venn diagram
Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by

In 1986, Stanford professor, Lee S. Shulman, wrote about how effective teachers overlap subject-specific content knowledge with pedagogical knowledge; he claimed such teachers had pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). Twenty years later, Punya Mishra and Matthew J. Koehle built on Shulman’s idea in “Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A Framework for Teacher Knowledge.” Their theory was in response to how technological knowledge was too often considered as a separate skill set — remember that lone computer room down the hall?

The sweet intersection of TPACK is at its center. Yet it’s best to start with the three outer circles, which represent the three forms of knowledge that benefit teaching:

  1. Content Knowledge (CK): one’s understanding of a subject area
  2. Pedagogical Knowledge (PK): one’s understanding of instructional strategies and methods
  3. Technological Knowledge (TK): one’s understanding of digital tools, programs, and resources (which are often evolving)

Next, look at the kinds of knowledge that are formed when the circles overlap one another:

  1. Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK): one’s understanding of how best to vary instructional strategies to transform a specific subject for individual students’ needs
  2. Technological Content Knowledge (TCK): one’s understanding of how applied technology can enhance and/or constrain how content is represented and delivered
  3. Technological Pedagogical Knowledge (TPK): one’s understanding of how digital tools can affect the teaching and learning of desired outcomes

And while the TPACK model highlights the complex relationship between the knowledge sets, it also highlights the tensions. The dotted line around the model takes into account the context — that each school and each classroom has unique and complex dynamics to consider such as variations in school climate, resources, demographics, and professional development. Ideally, all of this Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge intel then triangulates in the center to make for the most effective and innovative teaching. Take a few minutes to watch how TPACK can be analyzed and synthesized in this video from Common Sense Education (5:30):

We all recognize that teachers’ artistry is found in their flexibility and creativity when it comes to mastering how best to meet individual students’ needs, and we all know that there is no single solution or quick fix in education, especially when it comes to integrating new (and often expensive) technology into a classroom. The TPACK model provides a framework for you to reflect on as you begin or continue to layer and weave technology into your practices — and you can start by analyzing your TPACK in regards to just one lesson or for one unit. When you look at the TPACK diagram, where do your strengths lie? In which areas could you use some support or professional development? TPACK can also help school leaders be thoughtful as they adopt new technologies; they can encourage staff members to leverage one another’s strengths through constant communication and collaboration. Plus, TPACK provides opportunities for thought leadership in the field around innovative professional learning and forward-thinking research.

SAMR and TPACK are not only clever acronyms, they’re complementary models to reflect upon as you continue to hone your craft in the classroom. What are some other teaching models that you have found helpful especially when looking to integrate edtech into your practices?

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