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Blending Professional Development to focus on Content, Technology and Pedagogy
June 13th, 2009 by Wesley Fryer

In the May 2009 issue of “Learning and Leading with Technology” Punya Mishra and Matthew Koehler discuss the TPACK framework in their article, “Too Cool for School? No Way!” The article is available electronically to ISTE members only. According to Mishra and Koehler:

Expert teachers consciously and unconsciously find ways to orchestrate and coordinate technology, pedagogy, and content into every act of teaching. They flexibly navigate the affordances and constraints of each technology and each possible teaching approach to find solutions that effectively combine content, pedagogy, and technology. They find solutions to complex, dynamic problems of practice by designing curricular solutions that fit their unique goals, situations, and student learners. They use naturally make changes to their pedagogical approach and the content they cover to create a new “curriculum” that is also highly effective.

TPACK framework

They maintain:

…effective teaching represents a “dynamic equilibrium” between content, pedagogy, and technology such that a change in any one of the factors has to be compensated by changes in the other two. For example, teachers who change the technology they use naturally make changes to their pedagogical approach and the content they cover to create a new “curriculum” that is also highly effective.

This description of “expert teachers” reminds me of the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT) research which identified “stages” through which teachers may progress when appropriately supported with technology, content, and pedagogical assistance.

ACOT Technology Integration Stages

In their May09 L&L article, Mishra and Koehler make the valid point that many of the “cool tools” of web 2.0 and our digital landscape were not designed expressly with classroom education in mind, but they can be “repurposed” for educational uses. This creative process is light years away from the “scripted curriculum” which many schools have embraced in our era of high-stakes accountability. Bill Ferriter’s June 10th post, “The Problem with Scripted Curricula. . .” highlights some of these dynamics and the problems school cultures which push scripted curriculum impose on educators wanting to “repurpose” web 2.0 tools in the ways Mishra and Koehler highlight via TPACK.

TPACK was developed to use a “Learning by Design” approach where:

…inservice teachers work collaboratively in small groups to develop technological solutions to authentic pedagogical problems. In order to go beyond the simple “skills instruction” view offered by the traditional workshop approach, we have argued that it is necessary to teach technology in contexts that honor the rich connections between technology, the subject matter Content (content), and the means of teaching it (the pedagogy).

I like this three-part synthesis of technology tools, content information and knowledge, and pedagogy. We often hear about the need to focus on “learning” rather than simply technology tools. This is something I’ve heard repeatedly from presenters and educational leaders like Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, as well as many presenters active in the K-12 Online Conference. With NECC 2009 just around the corner, I’m sure there will be plenty of situations where these thoughts (along the lines of Jamie McKenzie’s 2001 article, “Toolishness is Foolishness”) will be needed and important.

While I agree an exclusive focus on “technology tools” is ultimately not transformatively constructive for educators as well as students, I also maintain we shouldn’t minimize (or underestimate) the importance of becoming exposed to different tools and getting familiar with their use both for personal reasons and in professional / educational / classroom contexts. These are many of the ideas underlying the activity framework Karen Montgomery and I are developing for “Powerful Ingredients for Blended Learning.” Drawing on the ACOT stage research as well as other frameworks like TPACK, we’re proposing four levels of digital literacy when it comes to educational technology tools:

  1. Level 1: An awareness of the technology tool or resource
  2. Level 2: Personal use of the technology tool or resource
  3. Level 3: Instructional use of the technology tool or resource using an existing “recipe” (lesson or assignment ideas created by someone else)
  4. Level 4: The invention level, creating your own instructional “recipes” for learners using the tool or resource along with others. This is “inventive blending.”

Mishra and Koehler’s framework suggests that attention should not only be paid to the technology tool and the content which is presented or studied, but also on the pedagogy or the way in which students interact with content as well as each other. This gets to the focus of the “learning task,” something Phil Schlechty writes about at length in terms of student engagement. Two weeks ago I heard Tammy Worcester present at Oklahoma City Public Schools’ annual Tech Day, and quote David Warlick when it comes to student research assignments. As teachers we should NOT be assigning tasks, including research assignments, which can be readily Googled and copied/pasted. Learning tasks should be more complex and challenging, involving role play, creative writing, and other strategies which invite a higher level of both student engagement, creativity, and critical thinking. This can operationalize what Andrew Churches writes about in his Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy.

The TPACK wiki (openly accessible to anyone) includes some resources (including an extensive “Reference Library” to articles and conference proceedings) relating to the TPACK framework. Matthew Koehler has an extensive list of TPACK resources and content/conversation channels on his professional website also.

One VERY important book I need to read soon, which I anticipate will further shape my beliefs and perceptions about this intersection of technology, content and pedagogy, is the “Understanding by Design” framework. I own one of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s books, I just haven’t made the time to read it yet. I hope to in the coming weeks.

[Cross-posted to Moving at the Speed of Creativity]

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