Once upon a time, pedagogy and subject matter content were two separate domains. Teachers were expected to know their subject (reading, math, science, English, etc.) and they were expected to know how to teach a classroom of students. If that strikes you as odd and counterintuitive, you might have a man by the name of Lee Shulman to thank. In the 1980s, Shulman, an educational psychologist, introduced the idea of “pedagogical content knowledge” – knowledge of what methods to use to teach particular subject matter. (For example, check out this study on how to teach physics. ) Shulman argued that treating pedagogy as separate from content knowledge leads to learning environments not ideally suited for the educational task at hand. And this was before the debate over if and how to use technology in the classroom.
While pedagogy and content are no long considered mutually exclusive, the question of how to integrate technology into education may not be so nicely settled. Authors Mishra and Koehler (2006) write, “today, knowledge of technology is often considered to be separate from knowledge of pedagogy and content.” They argue that this leads to ineffective application of technology to education and ineffective teacher professional development that emphasizes the learning of specific hardware and software skills, instead of the learning of how best to adapt available technologies to appropriate pedagogy and content. Judi Harris (from the School of Education at the College of William & Mary) compares this approach to designing a house around a faucet. “In many ways,” notes Harris, “we’ve been asking teachers to design learning experiences for students around digital resources.” These digital resources are powerful tools, but they need to be integrated effectively into students’ learning.
Mishra, Koehler, and Harris (among others) promote a synthesis of Technology, Pedagogy And Content Knowledge (which they call “TPACK”) through their publications and a website (www.tpack.org). While recent professional development for educators has emphasized what teachers need to know in order to use technology (how to use a computer, download apps, use specific software, etc.), Mishra and Koehler argue that teachers need professional development opportunities that allow them to learn “the manner in which the subject matter can be changed by the application of technology.”
Teachers will still need professional development opportunities to gain technological knowledge, whether that’s how to install new programs or use peripheral devices like document cameras. But, write Mishra and Koehler, “Teachers will have to do more than simply learn to use currently available tools; they also will have to learn new techniques and skills as current technologies become obsolete. This is a very different context from earlier conceptualizations of teacher knowledge, in which technologies were standardized and relatively stable. The use of technology for pedagogy of specific subject matter could be expected to remain relatively static over time. … Thus, knowledge of technology becomes an important aspect of overall teacher knowledge.”
Put technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge together and you get TPACK: an understanding of how technology can enhance pedagogy, appropriate to the subject matter and the environmental context (such as age and preexisting knowledge of the students). TPACK.org offers some resources for teachers, including instructional videos and a taxonomy of learning activities with recommendations of kinds of technology that might be best suited to each activity (also available from Harris’ wiki). Accessing this content requires registration (which is free) and some poking around in the “TPACK Academy” posts, but seems promising for anyone interested in making good use of technology for education.