TPACK is missing an “E”

I stumbled across the TPACK model of technology integration in education several years ago and have always been a big fan.  The way it integrates the need for knowledge across Technology, Pedagogy and Content fits perfectly with my experience of using technology in my classroom along with what I have seen while training/coaching others to develop their own use of technology.  Read this from Mark Anderson if you are unfamiliar the TPACK model or visit TPACK.orgKate Jones also wrote this recently doing a far better job than I could of explaining the role Cognitive Science should play in the TPACK model.

In brief, TPACK is a model that suggests there are three different knowledge bases that converge in different ways when we use Technology in Education:

  • Technological Knowledge
  • Content Knowledge
  • Pedagogical Knowledge.

The golden aim would be to apply knowledge from all three areas equally when using technology in the classroom and be mindful of how one area influences and changes our view of teaching in another.  Too much Technological Knowledge without the same depth of Pedagogical Knowledge or Content Knowledge for example can (and very often does) result in weak learning experiences where the desire to use a particular technology in a subject colours the view of the teacher as to whether or not there will be any impact on outcomes.

Now, I have no issue with the idea that a person needs a good knowledge of the technology they are about to use nor with the idea that they need to understand their subject content before they start doing anything even remotely experimental.  My issue is with the Pedagogical Knowledge base.  

“Pedagogical Knowledge” is just too wide.  It suggests that everything from Learning Styles to Flipped Classrooms could be integrated with Technological and Content Knowledge to produce effective technology integration.  Many have moved beyond this (at least in the UK) to embrace the world of Evidence Informed Practice which gives us our missing “E”.

The TPACK knowledge bases are missing some Evidence.

Technology in Education has suffered in recent years at the hands of misguided application and aggressive marketing strategies promoting this usage.  We have reached the point where lots of very innovative and enthusiastic teachers are turning their backs on technology to distance themselves from the cloud of empty white noise that surrounds it and the lack of evidence that it has any impact on students’ learning.  Teachers are undergoing a new awakening in their approach to pedagogy based on evidence of outcomes and it is about time too. But it leaves Educational Technology in the hands of the snake oil salesmen which would be the biggest educational tragedy of the 21st Century if we allow it to continue.  Technology offers huge gains in terms of workload and presents opportunities to expand and improve the quality of our students’ learning but only if we apply it based on solid evidence of impact.

TEPACK – Evidence Informed Pedagogical Knowledge

Far too much of the “pedagogy” associated with technology is theory based rather than evidence based.  If we went to a doctor who introduced our treatment by saying “there is no evidence that this will work but this guy on Twitter with 50k followers has a great theory about it and a viral video and a diagram” we would be running a mile.  Yet we entrust the education of our children to such fads. For some reason, technology seems to suffer the most at the hands of these fads and it is detracting from the immense gains we could be making by harnessing technology in the right way.

If we filter the Pedagogical Knowledge through the eyes of Evidence Informed Pedagogical Knowledge we stand a much better chance of seeing technology integrated in a meaningful and productive way.  Technology sceptics often point to a lack of evidence relating to the use of a particular tool as a reason for it to be discarded. But if technology is adopted in line with a pedagogical approach that is supported by research data then the tech itself doesn’t need its own evidence bank.  We don’t need to find evidence that using PowerPoint improves outcomes for students; we need to look to the evidence that the spaced retrieval practice it has been used for does. In this way we can evaluate the effectiveness of the execution before we fully write off possibly valuable mediums for learning.  Weak learning using pencils and paper does not prove that the medium is worthless any more than weak learning with an iPad does.

When we are looking at new products and shared examples of how they have been used within the Education Technology sector we can employ Evidence based TEPACK to make certain predictions about whether or not they are likely to be successful.  If a product is sold as a solution to a problem rather than a tool that teachers can use to create their own solutions, then we can make certain predictions about it based on the application of the three knowledge bases. For example, HegartyMaths isn’t so successful at raising outcomes for students just because it is built using a website or because it uses online videos (Technology), nor is it successful just because the brains behind it are clearly content experts.  It is successful because it uses both these knowledge bases to introduce content in small chunks, employs clear, direct instruction and reinforces learning with spaced retrieval practice. In short, it employs strategies supported by clear research based evidence of their success.  We don’t need to look for the evidence that online videos work; we need to look at how they have been used and in the case of Hegarty the Evidence Informed Pedagogy at work is rock solid.

The Bottom Line

The TPACK model always held the most potential for evaluating and predicting the success of technology in our classrooms.  By filtering out the pedagogy based on theory to leave only Evidence Informed Pedagogy we have a really solid evaluation tool at our disposal.  Try it out for yourself. Apply the Evidence Informed TEPACK model to your favourite EdTech and see if it holds up. Ask some simple but key questions:

  • What content is being delivered?
  • What technology is being used?
  • Where is the evidence it will be successful?

Ultimately, if neither the technology nor the pedagogical implementation of it are backed by evidence, there should be alarm bells ringing loudly in the budget holder’s ears.

Try it out at BETT, ISTE or even on social media if you like.  Ask those manning the stands, delivering the workshops and sharing the next shiny lesson that uses their product those three key questions and take careful stock of how they deal with the request for evidence.  They shouldn’t need to deflect by hiding behind the defence of the technology being too young to have much data or there being a need for more studies into its impact. The research around cognitive science is well established and they should at least have a grasp on how their products help students learn in line with this evidence base.  If their responses don’t balance within the Evidence based TEPACK model? Move along. This is not the EdTech you are looking for.

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