PowerSchool: The TPACK Framework Explained (With In-Class Examples)

TPACK is a technology integration framework that identifies three types of knowledge that instructors must combine for successful edtech integration – technology, pedagogical and content knowledge (aka TPACK). While TPACK is often compared to the SAMR model,their scope is very different.

Later, we will take a closer look at the differences between these frameworks. But to quickly give you some context, the SAMR model is really designed to provide a high-level gauge of the degree of technology use, but some consider it too simple and somewhat confusing. The TPACK framework, on the other hand, provides more than one map for understanding how to effectively integrate technology into the classroom.

Let’s dive into the purpose and elements of TPACK.

Image based on original on TPACK.org

Jhe center of the diagram, otherwise known as TPACK, represents a comprehensive understanding of how to teach with technology. Keep in mind that this is not the same as having knowledge of each of the three main concepts individually. InsteadTPACK’s goal is to understand how to use technology to teach concepts in a way that enhances student learning experiences.

For example, suppose you deliver content to your students through your learning management system (LMS). Even if you have sufficient knowledge of the content you are teaching (CK) and your LMS (TK), you can still submit your students to an online course full of text-based PDFs.

Although this is an adequate display of content and technical knowledge, you could argue that it does not enhance the learning experience. However, if you recognize how your content could be presented in a more interactive way – for example, a video, class discussion, game, etc. – and you know how to achieve this through your LMS, then you’ve just upgraded to Technical Content Knowledge (TCK).

Key Differences Between TPACK and SAMR Tech Integration Frameworks

As mentioned earlier, the SAMR model is quite different from TPACK. And because more and more educators are familiar with SAMR, it’s worth taking a few moments to explain how they are different and the implications they have on your teaching strategy.

To that end, here’s Kellie Ady, our Director of Education Solutions, discussing the differences between TPACK and SAMR with our former Principal Instructional Designer Bradley Kemp.

Why is TPACK important?

Most instructors and administrators recognize the benefits that technology can have in the classroom, whether it’s preparing students for a tech-driven world or simplifying course management, school and district. But too many people see technology as a silver bullet to the challenges they face. It is sometimes assumed, consciously or not, that only digital tools can improve education.

This is exactly why the TPACK framework is important. It’s easy to think that adding a great LMS to your classroom strategy will improve learning. But TPACK shows us that there is a relationship between technology, content and pedagogy, and that their deliberate blending is essential.

If nothing else, TPACK can be a helpful mantra for you to step back and examine your entire strategy and the nuanced connections between all of its moving parts. In a study conducted by ASCILITE, or the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education, researchers found that the TPACK framework improved teacher candidates’ ability to use technology in their learning and later in their profession.

“This current understanding of TPACK usage,” says study author Dr. Dorit Maor, “also paves the way for educators to engage students in collaborative learning and develop the concept of digital pedagogies. Digital pedagogies can be the concept that can encompass everything: instructional approach, student attitudes, and desired learning outcomes.”

She goes on to say that the framework should also be used to develop new forms of professional development “to foster a better understanding of the synergy between technology and pedagogy.” Given its potential impact on teachers, teacher training, professional development, and student achievement, to say that TPACK is an important concept in education may be an understatement.

An example of how to integrate the TPACK framework into your classroom

Now that you know what the TPACK framework is and why it’s important, let’s look at how it can be applied in the classroom. Below is an example of how you can use your technology, pedagogical, and content knowledge to improve a lesson.

Below is an example inspired by a Sophia.org video.

Your original lesson plan

Imagine you are a 7th grade life science teacher. The subject is “cellular anatomy”. Your goals are to describe the anatomy of animal cells and explain how organelles function as a system to perform necessary cell functions.

Traditional strategies or activities could go as follows:

  • Walk through the anatomy of the cell and the basic functions of each organelle, referring to the diagram in the textbook.

  • Divide the class into small groups. Have each group label their own cell anatomy diagram and research a unique process to present to the class later. You may want to choose the process for them to avoid duplicate submissions.

  • Ask each group to present to the class the cellular process they studied.

I get it? OK. So how could the TPACK framework be used to enhance this lesson?

Apply technological, pedagogical and content knowledge to your lesson

As mentioned earlier, the TPACK framework is based on three main forms of knowledge. So your first step should be to understand your main forms of knowledge in the context of this lesson.

  • Content Knowledge (CK)– what do you teach and what is your own knowledge of the subject? For this lesson, you will need a solid understanding of cellular anatomy and processes.
  • Pedagogical knowledge (PK)-How do your students learn best and what teaching strategies do you need to meet their needs and the requirements of the lesson plan? In this case, you will need to understand best practices for teaching middle school science and small group collaboration.
  • Technological knowledge (ST)– What digital tools are available to you, which do you know well enough to use and which would be most appropriate for the current lesson? For this lesson, students will need to label a diagram and present, so the ability to fill in blanks with an answer key, find pictures on the internet, create slides, etc. is important.

Now that you’ve taken stock of your main forms of knowledge, focus on where they intersect. Although the ultimate goal is to view your lesson and strategy through the lens of TPACK, or the center of the model where all primary forms of knowledge blend together, it can be helpful to take a moment to examine the individual relationships.

  • Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK)-understand best practices for teaching specific content to your specific students.
  • Technology Content Knowledge (TCK)-know how the digital tools at your disposal can enhance or transform content, how it is delivered to students, and how your students can interact with it.
  • Technological Pedagogical Knowledge (TPK)– understand how to use your digital tools as a vehicle for the learning outcomes and experiences you want.

Now, let’s put all this technology, pedagogical and content (TPACK) knowledge together and improve the activities of our original lesson plan. The ideas below are examples of activities that can be added to the original list. Remember that the goal is to be determined in the application of each form of knowledge.

  1. After going through the different parts of a cell’s anatomy, divide your students into small groups and have them work together to take a Check for Understanding quiz through your LMS. Include an interactive question that provides a diagram of a cell with blank labels and asks students to drag and drop the appropriate labels into place from an answer key (in Schoology Learning this is called a question “Label Image”).

  2. Give each group a device with recording capabilities. Ask each member of the group to choose an organelle to personify and have them record themselves explaining who they are (or what organelle they are) and why they are important to the cell. Finally, have them upload their videos to a media album so your students can watch other people’s videos at their own pace and leave comments.

  3. Instead of looking for a cellular process (e.g. cellular respiration, energy production, etc.) in a type of cell, ask your students to compare the process between animal and plant cells and draw conclusions about the differences they find. Ask each group to construct an artifact of their research by creating a one-page summary, flowchart comparison, or video explanation. This can be submitted via an assignment in your LMS for credit.

  4. Armed with their knowledge of cellular anatomy, function and processes, have your students analyze the connections between different animals and plants in their natural habitats. Ask each group to deduce what might happen when an animal or plant is placed in a habitat other than its natural habitat. Each group should compile evidence to support their point of view (articles, videos, etc.) using Padlet, Evernote or another similar tool.

For more TPACK planning steps and sample lessons, see this article from the Journal of Technology and Teacher Education (JTATE).

General advantages of the TPACK framework

You don’t have to go all out with TPACK to get anything out of it. Whether you apply it to every lesson or revisit it from time to time, this framework can help you think more strategically about how you use technology in the classroom. Try it. You might be surprised what your lessons and strategies can become through the meticulously thought-out lens of the TPACK framework.

To learn more about the TPACK framework, visit TPACK.org.

Norma A. Roth