TPCKI’m writing this from the Houlton Higher Education Center, where several of us from the MLTI and Apple are delivering the 9th of 9 regional leadership sessions. These leadership sessions are on the tail of the teacher leader sessions that Rob Munzing, Jim Wells, and I facilitated in February and March. The current sessions have been an opportunity to review what we learned from the roadshow with teacher leaders – particularly what’s working and not-so-much as we close in on the first year of the high school deployment of MacBooks. This time around schools are arriving in teams and being given time to talk among principals, tech leads, librarians, and teacher leaders, among others.

Something that we learned from the earlier discussions we led with teacher leaders is that we overly focused on the technology itself. On the surface this seems logical. After all, we’re coming together as a result of a deployment of devices. What we failed to do is to set the discussion in a framework of teaching and learning. So, this time around, we adopted the TPCK framework as a model on which to focus the sessions. This was at the suggestion of Bette Manchester. She was right. Here’s why.

T, P, and C represent 3 of the common and shared knowledges that 21st Century teachers need:

T = Technological knowledge

P = Pedagogical knowledge

C = Content knowledge

You can learn about this framework in detail by visiting tpck.org, but we’ve only introduced it in each session. What we like about it is how it demonstrates the complex interplay among even more complex knowledges. Since the beginning of schooling, teachers have been on a professional journey of mastering how to integrate their content knowledge with best teaching practices (i.e., getting our P and C in sync).

As any teacher knows, this is circumstantial and situational – this we learn from being required to teach a subject outside of our area of training. You may have P under your belt, but suddenly your C is unfamiliar (even foreign if you’re teaching Spanish and haven’t spoken it since you were a sophomore in high school…uno, dos, tres…?).

Alternatively, it’s not uncommon for P expertise to be under-appreciated. For example, as the U.S. experiences a shortage of math and science teachers, we’re seeing an increasing number of people who are trained in math and science entering classrooms with insufficient preparation to teach. Doesn’t necessarily make them bad teachers, but it does compromise the P-C interplay.

Within my own conceptual framework of good teaching, which requires the integration of universal design principles, P and C are foundational. We’ve got to have a strong grasp on both what we’re teaching and best practices for teaching it. Takes time and perseverance. Personally, I studied science in college, practiced as a scientist for five years, and then went on to be certified to teach secondary science. From that short history, you can probably guess that I weighed more heavily on my C than my P skills (3 preps didn’t help). Took some catching up on my part to compensate for that…I’ve probably overcompensated at this point but more by choice than chance.

On to the T in TPCK: In a graduate course on educational research a few years ago, I chose to study why some teachers are early adopters of technology. I conducted a search and review of existing studies and also interviewed several teachers in southern Maine who had a reputation as effective integrators of technology. It became clear to me that early adopters weren’t motivated by administrator encouragement, professional development, or even funding. What they were motivated by, however, was not so obvious. At the time, I think I explained the motivation as simply intrinsic. Intrinsic motivation was part of it, but doesn’t alone explain the confidence with which these teachers made technology work in teaching and learning.

Looking back on it, I think the answer is embedded in TPCK. The teachers I learned about in the studies and those I interviewed had their P and C “goin’ on.” They were well trained in their content areas and were skilled at the pedagogical execution of it. Because they had a strong foundational grasp, they were equipped to identify technologies that are relevant to their content area and their curriculum and to integrate them in relevant, compelling, and meaningful ways.

As we continue to strive to help ourselves and one another to become stronger and more skilled technology integrators, I think it behooves us to return to this framework. Before we can effectively and appropriately use technology to teach or to support learning, we have to go wwwaaaayyy back to the beginning – to our content and our pedagogical knowledge. Get that right and the power of our technological knowledge suddenly becomes boundless.

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