Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Teacher Knowledge & Technology Integration: Measuring the Immeasurable?

The more you know, the more you know you don't know. ~Aristotle

13 years ago, I was a newly-minted ESL teacher in a beautiful primary school by the sea in Kunak, Sabah, Malaysia. I was young, enthusiastic and eager - but I was also naive, clueless and inexperienced. I couldn't wait to apply everything that I learned from my years of education at the teachers' training college in my classroom. I wanted to teach, I wanted to touch hearts, I wanted to change my students' lives.

One of the areas that I'm super passionate about is technology integration in the language classroom. I'm not much of a tech-geek, but I do love experimenting with different types of tools and softwares to enhance pupils' engagement and increase their motivations to learn. But it was hard. Harder than I thought.

Looking back, I think I managed to apply only a fraction of what I learned about technology integration and language learning from my pre-service training. My teacher education was of course useful; it provided the foundation that I needed to start off properly. But as an in-service teacher, I had to continue developing my craft by un-learning and re-learning a lot of things. I attended lots of teacher trainings, seminars, and conferences on educational technology. I learned from books, from the Internet, and from conversations with my colleagues. But most of all, I learned from experiences - through countless experiments, trials and errors, success and failures, fixes and mistakes.

Throughout the years, I have formed my own belief system, my own principles, my own epistemology about educational technology and language pedagogy. I have developed my teacher knowledge on the subject. And this knowledge is not static. It is dynamic and ever-changing. My knowledge grows and evolves as I learn more things, and as I move from one school to another, from one context to another.

But throughout the years, I have given very little thought on how all the knowledge that I acquired through the many professional development activities and self-directed learning that I engaged in were mobilised and transferred to my professional practice in the classroom. How can I best describe the construction of my teacher knowledge? What happened in the transition process, between the learning and the actual practice? Would understanding of the affordances and constraints of technology use in language teaching help me learn how I learn as a teacher, and thus inform me about the types of professional development best suited for me?

I believe this is an area worthy of further reflections and explorations.

Learning to Know, Knowing to Learn

Teacher knowledge is a research area under the overarching field of teacher cognition. Borg (2003, 2005, 2015) defined teacher cognition as teachers thinking, knowledge and beliefs; and how they are related to practices in the classroom. The impetus for research on teacher cognition is the notion that teachers play an important role in determining what is going on in the classroom as active and thinking decision-makers (Borg, 2015). Borg also asserted that understanding of teacher cognition is central to the process of understanding teaching.

The term 'teacher knowledge' emerged in the 1980's, especially through the seminal work of Shulman (1986) on pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). Shulman described PCK as "the blending of content and pedagogy into an understanding of how particular topics, problems, or issues are organised, represented, and adapted to the diverse interests and abilities of learners, and presented for instructions" (p. 8). According to Borg, Shulman's PCK had the largest impact on scholarships and research on teacher cognition, displacing the term 'teacher thinking' and remains the dominant concept today.

Teacher Knowledge and Technology Integration

One of the most recent contributions to the field of teacher knowledge is Mishra & Koehler’s (2006) technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK) framework, which was referred to as a “model of technology integration in teaching and learning” (p. 1029). The TPACK framework incorporates a technological knowledge domain into Shulman’s (1986) concept of PCK. It describes the interplay among knowledge of pedagogy, content and knowledge as crucial for meaningful technology integration in the classroom.

Mishra & Koehler argued that technology, pedagogy, and content “exist in a state of dynamic equilibrium” and that productive technology integration needs to consider the three domains “not in isolation, but rather within the complex relationships in the system” (p. 1029). They proposed the adoption of the TPACK framework in restructuring professional development to help teachers develop “nuanced understandings” of the dynamic equilibrium among technology, pedagogy and content which is essential for meaningful technology integration in the classroom (p. 1030).

According to Mishra & Koehler, the traditional methods of training for technology integration such as workshops and courses are no longer pertinent in helping teachers become “intelligent users of technology for pedagogy” (p. 1032). They listed factors such as “the rapid rate of technology change,” “inappropriate design of software,” “the situated nature of learning” and “an emphasis on what, not how” as the reasons why “competencies and checklists of things that teachers need to know is inherently problematic,” and therefore should no longer be applied in technology integration training for teachers (pp. 1032-1033). Mishra & Koehler advocated the ‘learning-technology-by-design’ approach which adopts the TPACK framework in technology integration professional development for teachers. This approach enables teachers to be engaged in “authentic design activities around education technology” which “compelled them to seriously study the complex relationships between technology and education” (p. 1038).

Technology, pedagogy and content exist in a state of dynamic equilibrium (Mishra & Koehler, 2006)

Measuring the Immeasurable?

The TPACK framework has emerged as a representation of the knowledge required for contextually authentic and pedagogically appropriate technology integration in education (Abbit, 2011), and has had a significant impact on research and practices in the field (Cavanagh & Koehler, 2013). However, this framework is not without criticisms. Perhaps the biggest discussion surrounding the TPACK framework is associated with the way TPACK should be conceptualised and measured. Abbit (2011) reported to have reviewed more than 300 unique publications which included journal articles and conference proceedings on the topic. Yet, as pointed out by Brantley-Dias & Ertmer (2013), this large body of work do not seem to be able to offer “a simple, precise definition of the TPACK framework” or “a robust way to measure it” (p. 104).

It is important to note that the concept of TPACK originally introduced by Mishra & Koehler (2006) mentioned no reference to any form of measurement or the importance of it. Fisser et al (2015) suggested that “the desire to measure whether teachers have sufficient TPACK and whether growth in TPACK can be measured” emerged after the framework has been adopted by many researchers and practitioners (p. 3). A lot of studies have measured the TPACK of both pre-service and in-service teachers through self-assessment surveys, classroom observations, and assessment of artifacts, among others (Abbit, 2011; Fisser et al, 2015; Cavanagh & Koehler, 2013). The choice of instruments and methods of measurements were largely influenced by the way the TPACK framework was viewed by the researchers, i.e. as a technology enhancement of Shulman’s (1986) PCK, as the separate development of the different components and intersections of the domains in the framework, and the TPACK framework as an integrated body of knowledge that can be developed and assessed as a whole (Fisser et al, 2015).

To address these challenges to the TPACK framework, I propose that we return to the original concept of framework posited by Mishra & Koehler (2006). Throughout their paper, Mishra & Koehler were consistent in establishing TPACK as the interplay, or “dynamic equilibrium” among technological, pedagogical and content knowledge. Brantley-Dias & Ertmer (2013) argued that “TPACK takes the concept of technology integration and packages it as a framework that is much too big (i.e., one that embodies seven distinct knowledge types) while simultaneously making it too small by dividing the “package” into so many pieces that they have become impossible to distinguish from one another (e.g., TK vs. TCK)” (p. 104). However, referring back to Mishra & Koehler’s (2006) original proposition, it was maintained from the very beginning that “viewing any of these components in isolation from the others represents a real disservice to good teaching” (Mishra & Koehler, 2006, p. 1030). Although Mishra & Koehler did provide descriptions for the separate knowledge domains and their intersections, they were quite clear in their stance that for technology integration in education to be meaningful, all the three domains of technology, pedagogy and content should be considered as a unified yet dynamic whole rather than separately as distinguishable small pieces (Brantley-Dias & Ertmer, 2013).

Focus on Development: Narrative Inquiry of Teacher Knowledge

As pointed out by Fisser et al (2015), the desire to measure TPACK emerged after the framework has gained popularity and prominence in the field of educational technology. The original intention of the TPACK framework as proposed by Mishra & Koehler (2006) was to “transform the conceptualisation and the practice of teacher education, teacher training, and teachers’ professional development” (p. 1019), and not as a framework to measure teacher knowledge. In fact, in explaining the learning-technology-by-design approach which has led to the original conceptualisation of TPACK, Mishra & Koehler put great emphasis on the development of teachers’ learning experiences in contextualised setting, rather than the measurement of their knowledge. For example, in describing the case study of the design teams, data collected through progress reports, group postings, e-mail interviews, reflection papers and artifacts were “reviewed to identify emerging themes and develop a narrative of the development of the online course” (p. 1041). The data collection process was also described as “iterative” and “continually revisited” (p. 1041), and these are more consistent with the concept of narrative inquiry of teacher knowledge (Borg, 2015; Clandinin & Connelly, 2000), rather than numerical measurement of teacher knowledge.

Clandinin & Connelly (2000) described narrative inquiry as “a way of understanding experience” (p. 20). Change is central in narrative inquiry, and certainty is not a goal (p. 9). Clandinin & Connelly argued that change is important because change is what leads to continuity. Narrative inquiry is interested in not just what is happening at the current moment, but also in the past and in the ensuing future. Clandinin & Connelly asserted that continuity results because people improvise and adapt, i.e. they learn (p. 7). In other words, change is a clear indication that learning occurs. It is a sign of development.

Analysis of research in the field has characterised teacher knowledge as personal, practical, tacit, systematic, and dynamic (Borg, 2015). Teacher knowledge is not a static, stable trait. It is constantly evolving and ever-changing. Adopting any types of measurements on TPACK reduces it to Thorndike’s “measurement-oriented” idea of “a science education based on observation and numerical representation of behaviour” (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. 22). Given the progressive nature of teacher knowledge as pointed out by the various research, I would argue that examination of TPACK should be focused on continuing development of teacher knowledge rather than on temporal, causality-based measurement.

(Check out my previous posts on narrative inquiry here and here).

Development versus Measurement?

Well, for now, these are just initial thoughts. Hopefully in my next post I can explain in more detail why I believe that the analysis of knowledge development through teachers’ narrative studies is more appropriate than adopting any form of numerical measurements when examining the acquisition of TPACK and its relationships with classroom practices.

Till the next post! -ccj, 7.13am, Cambridge


Abbitt, J. T. (2011). Measuring Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge in Preservice Teacher Education: A Review of Current Methods and Instruments. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 43(4), 281–300.

Borg, S. (2015). Teacher Cognition and Language Education. London New Dehli New Xork Sydney: Bloomsbury Academic.

Brantley-Dias, L., & Ertmer, P. A. (2013). Goldilocks and TPACK: Is the Construct ‘Just Right?’ Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 46(2), 103–128.

Cavanagh, R. F., & Koehler, M. J. (2013). A Turn toward Specifying Validity Criteria in the Measurement of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK). Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 46(2), 129–148.

Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (2000). Narrative Inquiry: Experience and Story in Qualitative Research. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey Bass.

Measuring and Assessing Tpack (Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge). (2015). In J. M. Spector, The SAGE Encyclopedia of Educational Technology. 2455 Teller Road, Thousand Oaks, California 91320: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A Framework for Teacher Knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017–1054.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...