Using the Literature to Support TPCK-based Professional Development Initiatives at WWS

Review of Literature

Students today have grown up with technology as an integral part of their life with over 10,000 hours playing video games, over 200,000 emails and instant messages sent and received; over 10,000 hours talking on digital cell phones; over 20,000 hours watching TV, over 500,000 commercials seen all before college (Prensky, 2001, p.1). They crave interactivity, but many times their learning environments can’t or don’t compete with their living environments. Researchers suggest that the extended focus on interactive, digital entertainment (in combination with a preference for fast-paced television) has created a strong preference for these styles of interaction and presentation. As a result, they are concerned that students may regard conventional methods of “non-interactive, show-and-tell” instruction as extremely boring and possibly even incompatible with the needs of a brain prepared to respond to various stimuli and a “different” way of presenting information (Prensky, 2001).

Are educators, arguably agents of change within districts, dialed into this reality? Have they resigned themselves to complacency with certain approaches of learning? Are there alternative ways that might be more engaging for students? What about for teachers? Have students’ interests and creativity lost their relevance within instructional environments? If students and teachers lose sight of education as a means to be productive members of society, then our nation’s future could be in serious trouble.

This certainly is more than just a technology or education issue as the ramifications have a global and economic impact as well. That being said, though, a student’s education serves as his/her foundation for the future and that holds significance for the future economy and globalization. If applied to school settings in which students are only using computers infrequently (e.g., once a week), then students competing for jobs and progressing through life, in general, would be at a disadvantage and are not truly being prepared for “real world” environments. Yet, K-12 education still does not have a universal plan to ensure students school environments resemble future work environments. Lankshear & Knobel (2006) support this in their discussion of mindsets when they mention how the world is being changed by people imagining and exploring how using new technologies can make the world (more) different from how it presently is (second mindset), rather than using new technologies to do familiar things in more ˜technologized ways (first mindset) (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006, p. 34).

Educational philosophers John Dewey and Jean Piaget promoted this concept of building on prior experiences in order to create new meanings. Dewey believed in a sound philosophy of experience-based education. He described a need to have teachers subscribe to a how to think rather than a what to think concept of learning. In a certain sense every experience should do something to prepare a person for later experiences of a deeper and more expansive quality “ that is the very meaning of growth, continuity, reconstruction of experience (Dewey, 1938/1998, p. 47). Similarly, Jean Piaget, a constructivist pioneer, envisioned a role for education to produce creative, inventive discoverers doing new things, not just repeating what others have done (Koohang & Harman, 2007, p. 417).

It is argued that todays students need to become the inventors and innovators of tomorrow – not just conformists who attempt to keep pace with their counterparts in the global economy. If not, then our nation risks having few students deemed capable of doing new things or even being able to think of ways in which to do things differently. America embraced the industrial revolution and reformed schools to reflect the ongoing change of that era; however, many schools today still reflect the model from that era. Unless we want to forget about educating Digital Natives until they grow up and do it themselves, we had better confront this issue¦and reconsider both our methodology and our content (Prensky, 2001, p. 3). While many have found it easy to support this position, they have found it equally difficult to change.

In the scope of educational technology, the development of twenty-first century skills and learning is being confronted. Often, it is under the framework of schools creating digital age, educational opportunities for students to improve higher-order, critical thinking, and sound reasoning skills; problem-solving abilities; global awareness; communication skills; information and visual literacy; scientific reasoning; productivity; and creativity (or combinations therein). However, the current model delivers a nineteenth century education system that cannot adequately prepare students to live, learn, and work in a global, digital age (Lemke & Coughlin, 1998, p. 2). While schools attempt to produce students who are workplace ready with twenty-first century skills, what are they doing to ensure this for teachers?

Carroll (2000) has found that technology can be used to improve education within the context of todays schools. What is missing, though, is the dialogue necessary to transform them to meet the needs of twenty-first century learners. By creating a new learning model, Carroll describes an environment where the roles of teachers and students blur to the point where it is difficult to distinguish who is teaching from whom is learning I believe that in the near future the places where children will learn are not going to look anything like the schools we have today, Carroll asserts. Education is rapidly moving toward new learning environments that will have no teachers or students “ just learners with different levels and areas of expertise collaboratively constructing new knowledge (Carroll, 2000, p. 126)

A twenty-first century model for education supports a constructivist learning approach. Constructivism encourages students to take ownership of the learning experience by building on their knowledge base and applying higher-order, critical thinking and sound reasoning skills to create new knowledge and meaning. Adding to the constructivist theory, Harris, Mishra, & Koehler (2009) have found that TPCK-based learning activity types help teachers successfully integrate technology into their practice by developing and applying integrated and interdependent understandings of technology, pedagogy, content, and context (Harris, Mishra, & Koehler, 2009, p. 395-396).

Prior to this, Shulman (1986) explored the relationship between pedagogy and content knowledge (PCK). Taking that philosophy a step further, the TPCK framework expects teachers to understand information technology broadly enough to apply it productively at work and in their everyday lives (Harris et al, 2009, p. 398). As a result, teachers would be required to develop this type of understanding and mastery of technology (aka twenty-first century skills) as well as attempt to adapt to changes in technology and evolve alongside of it.

A TPCK-based Professional Development Initiative at Westfield Washington Schools

This summer Westfield Washington Schools initiated a professional development program (TECK Institute) designed around the extrapolations of many of these frameworks. It included the use of new literacies (e.g., digital multimedia and web publishing/communication [learning] tools) in concert with the pedagogy and content knowledge of 22 participating teachers. They were selected based on their level of involvement (beyond their peers) with educational technology or through a recommendation from their principal. A final requirement was that at least one teacher from each grade level, building, and subject area was represented. In terms of digital natives and immigrants, there was a mix of both in the group.

Education often has struggled to keep pace with current, emerging, and/or changing technologies (in comparison to its corporate counterparts). While technologies used for the program may have been new for some, they certainly were not new technologies. Some responses from the groups online discussions included phrases such as exposed to something new, taken out of my comfort zone, stretching myself, wrapping my mind around the complexity of [insert technology application], and challenging process to describe the variety of project-based activities they experienced. While those responses primarily referenced the technological aspect, there may have been some who were challenged just the same with the pedagogical or content aspects of the program.

Educational research and practice is just as ever evolving as the technology being integrated into them. Lankshear & Knobel (2006) have found this to be true, especially in terms of how various new literacies are experienced by students. Unless and until we can do this (see how new literacies are experienced) as educators we have no effective base from which to even begin trying to envisage and develop pedagogical approaches that integrate new technologies into processes of taking learners from where they are to places we believe it will be good for them educationally to go (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006, p. 246). To this end, Harris et al (2009) have challenged us to continue to invent, revise, expand, update, test, and otherwise explore the ways in which we understand and help teachers to develop technological pedagogical content knowledge¦this can be best accomplished as a collaborative endeavor among content experts, educational technology developers, educational researchers, and pedagogical practitioners (Harris et al, 2009, p. 413).

This brings the discourse full circle with the need for educators to challenge themselves to become expert learners within content, pedagogy, and technology. After exposing teachers to a new model for professional development, Westfield Washington Schools now are addressing technological developments and training opportunities from a content and pedagogical knowledge framework. There are 22 teachers who now can use a common framework to mentor a colleague during the 2009-10 school year. Then, there can be 44 (and then 88¦176¦352¦and 704) teachers integrating this model of technology-based experiences and construction of knowledge into their practice.


Harris, J., Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2009). Teachers technological pedagogical content knowledge and learning activity types: Curriculum-based technology integration reframed. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 41(4), 393“416.

Carroll, T. (2000). If we didnt have the schools we have today, would we create the schools we have today? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 1(1), 117-140.

Dewey, J. (1998). Experience and education: The 60th anniversary edition. West Lafayette, IN: Kappa Delta Pi.

Koohang, A. & Harman, K. (Eds.). (2007). Learning objects and instructional design. Santa Rosa, CA: Informing Science Press. (pp. 407-436).

Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (2006). New literacies: Everyday practices & classroom learning (2nd ed.). New York: Open University Press.

Lemke, C. & Couglin, E. C. (1998). Technology in American schools: Seven dimensions for gauging progress. Santa Monica, CA: Milken Exchange on Education Technology.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On The Horizon, 9(5), 1-6.

Shulman, L. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4-14.