What is TPACK?

In the introduction to the recently published Handbook of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) for Educators, authors Matthew Koehler and Punya Mishra (2008) describe teaching with technology as a "wicked problem" (p. 3). Chances are, if you're reading this wiki, you understand exactly what Koehler and Mishra mean. It's a perfect description, isn't it? They note that "wicked problems" (Rittel & Webber, 1973) have incomplete, contradictory and changing requirements (p. 10). Solutions are difficult to find because the ground is effectively shifting even as the problem is presenting itself. Wicked problems evolve in social contexts that necessarily involve a complex, multifaceted and interconnected set of variables. Simple, linear solutions just don't work. Hmmm...does this sound something like a typical day in your classroom? Does it sound even more like a typical day in the computer lab?

TPCK is a framework for understanding the complexity of teaching with technology.

It builds on Shulman's (1986, 1987) descriptions of pedagogical content knowledge to include technology. As teachers, we understand intuitively the layers of complexity that technology adds to our work with students but the TPCK (also TPACK) framework makes these layers of complexity explicit. It captures the kinds of knowledge required for the effective integration of technology in the classroom. Here's what it looks like.

TPACK (retrieved April 21 from http://punya.educ.msu.edu/research/tpck/)

What do all of these kinds of knowledge mean? Here's a quick primer.

In the model, you can see there are three equally important kinds of knowledge represented - Technological Knowledge, Content Knowledge and Pedagogical Knowledge. The interactions between these three types of knowledge are also of equal importance. In the middle of it all is TPACK - Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge.

Content Knowledge: is the teacher's knowledge of the subject. It includes all of the concepts, ideas, theories, facts etc. of foundational importance to the subject area. In foreign language teaching, for instance, content knowledge would be the teacher's knowledge of the target language, its grammatical structure, its vocabulary, its pronunciation and of course, knowledge of the culture(s) in which the language is spoken. In science, content knowledge would include the scientific method. In geography, it would include knowledge of topography, cartography, and climate change (Koehler & Mishra, 2008, p. 13).

Pedagogical Knowledge: is what you learned about in your teacher education program. It's the general knowledge teachers have about "how children learn" and "how to teach them to learn." It's the deep understanding that teachers develop of the overarching processes and practices of teaching and leanring. It requires an understanding of cognitive, social and developmental theories of learning (Koehler & Mishra, 2008, p. 14).

Pedagogical Content Knowledge: is knowing how to teach, assess and report on what you teach. It includes the teacher's knowledge of the "conditions that promote learning and the links among curriculum, assessment and pedagogy" (Koehler & Mishra, 2008, p. 14). It includes the teacher's deep knowledge of how students usually engage with the content and the knowledge of how to engage students differently so that they no longer hold misconceptions or get stuck. It includes the innovative and flexible range of methods teachers know how use to help students learn the content.

Technology Knowledge: is difficult to define since technology, itself, is always changing. Koehler & Mishra (2008, p. 15) suggest that technology knowledge (TK) is not simply knowing how to use computers, rather, it's a broader understanding of how to use a range of technologies to accomplish learning and work goals. Part of TK is also knowing when a technological application will be helpful and when it will not. Further, TK involves a certain mindset of flexibility and adaptation. When people have knowledge of technology in this way, they view it as something that evolves over time but that can be applied in different situations for different purposes.

Technological Content Knowledge: is the understanding of how technology and content influence and constrain one another (Koehler & Mishra, 2008, p. 16). TCK suggests that "teachers need to master more than the subject matter they teach, they must also have a deep understanding of the mannner in which the subject matter (or the kinds of representations that can be constructed) can be changed by the application of technology" (p. 16). When teachers have TCK, they know how and why a certain technological application will support (or enhance?) the learning objectives of the course. They also understand how technology can change the learning objectives.

Technological Pedagogical Knowledge: is an understanding of how teaching and learning change when particular technologies are used in the classroom (Koehler & Mishra, 2008, p. 16). It includes an understanding of the affordances and constraints of technologies for learning and is particularly important for teachers when they endeavor to use applications designed for business (such as spreadsheets) in ways that support student learning.

Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: is the understanding that emerges from the interaction of content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge and technology knowledge. Koehler & Mishra (2008, p. 17) argue that TPCK is the "basis of effective teaching with technology and requires an understanding of the representation of concepts using technology; pedagogical techniques that use technologies in effective ways to teach content; knowledge of what makes concepts difficult or easy to learn and how technology can help redress some of hte problems that students face; knowledge of students' prior knowledge and theories of epistemologies; and knowledge of how technologies can be used to build on existing knowledge and to develop new epistemologies or strengthen old ones." It's a sort of nirvana - the highest order of understanding that is greater than the sum of the parts. With TPCK, teachers are able to address each "wicked problem" because they are equipped with a deep understanding of how address its inherent complexities using technology.


Koehler, M.J. & Mishra, P. (2008). Introducing TPCK. In AACTE Committe on Innovation and Technology (Eds.), Handbook of technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPCK) for educators (pp. 3-29). New York: Routledge.

Rittel, H., & Webber, M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences, 4(2), 155-169.

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

Shulman, L.S. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57(1), 1-22.