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Is integrating technology into learning in the school classroom a ‘wicked’ problem? March 6, 2011

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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From Jane Hunter

In this post Jane Hunter discusses TPACK, a framework which helps to explain how teachers can engage with technology in their classrooms in ways that promote ‘deep’ student learning.

It was more than 37 years ago when Rittel & Weber (1973) first argued that technology knowledge, pedagogy and content knowledge are three parts of a complex or ‘wicked problem’. Their argument built on their belief that wicked problems always occur in social contexts, in contrast to ‘tame’ problems (such as those in maths or chess, for example). In their notion of ‘wickedness’, these problems are incomplete, contradictory and have changing requirements.

Perhaps what is required is a way to confront this complexity around technology integration in a problem-seeking, problem solving manner by achieving a satisfactory solution that is ‘good enough’ given the circumstances. Teachers who reach satisfactory solutions when integrating technology in teaching are mindful of this. However, it is their knowledge of technology, pedagogy and content which leads to powerful forms of student learning that exceed ‘good enough’ solutions.

The three components technology, pedagogy and content are taken up in a relatively new framework or theoretical model … TPACK. Have you heard of it? At present it’s being talked about, referred to, further developed, and used to inform professional teaching standards in many national and international education contexts. At the Australian Academic Research in Education (AARE) Conference in Melbourne in early December 2010, and then at the Australian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ACSILITE) Conference a week later, a series of paper presentations referenced this model in a range of new studies. Technological pedagogical and content knowledge or TPACK combines the ‘knowledge components’ of pedagogy, content and technology – it was developed by Mishra & Koehler (2006). The framework builds on well-known work of Shulman (1986, 1987) and is a useful lens to build understanding of how teachers integrate technology into learning. TPACK is not a completely new approach, and other education scholars have argued that knowledge about technology is not context-free, and that good teaching requires an understanding of how technology relates to pedagogy and content.

In brief, the seven components in the TPACK framework are: i) Content knowledge (CK) – this is knowledge of the actual subject matter that is to be learned or taught. ii) Pedagogical knowledge (PK) – this is deep knowledge about the processes and practices or methods of teaching and learning, and encompasses educational purposes, values and aims. iii) Pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) – this is similar to Shulman’s idea of pedagogy that is applicable to the teaching of specific content. It refers to the core business of teaching, learning, curriculum, assessment and reporting, and the conditions that promote learning and the links between curriculum, assessment and pedagogy. The link below opens up a diagram of the TPACK framework.

Diagram of TPACK framework

iv) Technology knowledge (TK) – this refers to a fluency in information technology, and goes beyond computer literacy to when a teacher understands when technology can assist or impede the achievement of a goal. v) Technological content knowledge (TCK) – this has a deep historical relationship which explains content knowledge and the development of new technologies that enable the manipulation of data in novel and successful ways. vi)Technological pedagogical knowledge (TPK) – this is an understanding of how teaching and learning changes when particular technologies are used. vii) Technological pedagogical and content knowledge (TPACK) – this is an understanding that emerges from an interaction of content, pedagogy, and technology knowledge. It is truly meaningful and deeply skilled teaching with technology (see full detail in Mishra & Koehler, 2006, p.13-20).

In discussing TPACK, conceptual aspects represent ‘a class of knowledge’ that is central to teachers’ work with technology. This knowledge would not typically be held by technologically proficient subject matter experts, or by technologists who know little of the subject or of pedagogy, or by teachers who know little of that subject or about technology. What researchers like Mishra & Koehler (2006) argue is that there is no single technological solution that applies for every teacher, every course, or every view of teaching. What TPACK does is allow a teasing apart of key issues that are necessary for conceptualizing the integration of technology in learning. Developing a type of TPACK ‘disposition’ or ‘awareness’ in all teachers should be a critical goal of teacher preparation, and teacher professional learning for effective technology integration into teaching and learning in schools. Key parts of a solution to the ‘wicked problem’?


American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) Committee on Innovation and Technology (Ed) (2008) Handbook of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) for Educators. New York: Routledge. Mishra, P. and Koehler, M.J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A new framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record. Rittel, H. and Weber, 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. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: foundations of the new reform Harvard Education Review, 57(1), 1-22. See also http://punya.educ.msu.edu/ Words – 813

Jane Hunter is an academic in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia.


1. Peter Albion - March 12, 2011

Are you sure that “It was more than 37 years ago when Rittel & Weber (1973) first argued that technology knowledge, pedagogy and content knowledge are three parts of a complex or ‘wicked problem’.”? Mishra & Koehler certainly refer to Rittel & Weber but I don’t know that they or anybody else credit Rittel & Weber with the degree of prescience that you are suggesting. I started teaching in 1974 and I don’t recall too many of us thinking about TPACK, or any variation of that idea, around that time.

2. Jane Hunter - March 14, 2011

I agree. TPACK wasn’t really something educators were thinking about in the 70s, however Rittel & Weber (1973) were confounded by just how complex technology integration into learning seemed to be when they published their work back then. I believe they recognised the nature of technology knowledge, pedagogy and content knowledge was ever changing and teachers needed to be prepared to solve how to do it in their classrooms. What the recent work of TPACK (Mishra & Koehler, 2006) does is attempt to theorise the notion of these various ‘knowledge components’ in a new lens that builds on past work of a number of educators (especially that of Lee Shulman).

3. auntylee - May 5, 2011

I think the term horses for courses covers these ideas more succinctly.

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