the obligatory textbook post

This post is in response to Apple’s textbook announcement.

When I was in Year 9, American History was a compulsory subject, being Australian in Australian school, American History  wasn’t relevant to me and I coasted through as best I could. Subsequently my knowledge of American History is extremely poor, it was a wasted year.  I don’t think my teacher was that interested in American History either, and I guess he was there for the same reason I was there, because we didn’t have a choice.

The thing I remember about the year was the standing joke about the class and the teacher. Each class started with an oral presentation by the teacher, which wasn’t that noteworthy or strange except that his presentation was almost word for word from the textbook. It was clear to everyone in class that the teacher knew very little about American History and simply read and committed to memory the corresponding section the night (or morning) before the class so he could regurgitate it to the class.

This teacher wasn’t a “bad teacher.” I attended a “good school” and this teacher was involved in leadership and later was promoted into school leadership positions. He was what many would call a “good teacher.”

But the textbook was a crutch, it limited the study of American History to something that was not relevant to anyone (including the teacher) in that classroom. The idea that any technology, in this case the textbook, is pedagogical neutral and that a “good teacher” can use any technology well, is rubbish. Technology dictates pedagogy, it dictates what the teacher and the students do.

Digital textbooks are a bad technology. They will limit teachers to pedagogy that is heavy on the transmission of content. They will limit the content explored to that of the textbook rather than being defined by learning needs and passions of the students. “Good teachers” will not be able to overcome the restrictions imposed by these textbooks. It is a fallacy that “good teachers” can effectively use technologies that are pedagogically inappropriate.

My hope is that schools and teachers will look past the marketing hype and see Apple’s announcement for what it really is, a step backwards.

My hope that schools and teachers will invest in pedagogically transformative technologies, namely a laptop for every student.

The TPACK Framework is fundamentally flawed

Note: This post is in response to three TPACK sessions I have attended during the last six months. After each of the sessions I have been left with doubt about the usefulness of TPACK.  I’ve searched for criticisms of TPACK and they are difficult to find. It is a shame that does not provide links to them, hopefully this something will see in the future.

TPACK’s aim is to enable teachers “to identify the nature of knowledge required by teachers for technology integration in their teaching.” Overlooking the fact that integration is a particularly bad term for describing modern technology’s role in education, TPACK not only does not achieve its goal but it can’t help but cause further confusion about technology’s role and potential for learning and teaching.


The TPACK Framework is fundamentally flawed.

1. There is absolutely no difference between Pedagogical Knowledge and Technological Pedagogical Knowledge.

2. There is absolutely no difference between Content Knowledge and Technological Cotent Knowledge.

3. There is absolutely no reason for Technology to be included as a “primary form of knowledge.”

4. While Shulman’s orignal Pedagogical Content Knowledge model may have some use for understanding what teacher’s need to know about teaching and learning, the TPACK model does not. The TPACK model rather confuses, by separating technology from pedagogy. Shulman saw no reason to include technology knowledge, such as books and pencils to his framework, there is still no reason to do so. Shulman’s framework has apparently been championed by maths teachers, who traditionally use lots of technology, pens and paper, chalkboards, calculators and computers, yet they didn’t see a need to add technology to the framework.


In the 2006 paper, Mishra and Koehler describe technology as being not just modern technology but also chalkboards, books and presumably tables and chairs. So technological pedagogical knowledge presumably includes knowing the pedagogical differences between putting tables in groups as opposed to rows. So technoligical pedagogical knowledge includes when the teacher should sit on her chair, when she should sit on the floor or when she should walk amongst the students.

So if everything concrete is technology, what isn’t? Presumably understanding the steps and order in which students usually need to learn a concept, and the common misconceptions that student’s may have? What else? And how does separating knowledge about how concrete materials (and other technology) may assist students in this learning?

This division, pedagogical knowledge from technological pedagogical knowledge  is not a necessary and useful, but rather contrieved and confusing.


For example Mishra and Koehler, argue that for teachers of literacy that content knowledge about traditional literacy is somehow different from technological content because of ereaders and hyperlinks. I would argue that separating technical/digital literacy from traditional literacy offers nothing.  Teachers of literacy, media or any other subject that has been profoundly, or in any ways impacted by technology need to update their content knowledge regardless of whether changes are due to technology or not. Teachers who do not update their knowledge of the content of their domain of teaching are doing their students a disservice and providing them with a compromised education.

For the teacher of literacy, there is no difference between “knowing about” printed text genres and “knowing about” online text genres. No difference at all, for the purposes of the framework they are both content knowledge. Rather than acknowledging this, the TPACK model by segregating technology content knowledge from (presumably traditional and more worthy) content knowledge, waters down technology’s impact and gives teachers an out.

Further Mishra and Koehler, argue that there is a distinction between pedagogical knowledge and technological pedagogical content knowledge, there is not. One example they give is using Moodle to teach an online course and students giving a “me too” answers once a first student has given an answer. To address this the Mishra and Koehler share some “technological pedagogical knowledge,” and suggest using a feature of Moodle to hide answers from students until after they have posted.

“Technological pedagogical knowledge” is not any different from “pedagogical knowledge.”  Knowing how to encourage learning conversations online is no different from knowing how to encourage learning conversations in a physical classroom. Yes, different strategies are needed but they are both pedagogical strategies. Using features of Moodle to produce desired results is no different as far as pedagogical knowledge is concerned, from teachers individually and strategically encouraging students important insights gained during an activity with the whole class.

Pedagogical knowledge allows teachers to teach well, regardless of whether they are using technology or not.


But learning and teaching with technology is profoundly differently from learning and teaching without.

Yes, I agree that we need to find ways to encourage and increase both teachers knowledge about how to use technology and how to teach with technology. However, placing technology as a separate, especially pedagogically does not help, it harms and undervalues.

Those of us who see the transformative use of technology as fundamental to good learning and teaching, should be talking about good pedagogy not good technology pedagogy.


Update: I’ve written a follow up post in response to Punya’s comment below, you may want to read it as well: TPACK and the fallacy of integration, wicked problems and  protean technology


bring your own service?

Many argue for BYOD at schools so that their students can draconian restrictions put in place by over zealous IT staff, including not allowing students to install their own software, or over filtering the Internet. However, I think this position is flawed.

But it is not just locked down devices that can cause problems.

I haven’t been participating in the #change11 MOOC but I did sign up and I do receive the newsletter. Howard Rheingold is presenting this week but unfortunately the email newsletter didn’t contain this information until the day of the presentation. I check my emails at about 8AM each morning, two hours after the session had started so this information was of little use to me. Having decided to watch the presentation recording I browsed to course website, unfortunately information about the recording was not there, in fact it seems that none of the presentations for the past three weeks have been recorded.

Today, I discovered that George Siemens had tweeted the link for the recording to meeting, and that I had also missed a second live meeting with Howard, that for some reason was not included in the email newsletter.

I’m not sure why the change11 website doesn’t contain links to these recordings but it is pretty clear that Twitter is a better source of information than the course website or daily newsletter. Maybe the change11 website and newsletter is too locked down for George to easily contribute to it? Maybe twitter is just easier? Or maybe I’m the only one relying the newsletter?  Whatever the reason Twitter seems to be chosen communication tool instead of the official course tools.

[Update: the recordings page was fixed the next day and linked to in the next newsletter. The point about a single point (or person) of failure still holds true.]

Of course Twitter isn’t a foolproof system, I don’t follow George or Howard so I wouldn’t have received this information if I hadn’t gone looking for it but next time I’m interested in catching up with what is happening in the #change11 course, I’ll check the Twitter hashtag first.