going dark

I’m always fascinated when people declare that they are “going dark” for a while.

The inference is that they’ll be more productive that way, less distracted or maybe they’re doing something secret.  I don’t buy it, when I need to be “super productive” or am tackling a “wicked problem” or need to produce something of the “highest quality” that’s precisely when I need my network, that’s precisely when I need the benefits of discussion and ideas that only social media can offer.

And what about the benefits to the network? During these “super productive” times, doing “super important” thinking, wouldn’t not sharing these ideas and thoughts be letting down the network, robbing the network, breaking the network?  And wouldn’t the results of the work be that much better if instead of going dark the work was influenced and improved by others?

Me, I’m not going dark anytime soon, and I hope those in my network don’t either.

compromised access leads to failure

I’m really interested in project management software, and how authentic inquiry-based learning might be possible in schools if students adopted these types of workflows with their learning.

Asana, is one of the best. Founded by Dustin Moskovitz (Facebook co-founder) and Justin Rosenstein they want to create a service that is to your work life what facebook is to your social life.  I guess even for people like me that don’t use Facebook.

There is a great video here and while it is 50 minutes long, there are some really interesting things said in it.  Most of all why project management software fails. They contend that when project management software is too slow, too cumbersome, missing features, not always available, people will resort to low tech substitutes and therefore miss the benefits.

All this caused me to think that if we don’t allow students to have access to their own laptops at all times then trying to implementing technology rich ways of working will ultimately fail, and it won’t be the technologies fault.

TPACK and the fallacy of integration, wicked problems and protean technology

Note: This post is longer than I planned, sorry

I was a little surprised when Punya Mishra commented on my concerns about the TPACK Framework, and even more surprised with his comment that he mostly agreed with me. Punya suggested I read the handbook chapter on TPACK to get a better description of the technology issue I had raised.

So I did and here is my response.

Wicked Problems

The first argument for the worth of TPACK is that teaching with technology is so foreign and so difficult that it needs to be viewed as a wicked problem.

Personally I can’t see how teaching with technology is any more of a wicked problem, than teaching foundational mathematics with or without concrete materials. Forgetting for the moment that MAB blocks and bundles of icy pole sticks most likely fall into the technology category. Tellingly, Koehlar and Mishra also site medical diagnosis (I guess that seems wicked), decision making (huh?) and writing (hang on a second, this wicked definition is getting a bit weak now?). Its a shame that Hayes & Flowers’ paper “Identifying the organization of writing processes” isn’t available freely anywhere on the Internet so I can’t really be sure what makes writing a wicked problem, teaching with technology a wicked problem but teaching without technology not a wicked problem.

Instead let’s have a look at the other evidence that Koehler and Mishra give for this wicked problem suggestion.

“characterised by a complexity of concepts of cases with a wide variability of features across different cases”

So teaching with technology is a wicked problem because of the wide a variable nature of technology? In fact a short while later, Koehler and Mishra admit that while Mathematic seems highly structured, professional mathematician know it is not.  Mathematics is a wicked problem!

“teaching is akin to other real-world problems are ill structured”

Again, teaching is a wicked problem, even teaching with technology but wasn’t the fact that technology is a wicked problem the reason for Koehlar and Mishra adding technology to Shulman’s model?

“do not have correct or best known solutions”

Huh? This is especially confusing when we consider the definition they use for technology.

“as tools created by human knowledge of how to combine resources to produce desired products, solve problems, fulfill needs or satisfy wants”

So technology is created for solve a particular problem, if so how can understanding how to use it be a wicked problem? They give the example of a hammer to solve the problem of banging nails into a wall. They are argue that a hammer (old technology) is inherently different to PowerPoint (new technology) as old technology have limited uses and new digital technologies do not? The example they give is that PowerPoint can be used as a medium for artistic creativity and presumably a hammer cannot. Obviously the authors do not believe youths using hammers to smash up the the train station in the middle of night is artistic creativity? [Note: obviously finding creative and artistic ways people have used items such as hammers for creative purposes would not be hard, Pro Hart for instance]

This idea that teachers need different knowledge or specific frameworks to overcome the  “functional fixedness” of modern technology as opposed to the “functional fixedness” old technology is false. Using technology in creative ways and meaningful ways in teaching is no different to using any other technology “concrete materials” eg MAB, icy pole sticks, big books, counters in creative and meaningful ways.


Integration and Protean Technology

The second argument is that digital technologies are protean.

Now we get to one of the big dangers of TPACK, integration. What an evil concept integration is.  Why do Koehlar and Mishra argue we need to integrate modern technology into learning and teaching? Note: here we have switched from technology that is all encompassing to modern technology. Computers are in, pencils are now out.

“Traditional technology are characterised by specificity” while “digital technology are protean.”

While the computer or mobile devices might be protean, their individual applications are designed and used for a specific purpose, no different from how a pencil is used only for writing. The authors might at this stage remind how PowerPoint can be used to create presentations or be used for artistic creativity, I’ll remind them that a pencil can be used to write and to draw.

This is the major danger of TPACK and why it is so badly used and unfortunately used to justify anything. When we view digital technology as protean, we perpetuate the myth that the digital technology is pedagogically neutral.  It iss not the technology but it is how it is used, they says, in Koehlar and Mishra language, digital technology is protean and therefore different. But computers and other digital technologies aren’t used like that, when we used a digial technology we use them for a single purpose. Yes, we might switch back and forth, we call this multitasking, because we are performing multiple single tasks concurrently.


Technology is a wicked problem

The third argument is that technology needs to be integrated with pedagogy.

“to find the appropriate solutions to pedagogical problems”

If pedagogy is the science and art of teaching then technology is not best viewed as the solution to pedagogical problems,  but rather viewed as offering new pedagogical opportunities. When we limit digital technology to solving the pedagogical problems to those that we had prior to its invention, we deny its transformational possibilities. Maybe it would be easier for those to see the weakness in TPACK if pedagogy was more accurately called Traditional Pedagogy, and TPACK’s purpose was more accurately described as helping teaching integrate technology with traditional pedagogies.

Modern (digital) technology offers new profound new pedagogical opportunities, separating and integrating, modern technology with traditional pedagogical problems, results in a compromised education for our students. I do like Rittel and Webber’s approach to solving wicked problems, I just think viewing technology and pedagogy integration as a wicked problem or even a worthy problem is wrong. And treating it as such leads to compromised education for our students.


The TPCK Model

Yes, modern (digital) technology is in a state of flux but I disagree that technology is any more in a state of flux than content or pedagogy. When we see modern technology as profoundly transforming pedagogy then arguments that pedagogy is not in flux seem weak.  When we don’t see pedagogy in a state of flux, we miss the transformational opportunities that modern technologies offer. When we see the vast amounts of new content being created and uploaded to the Internet every second, we see that the arguments that content is not in a state of flux are weak.

The TPCK Model’s insistence that technology is separate to pedagogy and is harmful as it undervalues transformational potential of modern technology and celebrates compromised integration.


When seeking to understand technologies role in learning and teaching, we are much better to seek to understand how technology is transforming learning and what the new pedagogical opportunities. TPACK does not do this, it instead seeks to justify the integration of digital technologies with traditional pedagogies leading to missed opportunities and a compromised education for our students.