Sharon Guan

Viewing Faculty-Development Programs through the Lens of the Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) Framework

The key word for technology integration in teaching and learning is “integration.” Integration means not to run the elements—technology, teaching strategies, and the subject matter—in isolation. The call for building an integrated model of three domains of knowledge has been made by both researchers and practitioners. In 2006, two scholars from Michigan State University, Punya Mishra and Matt Koehler, put all the pieces together and formulated a conceptual framework of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK), also known as TPACK (Technology, Pedagogy, and Content Knowledge). Their work was soon acknowledged by the Technology Committee of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), who decided to publish a monograph on TPCK and its application on various disciplines of teacher education.

As a member of the technology committee and one of the editors of the book, I consider my term with the AACTE tech committee the most productive period of my life: I not only mothered two children during this time, but also served as a nanny for the committee’s baby: the Handbook of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge for Educators.

While nurturing this baby, I felt myself grow with it, just as one can learn a zillion things in a very short time from being a mother. Since mothers do not have time for theory, let me give you a quick bullet-point summary of TPCK:


  1. TPCK(as shown in the graph above) is the intersection of three bodies of knowledge: technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge.
  2. It’s a level of competency at which a teacher will be able to teach the content knowledge (CK) using the right method (P) and with the right technology (T).
  3. There is interaction and interconnection between the three domains (changes in one section will affect the others).
  4. Teaching is a creative process of navigating through the TPCK landscape.
  5. TPCK calls for teacher education to be delivered through a combined model of T, P, and CK, instead of teaching each of them as single subject.

The power of a theory lies in the fact that it provides you with a lens through which you can have a dissected view of a phenomenon, seek reasons behind the facts, and search for better solutions. By plugging TPCK into my daily practice of faculty support and development, I was able to seek reasons behind a few phenomena, such as the following:
“We are overwhelmed!”
– Faculty dissatisfaction with the training program

A typical response we get in a faculty evaluation of a training program is that they are overwhelmed: too much technology, too much information—all to be absorbed in such a short time. (And honestly, they don’t have more time to give you!)

Using the TPCK model to view and analyze knowledge distribution within a faculty-development program, I see that each of the three domains is usually represented by three unique groups: faculty as content knowledge experts, instructional designers as pedagogical specialists, and technologists as the technology gurus.


The difference between TPCK for preservice teachers and TPCK for college faculty is that, for faculty, the content knowledge has already been well established, presumably not through a TPCK approach. Therefore, they need to acquire pedagogical and technological knowledge through some make-up programs, such as faculty development in teaching with technology, teaching-excellence seminars, and technology/course-design boot camps.

The other two groups, instructional designers and instructional technologist, on the other hand, have in-depth knowledge in the pedagogy and technology domains.To them, each of the domains—pedagogy and technology—constitutes a discipline by itself (or in some cases, one joint discipline of instructional technology). As Mishra and Koehler pointed out, each discipline has special forms of knowledge that are comprised of knowledge, methods, purpose, and forms of presentations. Like any other discipline, instructional design/instructional technology has its own “rules and regulations” as well as its own disciplinary thinking, which Gardner describes as “mental furniture” or the mold in which people think.

With good will and a strong motivation to help, specialists from the T and P groups have a higher goal of using the development program as an educational process to make the faculty group adopt the disciplinary thinking of their own domain. (A measurement of success at this point would be, “Have you changed your teaching philosophy to become a student-centered instructor?”) To make this happen, one has to bring in the whole discipline, including the knowledge, the methods, the purpose, and the forms of presentations. Now we are talking about knowledge domains, taxonomies, genres of educational philosophies, cognitive process, inventories of teaching styles, inventories of learning styles, and various instructional design models including both the classical and the newly invented ones. Have I missed anything? I’d better not because every construct serves as a base for another, and together, they formed our discipline of instructional technology—or half of it, since the technology part has not been brought in yet. Now imagine squeezing all of these into a few weeks of training (in a condensed format of course—with a reading list for more in-depth exploring). Cognitive overload? It surely will be.

The TPCK framework raised the importance of context and discipline sensitivity as well as the argument of teaching different disciplines differently. Mishra and Koehler cited Donald’s critique of content-neutral, simplistic one-size-fits-all educational strategies. This means faculty-development-program designers have to be extremely sensitive to the faculty’s discipline and tailor their support in a specific and concrete manner. Building a learning community is a great idea. Using blogs and wikis is cool, and collaborative, problem-based learning is a popular concept, but what if a faculty member is just trying to figure out a way to convey some concepts to his first programming class?

Fifteen years ago, a professor in my COBOL class explained the difference between hardware and software as such that “hardware is the male portion of the population that does the work, but it has to be told by the software, the female portion of the population.” It was a bold (and perhaps gender-biased) explanation, but an understanding of the two technical terms of hardware and software was achieved instantaneously and remained in one student’s mind till today. I see this as a good example of TPCK where a faculty member who has in-depth disciplinary knowledge of computer science deployed an effective teaching strategy—a simile to connect a new concept with student’s prior/common knowledge. (I doubt he had ever had a workshop on Schema Theory of Learning.) The technology was a blackboard. And guest what? It worked.

Now I feel like I should stop writing this blog post and get our staff together to redesign our own faculty-development programs. I will share with you more of my findings from viewing things through the lens of TPCK in a few weeks. Here is a heads-up of what I will discuss in my next blog post:

  • Is the course good enough?
    –the different views between a faculty member and an instructional designer
  • What if pedagogical knowledge is my content knowledge?
    –missing a leg in the T-P-CK tripod
  • Paradise
    –the ideal curriculum of a faculty-development program
Sharon Guan

About Sharon Guan

Sharon Guan is the Assistant Vice President of Faculty Instructional Technology Services (FITS). She has been working in the field of instructional technology for nearly 20 years. Her undergraduate major is international journalism and she has an M.A. and a Ph.D. in educational technology from Indiana State University. She has conducted research on interpersonal needs and communication preferences among distance learners (dissertation, 2000), problem-based learning, online collaboration, language instruction, interactive course design, and faculty development strategies. She also teaches Chinese at the Modern Language Department of DePaul, which allows her to practice what she preaches in terms of using technology and techniques to enhance teaching and learning.

3 thoughts on “Viewing Faculty-Development Programs through the Lens of the Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) Framework

  1. I was considering being overwhelmed but there is no time. I believe that we could offer something more productive for staff at my school if we started simply by setting up a forum for discussion-blogs, ning, whatever.
    We need to find ways to feel comfortable trying new technology and understanding the critical need to get moving. We have pedagogy amd content down but need to move in the direction of technology being in the hands of students learning and devouring information instead of a side dish.

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