Technology Frameworks for the Techie Teachers

As mentioned in a previous post, the TPACK framework provides comprehensive guidelines regarding how ideally pedagogy, content knowledge and technology should be interwoven for learning enhancement. However, after a quick review of the framework, I am certain that even basic content knowledge application and pedagogical skills are missing in Pakistan as a whole.

Shulman (Shulman, 1986, p. 4-14), through examples, has pointed out how destructive it can be to focus completely on either content knowledge or pedagogical skills and completely ignore the other one. Rather, the two go hand in hand and one cannot be implemented without the other. His statement “Those who can, do. Those who understand, teach” speaks volumes about how important it is to understand the art of teaching. I guess this is why progressive nations like Finland invest a lot in their teachers – because teaching requires a lot of expertise. In Pakistan, on the other hand, teaching remains an underrated profession. Teachers are hired without proper credentials, and with severe lack of knowledge of pedagogy – even in the flashiest private schools. There is a limited focus on content knowledge and no focus on pedagogy at all. Is it wise to introduce the third TPACK component (technology) at a point where the first two, especially pedagogy, are severely overlooked and downplayed? Most teachers are not even aware of age-appropriate milestones and yet branded Pakistani schools are bent on introducing technology at nursery level.

The TPACK framework emphasizes how important it is that the teacher should have subject knowledge for the grade level she is teaching. She should know multiple explanations for a concept and various activities that can be integrated into the presentation. As a pedagogical skill, she should have knowledge of various types of learning, so she knows which explanations she should provide and which techniques she should apply to accommodate different types of learners in her class. As an example, if she is teaching grade 4 fractions, she should know the logical sequence of presenting fractions, know how to integrate activities for higher level understanding and how to plan the activity and manage the class during the process. She should also know how to assess the concept during and at the end of the unit. However, how much of this procedure is actually implemented in Pakistani schools? Are different types of learners accommodated? Are explanations varied in order to clear confusions in the child’s mind? Are students being posed with open-ended questions, providing them with an opportunity to explore or are they still being treated as passive learners? Are the teachers basing their summative assessments on concepts or simply on the student’s ability to recall material? Unfortunately, it seems as if the answer to all these is a resounding no.

As I move onto the third component of TPACK, which is technology, I feel disheartened. Technology seems like a promising tool, but only if it is implemented through a proper content and pedagogical knowledge lens. Technology is a tool – however, most Pakistani schools and policymakers fail to realize that there has to be a strong content and pedagogical foundation present in order for this tool to be implemented. For example, as a chemistry teacher, if I lack pedagogical knowledge, how will I analyze features of two apps and see which one will assist my explanation of atomic models and which one will impede it? Is it necessary to use the tool in the first place? Will using the technology impede or assist my pedagogical goals? It is quite clear that the intricacies involved in interweaving content, pedagogical and technological knowledge require focus and expertise. Having said that, we still need to answer the million dollar question: Considering Pakistan’s educational landscape, where some of the core issues involve a lack of quality teachers, corporal punishment and lack of understanding of child psychology, should we be investing in technology or should we be focusing on improving learning environments and educating our educators in dealing with children? There are ICT integration policies but an observation shows that there is rarely any implementation. There are schools in rural areas which may not even have an internet connection. Technology will probably prove to be an impedance in such areas rather than an asset. I would suggest that the focus in such areas should be training teachers in more traditional tools, with a focus on content mastery and pedagogy, and invest in improving infrastructures and make a learning environments child-friendly.

A glance at UNESCO’s ICT Competency framework for teachers (2007)

unesco 1
Levels of the UNESCO Technology Framework

reveals that its main focus is on increasing technology literacy amongst students, helping students develop an in-depth analysis of real-world problems through ICT integration and creating new knowledge. It seems that this document is general and does not really cover those countries which are suffering from issues worse than not having access to technology, as outlined above. UNESCO terms this as an educational reform, but it seems as if it is only for those countries that have already provided access to basic education to the majority of its citizens through traditional means and are using their educational funds honestly. Another framework by UNESCO (2007) speaks about distance education program as a means of providing easy access to education, but is that really possible in Pakistan, where there is hardly any internet connectivity in far-flung areas and the majority of Pakistanis are on or below the poverty line?

The Technology Integration Framework from Florida defines a matrix tool which describes five interdependent characteristics of meaningful learning environments— active, constructive, goal-directed, authentic, and collaborative (adapted from Jonassen, Howland, Moore, & Marra, 2003)—and associates each characteristic with five levels of technology integration: entry, adoption, adaptation, infusion, and transformation. Together, they create a matrix of 25 cells. MatrixArrowCells-V6C-WhiteTopThis matrix gives schools a foundation for organizing technology-related professional development and a common vocabulary regarding technology integration. Videos are linked to these cells which provide concrete examples of technology integration in classrooms, thus providing training opportunities for teachers. Unfortunately, such an implementation, even if it was possible in Pakistan, would be met with resistance especially by the plethora of government school teachers, who have passed the age of 40, and become cautious when change is recommended.

In spite of the painful condition of Pakistan’s educational demographics, these frameworks do provide hope for enhancement in learning through technological intervention in general. I feel that Pakistan has to deal with more core issues before it can bring technology into the picture. We can, however, increase efforts of reaching out to teachers, offering honest advice, and provide opportunities for professional growth. Teachers can be helped out through programs which help them in understanding how they can make the best use of available resources, in the context of pedagogy. Professional education programs can be introduced to develop expertise in potential educationists, which target leadership, content mastery, pedagogical skills, and technology integration.

The elite schools, who can afford to bring technological interventions into the picture, should train their teachers in core pedagogical and content knowledge techniques and integrate technology into their lesson plans accordingly.

It is, however, interesting for techie teachers to understand and go through these very important frameworks (no matter where they are on the globe) before they start designing techie lesson plans. They are a huge help – believe me.

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