From TPCK to TPECK… Learning as a Spherical Metaphor

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Human environments are not flat, they are not two dimensional. They are not just three dimensional either. And so, by extension, human experience is neither flat, nor just three dimensional either.

The world, the universe, surrounds us. It lies below us and above us. It stretches both back into the past and holds our hopes, dreams, and fears of the future.

This is what human environments are. What human experience is. What human learning is. And education must know this, or, it still educates, but it educates in ways destructive and cruel.

I did my graduate work in education at Michigan State University when it was “ground zero" for TPCK or TPACK — that supposed all-encompassing view of educational ecosystems — Technology, Pedagogy, and Content Knowledge as envisioned by Drs. Punya Mishra and Matt Koehler.

The very first time I heard TPCK explained, back in 2005 or 2006 in a course with Dr. Mishra, I challenged him on what was left out of his model — at that point, for me, “culture" stood out as this major open gap in the theory. Later, “contexts" began to appear in TPCK diagrams as a surrounding circle, but again, for me, the diagram fell short. “Context" is not a neutral surround, “context" is a dynamic that engulfs all of our attempts to change education, and we have the power to impact that.

Technology, Pedagogy, Environment, Culture, Knowledge

Let’s all understand each other. There is context and then there is context. In between bouts of trying to write this post I have read Eric Juli’s post on the murder of one of his children, and I have watched Brian Osborne dealing with the murder of one of his. And, of course, I have watched the NRA and Congressionally-sponsored slaughter of children in Broward County, Florida. The great context we live in, in these now semi-United States, is one of trauma imposed on so many of our children by what appears to be a society dominated by racism and inequity. That racism and inequity surround our schools, that in many ways these are, as much as nitrogen and oxygen, the air that we and our children breathe, must — if we are to be serious about our mission — force us to work against those forces every minute of every day, creating a protective surround that allows our children to grow strong enough to fight for their lives, their community, their nation, their planet.

You can do this. We can do this. But you cannot do this if we prioritize adult comfort and adult convenience. We cannot do this by going slowly because “change takes time.” We cannot do this moving just one thing at a time because “We can’t overwhelm teachers" (or principals or custodians or our lunch program or …).

TPECK is my attempt to describe the global view we need, the way to see a path to change everything. The way to see a path toward schools for children.

The sphere is made up of: Technology, and no not just what you mean by technology. Technology is everything that isn’t of the natural world. Your school schedule is technology, your calendar is technology, your building is technology your furniture, lighting, windows and windowsills are technology. So are your books and your blackboard/whiteboard are technology. Pedagogy, which is what school leaders and teachers personally contribute to the User Interface that confronts children each day. Whether your interface is user-friendly or not, fair or not, equitable or not, helpful or not, supportive or not, is largely our own choice. Please do not pretend this isn’t true. Environment, when you take all the technologies and add in the human interaction you create a Learning Environment. You may see separate disconnected facts, your teaching method is separate from the crappy uncomfortable furniture in most classrooms and both are separate from the bells and PA announcements, but understand that these are experienced as a whole. Imagine watching a very long movie — say something like Titanic which actually seemed longer on film than the original voyage — while sitting on a steel folding chair with periodic nonsensical announcements calling individuals to the ticket office. Right. Culture is the society you create and how your school interacts with the societies that surround you. It includes, obviously, the cultures that students bring to your school, but it must become a unique creation that embraces all. And Knowledge is that which children need to know. Not what you or your state or national government thinks they should know — that’s indoctrination which is very different — but what they need for their lives and their future. Knowledge is what you need to fit into the context of our children’s lives.

This global view demands change in every school across every domain. Honestly, our children have been waiting for this change forever, while we worry about adults instead. John Holt knew it in 1960. Neil Postman and Charly Weingartner knew it in 1969. John Dewey knew it in 1910. Hell, William Alcott knew it in 1839. If we are willing to face the fact that our schools inflict great damage all too often, we will act.

If we pretend otherwise, we will not.

Tomorrow, yes tomorrow, enter your school and look for the sphere that surrounds your children. Look for it. Listen for it. Feel for it.

Are you doing everything within your power to make that sphere what it should be?

If not, try explaining why you are not to the first child you meet.

  • Ira Socol