As technology becomes an increasingly important tool for teaching and learning, a relatively new concept–focusing on how educators can effectively and effortlessly tailor technology to their instructional practices–is making its way into pre-service and in-service teacher education programs.

Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge, or TPACK, is the work of Punya Mishra and Matthew Koehler, both associate professors of educational technology in the College of Education at Michigan State University.

At the center of the concept is how those three knowledge areas–technological knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and content knowledge–interact with one another.

TPACK is achieved when those three forms of knowledge intersect, and Mishra and Koehler believe that true technology integration occurs when educators can understand and use those relationships fully.

The concept is built on Lee Shulman’s idea of Pedagogical Content Knowledge, which examines the relationship between what an educator knows, and how he or she then transfers that knowledge to students–using different teaching approaches when necessary–in ways the students will understand, even if the subject matter is quite complicated.

Instead of emphasizing either teacher subject knowledge or pedagogy in isolation, Pedagogical Content Knowledge recognizes that the intersection between the two is important. When examined, that relationship can reveal which teaching methods are most appropriate for the content–and how the content can be restructured for better transfer of information.

TPACK takes this concept of Pedagogical Content Knowledge one step further, blending technological knowledge into the mix.

During a November 2008 webinar with the International Society for Technology in Education’s Special Interest Group for Teacher Educators (SIGTE), Mishra and Koehler described the potential for technology’s impact in the classroom.

“Technology is often seen as a solution to all kinds of problems, and it’s sometimes not quite clear what the problems actually are,” Mishra said.

Simply including technology in a classroom doesn’t mean student learning will improve, he said. That depends on the teaching approaches used, in most cases. The technology employed and the way it’s used to teach must be linked.

Given the rapid rate of technological change, teachers can find it hard to keep up. Mishra and Koehler suggest that, rather than focusing on particular technologies, it’s more important for educators to focus on ways of thinking about how best to integrate technology.

Technology comes in many forms–some simple, like a compass, and some more advanced, like a GPS system. But both are examples of technology, Mishra said, because technology is something that makes it easier to complete a given task.

“Users often redefine technology,” Mishra said. “Technology isn’t something that will be used in just one way.”

For instance, he continued, eMail was not originally meant for people to send eMail messages to themselves, but many people now send eMail files, reminders, and quick notes to their own eMail addresses.