Action Knowledge: What Do Exemplary Teachers’ Do When They Integrate Technology?

complab_141294310By Jane Hunter.

New research drawn from a group of exemplary teachers’ knowledge of technology integration shines a light on what classrooms should look like right now and into the future in primary and secondary schools. Teachers in the ethnographic study had to satisfy a set of ‘purposive criteria’ to participate and they taught students in Stages 1-5 or 6-16 years old in NSW public schools.

The data found that four teachers known by the pseudonyms of Gabby, Gina, Nina and Kitty focussed their knowledge of technology integration in five ways: theory, creativity, making their students learning public, life preparation, and accommodating the particular contexts in which they taught. These classrooms were highly engaging learning spaces where students did not want to leave when the bell rang. Conducted in four phases over two years, the research involved classroom observations, teacher interviews, document analysis and focus groups with students from the teachers’ classes.

The knowledge conceptions that emerged from the data formed what is being termed ‘Action Knowledge’ or ‘AK’. Both the conceptions and underpinning themes of AK are useful for teachers when integrating technology and how they think about embedding it in teaching practice. The strategies and processes for technology integration practices are set out in the ‘High Possibility Classrooms’ or ‘HPC’ model. This research builds on the well-known technology framework of TPACK, or Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge developed from research conducted by Professors Punya Mishra and Mathew Koehler in the United States.

What Is The Model Of High Possibility Classrooms?
HPC is a theoretical model for technology integration in classrooms that details teacher actions when integrating technology in-practice, for-practice and of-practice. Knowledge domains of teachers work are not necessarily new. Indeed, it was Professor Emeritus Lee Shulman, an educational psychologist, who first wrote about the core knowledge domains of teachers’ work in the mid-1980s with descriptions of pedagogical content knowledge and subject matter knowledge; a special kind of knowing that effective teachers possess.

It was not until two decades later that another aspect of teacher’s knowledge work was added to when specific technology domains formed what Mishra & Koehler determined were relationships between content, pedagogy and technology, both in isolation and in pairs of knowledge; all three came together to form the TPACK framework. See Figure 1.


Mishra & Koehler, 2006

If superimposed on the TPACK framework, AK comprises the conceptions and themes in the HPC model that sits in particular classrooms or school learning contexts hovering over the seven dimensions of the TPACK framework in the manner featured in Figure 2.


Hunter, 2014


AK is practice that is understood and enacted by exemplary teachers in their knowledge of technology integration; it describes specific teaching strategies and students’ learning processes displayed in Figure 3 and in Table 1 below.


Hunter, 2013


Table 1 Hunter, 2013


What Technology Did Teachers And Students Use?
Technology used in the classrooms in the study was a broad mix of iPads, laptops, interactive whiteboards, desktop computers, digital cameras, microphones, SRNs, scanners and various iPhone apps; the classrooms were open spaces that had long bench seats and table groupings of students. There was no designated teacher space, instead the teachers preferred to move around the classroom and ‘work at the elbow’ of their students.

Looking More Closely At The HPC Model
Common to all teachers was an understanding of technology integration driven by theory. This first conception meant that teachers used technology to construct the learning environment and were highly conscious of learning theories like those of Dewey, Vygotsky, Bruner and Piaget. Integrating technology made their teaching practice more purposeful and it really helped to focus planning. Subject matter in curriculum documents was enriched and enabled students more opportunities to reflect on what they learned. Ideas of meta-cognition were key in theory; placing emphasis on students learning how to learn how to learn. Technology integration shifted conversations and thinking about the concepts students learned, and was highly effective in engaging students in authentic learning experiences.

Creativity, the second conception, was about providing opportunities for students to produce or make things, and in so doing the potential for ‘play’ occurred. ‘Thick play’ was something the teachers talked about – a bit like Seymour Papert’s ‘hard fun’. Written, audio recorded or filmed narratives produced in the classrooms were rich and imaginative. Such actions allowed specific learning values to come to the fore, in particular joy and fun, along with much easier differentiation or personalisation of the students’ learning.

The third conception, learning made public through technology integration, scaffolded the complex ways in which students learned. How and what students wrote about, or performed in a task, was often of higher quality than work recorded in a book or on paper. Private work had no audience, or perhaps only the teacher or parents were the audience. Outcomes for students in these classrooms were higher than for other students.

Life preparation, the fourth conception was defined by the way technology integration gave frequent opportunities to make connections to the real world; it gave students a ‘voice’ in their learning and developed a sense of ownership and responsibility. Interaction with technology in learning on a daily basis was the most effective means to prepare students for their lives beyond school.

The fifth conception, contextual accommodations, refers to a series of realities when using technology in classrooms; it was both a professional and personal responsibility for teachers. It meant they could give students longer blocks of learning time, students got into ‘flow’, and it nurtured a sense of community and was central to defining how they wanted their classrooms to function. Technology integration was a fundamental ‘game changer’.

Why Is The HPC Model As An Example Of Action Knowledge Significant?
Firstly, because the research is expressed as a collection of case studies of exemplary teachers’ knowledge of technology integration, where each serves as a motivational exemplar of what can be achieved using technology in today’s classrooms.

Secondly, the study is a clear response to persistent calls in education literature for more case studies of teachers’ practice in technology integration in both Australian and international contexts. Previous studies of technology integration have, for the main part, revolved around studies of graduate or experienced teachers’ contexts using particular technology devices, like laptops and desktop computers.

And thirdly, the study fills a noted gap in the research literatures, in what is known about knowledge of technology integration in practice from teachers’ perspectives. Therefore, together, this distinctive examination of data from a group of exemplary teachers’ knowledge of technology integration in Australian classrooms gives critical, fresh insights to what is now known.

Looking At HPC And The Teaching Standards For Australian Schools

The HPC model aligns with all three domains of teaching in the standards endorsed by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL), for example, in Professional Knowledge, the teachers in the study knew their students and how they liked to learn; they were directly responsive to this reality and technology integration supported their professional knowledge and its application in practice. Content in the curriculum was enhanced using technology and led to engaging teaching. This is the theory conception in the HPC model.

In the domain of Professional Practice, the teachers’ approaches to technology integration supported planning and implementation of effective teaching, and it enabled them to create highly supportive 21st Century learning environments. Using technology gave variety to their assessment strategies and reporting on what students learned. This domain corresponds to the HPC conceptions of creativity, public learning, and life preparation.

In the Professional Engagement domain of teaching, the fifth HPC conception of contextual accommodations draws attention to ongoing professional and personal learning, including asking schools and school systems to re-think school structures and how to engage professionally with colleagues, parents, and the broader community. 

Can All Schools Create HPC And Where Must Schools Go Now?

In essence, schools can create HPC for all students and many of the HPC conceptions are present in teachers’ practices right now. However, teachers’ actions when embedding technology must go further. The idea of ‘re-tooling education in schools’, considered through a lens of AK drawn from cases studies of particular teachers’ knowledge of technology integration, enhances important principles of what many teachers and school leaders understand is highly effective learning.

The act of ‘re-tooling’ using the HPC conceptions of theory, creativity, public learning, life preparation, and contextual accommodations offers a much needed model for action in school education.

In March 2015, Routledge will publish the four case studies in a book titled: Technology Integration and High Possibility Classrooms. The work of Australian teachers Gabby, Gina, Nina and Kitty, their students and the schools will feature on the world education stage.

In addition to the publication of this book, further work to map HPC to the AITSL standards is being conducted, including research with larger groups of mainstream teachers who are using the HPC model.


Jane Hunter, PhD. teaches in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney. She was a classroom teacher and education policy advisor. Now working in teacher education again, she specialises in pedagogy, curriculum and technology enriched instruction. Her Twitter handle is @janehunter01


Hunter, J.L. (2013). Exploring technology integration in teachers’ classrooms in NSW public schools. Unpublished PhD dissertation. University of Western Sydney 

Hunter, J.L. (2014). High Possibility Classrooms: Technology Integration in Action. In M. Searson & M. Ochoa(Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2014 (pp. 1850-1856). Chesapeake, VA: AACE

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054.


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