Speed limits and theoretical frameworks

Written by: Spencer Greenhalgh

Primary Source: Spencer Greenhalgh

Two of my colleagues, Josh Rosenberg and Punya Mishra, have recently blogged about the value of theories and frameworks, both using the technology integration framework TPACK as an example. I highly recommend both of their posts, and I’d like to spend a little time building on the conversation that they’ve started. In the 2006 Mishra & Koehler article that I (and 2000+ citations) consider to be perhaps the foundational work on TPACK, Punya and Matt describe theories and frameworks as

conceptual lenses through which to view the world [which] help us in identifying objects worthy of attention in the phenomena that we are studying, highlighting relevant issues and ignoring irrelevant ones

Implicit in this description is an admission that different frameworks are going to provide different lenses that identify, highlight, and ignore different objects of attention. This is inevitably going to lead to some discrepancies.Swiss Speed Limits

Let me highlight with an imperfect analogy. I lived in Switzerland for just over a year and, as a result, have a Swiss driver’s license and a fair amount of experience with driving in Switzerland. The Swiss have a pretty straightforward system of speed limits. For example, unless otherwise marked, you can assume that the autoroute has a speed limit of 120 kilometers per hour. This isn’t a totally foreign concept for Americans: When Kathryn and I used to make the drive from Provo to Los Angeles, I could usually assume the speed limit was 75 miles per hour unless marked otherwise. These speeds are roughly equivalent, but if you do the math, they aren’t equal: 120 kph equals 74.56 mph. Now, anyone with a passing familiarity with the metric system and a basic grasp of arithmetic would (rightly) tell you that this isn’t a big deal.

However, this started to get weird the first time that I drove in Canada, a few years after my time in Switzerland. I was driving an American rental car (with a speedometer in mph) in Canada (with speed limits in kph), so my lenses were getting a little bit skewed. While there were some kph indicators on the inner ring of the speedometer, I still found that sticking to the letter of the law required me to hold my speedometer’s needle at values that didn’t line up with a number ending in 5 or 0. Maybe it’s just a human bias for round numbers, but that bothered me more than it should have. Even though the two numbers are functionally equivalent and have the same goal in mind (ensuring safe speeds for certain environments), they’re just off enough that a number in one lens doesn’t make sense through the other.

So it is (or so I imagine) with competing frameworks. When we use TPACK as our lens through which to view the world, we’re going to put things in “round numbers”: terms that make sense in the terms of the TPACK framework. An alternative framework might notice many of the same things and even come to some similar conclusions, but the findings are going to be just different enough to be weird for someone used to the first framework. This isn’t necessarily a problem — 75mph and 120kph (presumably) do equally good jobs of keeping people safe on the highway — but it’s something to be aware of when looking through different lenses.


Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 106, 1017-1054.

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Hi there! My name is Spencer Greenhalgh, and I am a student in the Educational Psychology and Educational Technology doctoral program at Michigan State University. I came to Michigan State University with a strong belief in the importance of an education grounded in the humanities. As an undergraduate, I studied French and political science and worked as a teaching assistant in both fields. After graduation, I taught French, debate, and keyboarding in a Utah private school before coming to MSU, where I plan to study how technology can be used to help students connect the humanities with their lives. I have a particular interest in the use of games and simulations to promote ethical reasoning and explore moral dilemmas, but am eager to study any technology that can help students see the relevance of studying language, culture, history, and government.