SAMR as a tech (dis)integration model

Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition (SAMR)

The SAMR model, proposed by Puentedura in 2010, invites educators to reflect on the impact of specific technology uses in the classroom. Back in November, I reflected on its features and compared SAMR to other technology integration models.

As I considered the instructional challenges of a new Theory of Knowledge unit, I was struck by a curiosity: who came first? SAMR or the plethora of apps we use today? Was Puentedura responding to a barrage of tech for tech’s sake, or was he anticipating it?

I suspect analyzing the timeline above (and its glaring omissions) might give some insight into the answer to this question, perhaps labeling it as a false dichotomy. Could it be both?

The iPhone (2007), SMART boards (1991), Macbooks (2006) are all pieces of physical technology that found their way into schools by the time of Puentedura’s model release. Accompanying software like iMovie (first developed in 1999, and loaded into Macintosh computers) and MS Office (1985) were commonplace when I began teaching at the American School of Rio de Janeiro in 2006, and I suspect in many other international schools and in the North American system. As such, Puentedura could have been responding to the aimless use of these types of physical technology and pre-loaded software.

The penetration of the internet at the time of the release of the SAMR model was 72% (compared to 76% in 2017. What seems to have changed is the education start-up environment. Many of the hallmark apps we use today, like Google Drive and SeeSaw being released after Puentedura. It looks like the SAMR stood the test of time, and is equally applicable to old, physical technology, as well as new, digital tools.

Using SAMR to remove technology

At a job interview, I was asked about how I integrate technology in the classroom. I shared a couple of examples and my own ‘model’ if you will. I then added that I often consider the ‘removal’ of technology, reflecting on the instructional challenges it addresses and if the challenge really exists. If it’s not transforming the learning, why bother?

But because technology is now so ubiquitous in the classroom, students might fall into a trap: using it because it’s there, and not because it’s needed. That’s when I think the SAMR model can be used to remove technology. Consider this example from my IB DP Biology classes.

A doctor’s handwriting

As an IB assistant examiner, I would often come across some atrocious handwriting. There is a 1/1000 chance spelling will compromise a mark in a candidate response (‘nucleus’ instead of ‘nucleolus’ kind of stuff). But it’s not possible to award marks based on what you think the student wrote from the context of the sentence. That happens more frequently. If you can’t read it, you can’t mark it.

I began to notice some of my students’ handwriting, and every class of 20 would have 3 or 4 students that would probably write ‘paracetamol’ in an equally illegible manner. “If you want to become a doctor, you’re almost there. You already have the handwriting for it”, I would joke with them. My wife, an Occupational Therapist, attributes the issue to poor fine motor skill practice, which may be caused by kids using a laptop instead of pen and paper.

So, handwriting notes was the answer. But I wondered how I would sell the idea of putting laptops away to kids who didn’t have calligraphy issues. I needed to redefine notetaking entirely.

Enter Cornell notes. This notetaking system allowed students to organize their learning in a much more structured way than simply transcribing the contents of a whiteboard or what the teacher is saying. It encourages in-the-moment reflections on the learning taking place and is useful for all styles of classroom dynamics, not just teacher-led.

Cornell-style notes: more than just ‘copying down’ information. (Alexa Galloway // 2016)

The students would hold me accountable for producing a concept-driven statement at the start of the lesson (a hook) — so that they could title their notes. Some students created a system of symbols to bookmark ideas relevant to exams, labs, upcoming assessments, projects, and so on. We had shared symbols for “I don’t quite get this…yet” and “I’m confident I understand this”, which students could use to guide revision and to celebrate successes. In a 2-year program, they could go back to their notes and get a glimpse of how they felt when taking those notes. Some used it more consistently than others, but no one went back to laptops. As I see it, the removal of technology redefined how the class documented their learning. As such, the SAMR model works even when considering the removal of what it aimed to integrate.

Unintended consequences

Several wonderful things happened as a result. At the same time, this happened, I also became interested in the physical space of my classroom and the removal of barriers. I had a lab bench between the whiteboard and the students, which I asked to be moved to the side of the room. Who needs a physical barrier in the front of the room?

WIth laptops closed if they were not in use, it was like working in an open-plan office instead of cubicles. Everyone could see each other’s faces. You know when you call someone that is looking at a laptop, and their head begins to move towards you but their eyes are still stuck on the screen? The classroom became a bit more human.

The artists in the room flourished. So much color in the notes. And at the simplest suggestion of a sketching routine, I was guaranteed at least one of these:

Not just removing a ‘substitution’

Students can use a physical dictionary or calculator instead of a dictionary in their laptops (or a voice-controlled personal assistant like Siri). In these cases, however, all that is happening is the removal of technology acting as a direct tool substitute. As we become experts in technology integration, we must continue to ask if we can redefine learning by removing as well introducing digital tools.


One thought on “SAMR as a tech (dis)integration model

  1. Hi Luiz! What came first, the chicken or the egg?!? The SAMR or the tools?!? Thanks for putting together your edtech and SAMR timeline, it is a nice piece of documentation that connects that helps to answer your question. The old adage of removing tech if it is not transforming the learning rings true for me, unfortunately edtech has become commonplace in our schools and is often not utilized for its true purpose..
    Thanks for sharing.

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