Inherent problems with the conceptual understanding of SAMR

Image courtesy of Dr. Puentedura.

Image courtesy of Dr. Puentedura.

How many times have you been reading on social media and seen the acronym SMHL wondering what it stands for?  It means “shake my head laughing” and it is something I quietly do regularly at my job.  You see, I help teachers design their lessons in order to increase engagement.  While I am not laughing at anyone in particular or making fun of their lessons, I do silently chuckle at the misconceptions surrounding the SAMR model.

As a Technology Integrator, I have found that most educators are oriented more towards content than pedagogy.  They tend to think in a linear format with a warm-up to the lesson activating prior knowledge, a hook to get into what’s happening, and then a wrap up to assess that they’ve accomplished their task.  When you look at this objectively, it is pedagogical in its approach.  However, when it becomes so routine while the teacher focuses on content, the pedagogy loses its impact.  As a recourse, most educators immediately look for a set of instructions to follow to fix their now mundane teaching methods.  When they look at adding technology, they see the SAMR model and all the positive press it has received.  They latch onto it and run.  However, in most cases, they are running the wrong direction.

If you are not familiar with the model, Dr. Puentedura created a framework that defines four distinct ways in which students use technology to learn by.  Most educators fixate on the four levels forgetting that they are not necessarily hierarchical in nature.  The good doctor broke these into two categories: enhancement and transformation.  The model itself is nothing more than a description of the two categories.  It is not a manual for using the technology.

If a teacher is using technology at the Enhancement level (Substitution or Augmentation), they might as well not be using the technology at all.  This level has shown no improvement in understanding, learning, or engagement.  It is simply using technology for technologies sake.  However, in the transformational level, students start using creativity and problem solving skills not unlike those attached to the higher end of Bloom’s taxonomy.

Another inherent problem is that teachers see the four levels as action verbs of what to build a lesson around.   So, when they begin to design a lesson, they do so with the intent to substitute, augment, modify, or redefine their objectives with technology.  I have explained on more than one occasion that these four verbs are not teacher-centered.  So, the best the teacher can do is set up a briefing and then create a rubric that steers a student towards selecting the higher-end usage.  The choice is still the students and as teachers it is up to us to encourage and inspire them to take larger risks with the thought processes behind technology, not just the technology itself.  Anyone can push a button.  It’s the knowledge and wisdom of which button and why we push it that is the crux of learning.

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