SAMR Explained: Technology as a Spiced Pumpkin Latte

What will I gain by using new technology? Many teachers are faced with this question as they are encouraged to integrate new computer-based learning tools into their classrooms and curricula. Thanks to Dr. Ruben Puentedura, we have the SAMR model to help answer this question. SAMR, an acronym standing for substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition, is a continuum-based approach to effective technology integration. By now, you’ve probably seen it thrown around in various online education circles. Nevertheless, knowing what SAMR is and actually being able to apply the SAMR model to your own classroom instruction are two separate things. How can you come to understand both of them? Let’s start with coffee.

Tim Holt created a metaphor to explain what SAMR is in his Tumblr post SAMR Model and Starbucks Coffee. To illustrate the four stages of the SAMR model as mentioned above, Holt begins with a home-brewed cup of joe. This, he explains, is the “original, non-digital assignment.” It is something which can be created on your own with tools that you already possess. He uses Starbucks to illustrate the varying roles that technology can play in the context of SAMR. Substitution, Holt suggests, is forgoing “the cup of coffee at home for a cup of coffee at Starbucks.” Nothing changes about the coffee itself. You’re just choosing to get it from Starbucks.

Augmentation is ordering a Starbucks coffee with a little ice and cream added to it. While it was augmented with a couple of additional ingredients, it is still fundamentally a cup of coffee. In the SAMR model, these first two phases–substitution and augmentation–are categorized as enhancing instruction, or, in the case of our metaphor, coffee. By definition, substitution and augmentation are a great place to start our technology integration efforts, but it could be argued that, often, teachers disregard the effectiveness of educational technology because they are viewing it from the vantage point of substitution only. As with Bloom’s Taxonomy, rich learning experiences occur once students move higher up in the continuum.

“Moving higher up” refers to the modification and redefinition stages of SAMR integration. It is these two approaches that comprise the category labeled as transformation. Keeping with our Starbucks coffee metaphor, Holt writes “We want [Starbucks] to do something to that coffee that we could probably do, but it would be much more difficult than just a cup of coffee.” This analysis represents the modification stage of the SAMR model. Here, we use technology to redesign new parts of a task, something that we could possibly do, but would nevertheless require much more effort than if performed with the assistance of a technology-supported tool.

Finally, redefinition represents ordering something more along the lines of a Pumpkin Spiced Latte, a drink that only Starbucks can produce and one that they have “a trademark on the recipe” for. In other words, redefinition in the SAMR model of integration denotes learning enabled by technology that was previously unimaginable. Student created multimedia content is a good example of this.

Now, whether or not you drink coffee, knowing how to use the SAMR model in your own situation is essential for the idea to have meaning for you. But how is it done? Teachers familiar with the approach utilize it by asking appropriate questions that fall along the SAMR questions and transitions ladder.

“What will I gain by replacing older technology with new technology?” is a question essential to integrating technology into your classroom at the substitution level. “Have I added an improvement to the task process that could not be accomplished with older technology at the fundamental level?” transitions teachers from substitution to augmentation. “Does this modification fundamentally depend upon the new technology?” and, “How does this modification contribute to my design?” move us from augmentation to modification at which point we begin asking, “How is the new task uniquely made possible by the new technology?” It’s this final question which signals that we have arrived at the redefinition stage of SAMR.

Key to any technology integration effort is ensuring that a need has been identified for which a given technology can meet. As many enthusiastic 21st century teachers become aware, using a trendy new tool in the classroom because of its bells and whistles does not enhance or transform learning, but can actually have a negative effect on instruction. However, once the steps have been taken to introduce technology into the classroom, the SAMR model can serve as a scaffolded approach for beginning integrationists to use in their own planning and a calibrator for veterans searching for appropriate learning tools to use in theirs. Important to remember in your own technology integration plan is to not rush to the transformation level of SAMR before you’ve adequately enhanced instruction and learning. To do so would be like downing shots of espresso before acquiring a fundamental taste and basic appreciation for a simple cup of coffee.

 

 

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