A SAMR deep dive: Deconstructing SAMR with examples

Technology can help us do things in the classroom that were previously inconceivable. Here, we examine two activities through the lens of the SAMR model. (Flickr / US Department of Education)

Technology can help us do things in the classroom that were previously inconceivable. Here, we examine two activities through the lens of the SAMR model. (Flickr / US Department of Education)

When I first learned of the SAMR tech integration model, it was like fireworks went off in the background.

I was at a technology conference. I had been using technology in the classroom for a few years but had no framework for implementing it well.

SAMR opened my eyes to the meaningful, intentional use of technology. The concept, developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura, allows teachers to identify their integration in four categories:

  • Substitution: Tech acts as a direct tool substitute, with no functional change
  • Augmentation: Tech acts as a direct tool substitute, with functional improvement
  • Modification: Tech allows for significant task redesign
  • Redefinition: Tech allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable

After seeing it, I wrote a post about what SAMR is, referring to it as a ladder. Later, I gave SAMR a second thought and realized it’s not as simple as climbing a ladder. My most recent post about SAMR offers 10 ways to reach SAMR’s redefinition level, where learning ideas are new, created by the unique abilities of the technology.

What’s hard about SAMR for many who learn about it is seeing an activity progress through all four levels. That process can help them see SAMR for what it is and help them own it to improve their own teaching.

With that in mind, Noah Geisel — the 2013 ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year — and I chatted recently about SAMR. We took two classroom activities — a virtual cultural exchange and annotating articles online with Diigo — through all the SAMR steps. 

You can see our Google Hangout conversation in the video below:

The idea was inspired by this great post, “Putting Activities Through the SAMR Exercise,” by Siliva Tolisano of the Langwitches blog.

The two classroom activities follow, but one takeaway that Noah and I both had is worth mentioning first. We’ve noticed that many teachers — ourselves included — have been nervous to talk about how and where we categorize activities on the SAMR framework. We’re just like our students — afraid to get the wrong answer and to be discovered in the wrong!

What SAMR is really about, though, is finding ways to make learning deeper and more relevant in the classroom. As Noah said, there’s room for subjectivity. There’s not always a single SAMR classification, and one person’s “modification” may be another person’s “redefinition.”

As with many things in education, the discussion process is key and can open your eyes and improve your instruction. (In fact, Noah opened my eyes to how one of my “redefinition” activities might only be at modification and how it could go deeper. It was a great learning experience for me!)

ACTIVITY 1 — Virtual cultural exchange

Summary: Students from different countries meet weekly on a video chat service like Skype or Google Hangouts. They take turns conversing in each other’s native languages, offering suggestions for improvement. Later, they write each other questions and answer them in the different languages.

Substitution: The basic idea of this activity is a conversation — exchanging ideas. That process, when done with a direct tech substitute with no functional improvement, could be a basic phone call (only voices) or traditional pen pals.

Augmentation: The simple exchanging of ideas could be augmented — a tech substitute with some functional improvement — by adding video chat. In this scenario, students can see each other’s facial expressions and unspoken cues, as well as interpret context clues. With pen pals, it could be improved with real-time communication in a shared Google Document.

Modification: To allow for significant task redesign, which the modification level requires, students could send questions back and forth to each other in a shared Google Document and discuss them in a video chat. That unique combination of suggestions and revisions in real time wouldn’t be possible by with sending letter or making a phone call. In this case, we have changed the task completely.

Redefinition: By adding a social media element — students becoming Facebook friends and staying in touch with each other frequently and long-term — the task becomes something that was previously inconceivable.

When discussing this virtual cultural exchange, Noah and I noted that the toughest jump in SAMR is from augmentation to modification. In substitution and augmentation, teachers are often plugging technology into activities they already do. Going to modification and redefinition often requires reinventing tasks completely, which is really hard.

ACTIVITY 2 — Diigo bookmarking

Summary: Students find and view articles online. Diigo allows them to make notes on the articles, highlight important passages and share commentary as if they were in a chat room, all from the article. They can share these articles and annotations with anyone online.

Substitution: The core idea of this task is highlighting and making notes on an article. Adding technology without changing the task would be to annotate on the article using a word processor. Students could simply add bookmarks using an online service like Diigo to reach substitution as well.

Augmentation: Augmentation adds some “functional improvement” and take the activity to the next level. In this bookmarking activity, students could move their word processor document to a Google Document and share it with others. When using Diigo, they could add tags to their articles to make finding them easier.

Modification: To create “significant task redesign,” students would go beyond just highlighting. They could engage in commentary within the article, creating a digital conversation they could never do before. They could also reach modification by accessing bookmarks from home while sick to stay with the conversation.

Redefinition: This task could be completely redefined by sharing these digital Diigo conversations with people all over the world. Students would be exposed to their unique cultural viewpoints and experiences, giving them a wider world view.

As I mentioned earlier, SAMR is just a tool to help teachers examine their technology usage. It’s not a multiple-choice test where there’s one right or wrong answer. I hope that you’ll use it as that — a conversation starter.

[reminder]What do you think of the SAMR classifications Noah and I did? On what points do you agree or disagree? How is your classification different?[/reminder]

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