Our world is ever changing. At the forefront of the change is technological advancement. This advancement is showing itself in every aspect of daily life: smartphones can pay for goods in brick-and-mortar stores, self-driving cars are appearing on our roads, and technology is entering our classroom. The use of technology in the classroom can be daunting to teachers who have never used it in an educational setting. Two models have been put forth to aid in this process. One model, TPACK, is a structural understanding of how an instructor’s knowledge of technology needs to be integrated into their educational framework. The second model, SAMR, is a model of the basic ways in which technology can be integrated into an educational environment.
TPACK is a framework for understanding knowledge integration. TPACK begins with three building blocks: content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and technological knowledge. For example, when I was learning chemistry and physics, I was learning what TPACK refers to as Content Knowledge, CK (Koehler, 2016). The TPACK framework does a valuable service to instructors in that it emphasizes the importance of not only understanding the course content, how to teach, and how to use technology. It points out the critical importance of merging all of that knowledge so that you properly utilize technology to provide the best learning environment and best learning outcomes for the students. The downside of the framework is that it provides no real guidance on how to use technology to maximize educational outcomes. It turns out that this drawback makes it less useful in an immediate, practical sense.
The SAMR Model
The SAMR model is more useful, in my opinion, for implementing technology into a classroom. The SAMR model emphasizes the roles that technology can fill in an educational environment. I happen to like the chart provided on the right that describes the SAMR model. Other versions of the diagram show the levels vertically as shown below.
We all use tools in our classrooms. If we replace those tools with technological tools that do the same thing we are simply substituting technology for non-technology. If that technology has some functional improvement then we are using the technology for augmentation. If the technology allows us to completely refine activities in our courses then we are modifying the course. Finally, if the new technology allows completely new tasks to be performed in addition to what was previously possible then we are redefining.
One of the biggest reasons that I prefer the diagram of the SAMR model shown above to the standard one shown to the left is also one of my chief problems with many of the proponents of the SAMR model. Bray, Oldham, and Tangney (2013) come to the following:
The interventions deemed most successful, according to the review, are those that are classified as being within the transformation space in the SAMR hierarchy, that is, those that achieve significant task redesign or the creation of new, previously inconceivable tasks, through appropriate use of technology. (p. 78)
From this, it would appear that using technology for modification or redefinition of classroom activities are the best. I don’t feel that is true. It has been my experience that all of these levels can be equally valuable. I have found that sometimes, a simple substitution can dramatically improves the activity and lead to better learning outcomes.
Example: Lab Notebooks
Lab notebooks are a critical tool in science labs. Students, and researchers, use them to record what they are doing, why they are doing it, and all their results (including tables, graphs, and drawings). I have found that using the Notability app on my iPad has worked as a perfect substitute for the traditional lab notebooks. I use the Apple Pencil to hand write everything: procedure, results, etc. I can draw or insert graphs and images. It is a perfect. Within the SAMR model it would be an augmentation to the lab notebook since it syncs all its data with the Cloud so I can access my notes everywhere, something impossible with traditional lab notebooks. This last is highly valuable and is the entire reason that I use it. I don’t find it necessary to reach the transformative levels at all for this tool.
In general the SAMR model is good at showing instructors how they can implement technology in their classroom. Based on their personal preferences and abilities, certain professor may be more comfortable using technology as a substitution rather than in a modification to traditional methods. I think it is critically important to understand that while each of these types of implementations are important, no one level is inherently better than the others, contrary to the more typical hierarchical description that abound.
Bray, A., Oldham, E., & Tangney, B. (2013). The Human Catapult and Other Stories–Adventures with Technology in Mathematics Education. In 11th International Conference on Technology in Mathematics Teaching (ICTMT11) (pp. 77-83).
Koehler, Matthew J. (Accessed 2016) TPACK Explained. Retrieved from http://www.matt-koehler.com/tpack/what-is-tpack/tpack-explained.