Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Substitution Level of the SAMR Model

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    It's recently occurred to me that we may be making a mistake in the way we discuss the SAMR model in education.  Most teachers tend to have a desire to be high achievers and therefore, when we discuss the 4 levels of SAMR, many are going to immediately start considering how they can reach the 2 top levels - those that transform the learning.  I think we all recognize that that's an admirable goal (and, in fact, the ultimate goal) but, I also think that we should be encouraging even the lower 2 levels - and giving teachers positive feedback when they are achieved.  We, additionally, should recognize that even at the substitution level there is very likely improved learning.  Intuitively, this doesn't make sense.  If substitution is just doing the same thing with technology that you can do without technology, how can it improve learning?
   Let's take, for example, 1st graders working to learn a school-specific Dolch word list using an iPad app, say Quizlet or Keynote.  If those students are part of a 1:1 initiative, they take their iPads home at night.  As they are sitting in the living room with other family members (say mom, dad and an older sibling) they notice everyone else on their devices.  It is not a stretch to think that in order to mimic their models, they would pick up their iPad and start working on their Dolch words.  With the alternative of pulling out a set of their words on note cards, it's reasonable to imagine that it's likely that those cards will remain in their backpack.  So, in that scenario, although, in fact, the technology approach was "only" substitution (or at best augmentation, if the words can be spoken with a click on the iPad) there is most certainly more learning occurring with the technology than without it (if for no other reason than that something is happening as opposed to nothing).   Obviously, we all know that teaching and learning today goes far beyond the simple skill development described here, however, every reading teacher, music teacher, coach, etc. knows that there are some skills that simply require repetition in order to be developed.  There are no shortcuts to skill acquisition.  If utilizing technology assists in ratcheting up that skill acquisition most teachers would view that quite positively.
    The thing that I am wondering now is:  Is it possible that as we encourage reaching the higher levels, we may inadvertently be discouraging the lower levels?  And, do we need to take care to avoid that and, conversely, ensure that we are encouraging teachers to utilize technology in that way as well?

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