A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop called Transforming Your Classroom, facilitated by Kim Cofino. If you haven’t had a chance yet to attend a workshop given by Kim, I highly recommend it. She is a world leader in helping teachers expand innovative practice in modern learning and everyone should have the opportunity to transform with her.
The workshop was based on exploring the SAMR model of education, which provides a framework for how one can implement technology in the classroom. SAMR, which was developed by Reuben Puentedura, looks at how technology can be used to redesign the learning task, and thereby improve student outcomes. It moves learning engagements from those that enhance student learning, to those that transform it.
This blog is not a critique of the SAMR model in any way, shape or form. I frequently refer to it when reflecting on my learning engagements and it guides and extends my innovative risk-taking in the classroom. I can only hope that more and more educators around the world begin to refer to the SAMR model with greater frequency so we can all modify and transform not only our own pedagogical practices, but also our students’ attitudes towards learning.
However, over the last few months, I’ve been grappling with the concept of transformation within the SAMR model and would like to offer some questions and conceptions to the reader. The following reflections will aim to extend our definition of redefinition and transform the relationship between the SAMR model and its implementor.
In order to meet these goals, we must first ask ourselves some important questions as to why we are using the SAMR model in the first place: What are we actually hoping to transform? Are we only looking at transforming the act of learning (task) and the tool we use to do so? Or, are we also striving to transform human thinking (concept) in how we relate to potential applications (technology)?
The part of the SAMR model I often get stuck on is the fourth tier, redefinition. Redefinition is often defined as, “designing and creating new tasks that were previously inconceivable.” I have no problem with the agreed upon definition for redefinition, but I do feel that if there is no tier above it, it can be quite conceptually limiting.
If something was previously inconceivable, that by default means that it has already been conceived. It has already come into existence. If it was once unimaginable, it no longer is, because it is currently being applied through its already manifested form.
This would then yield the next question, “What comes before that which was previously inconceived?” In my opinion, this is the tier of conception, the tier of cognitive creation. At the redefinition tier, we are not really imagining and conceptualizing as much as we are applying what has already been thought of before.
In its essence, redefinition is already outdated because it has been conceptualized, it has been conceived and popularly applied. If the ultimate goal of the SAMR model is to operate within that domain, we are at a juxtaposition with the essence of SAMR, as we have limited our definition and scope of the redefined.
In redefinition, it is still true that we are creating, but it is mostly content and learning experiences that fall within higher-order thinking skills, not concepts. The current model looks at how we redefine learning through overcoming limitations of time and space to enhance learning. I would argue that we could take it even further by inviting not only educators, but our students themselves, to drift into a further tier of SAMR, that of conception. Everything that currently exists within redefinition could have only come into being (and our teaching) through a tier solely based on conception. After an idea happened, it was brought down into redefinition through technological advances, which allowed us to access its potential.
I believe that if we truly want to transform student learning, we need to de-conceptualize an overemphasis on tool and task and re-conceptuatlize the value of concept and thought, as the former certainly would not be here if it wasn’t for the latter. We should be encouraging students and their teachers to not only explore the available technologies already out there, but also explore the corners of their mind to bring the recently conceived (conception) down to the previously inconceived (redefinition). This would not only increase the SAMR model’s effectiveness, it would make it more sustainable.
This seed to re-conceptualize the SAMR model starts with how we view the model itself. It could be argued that the model, in many eyes, is seen as separate from that whom enacts the learning, when in actuality, it is a reflection of it. A cognitive divide seems to be at play if educators are seeing themselves as separate from the tools they apply.
This is where I believe that a conceptual shift is necessitated. The current interpretation of the model takes a passive approach towards human extensionism. Its form almost necessitates that teaching is limited by the tool, rather than the tools being a function of human creativity, and conception. If we use this model to only look at how technology can be leveraged in learning, we are ignoring the fact that human ideation, creation and manipulation are the driving forces behind it. The limits of technology will be in direct correlation to the limits of our mind. Therefore, I think that it is essential that we also encourage and recognize a tier of conception, of true creation, so that we are empowered to explore the conceptual limits of human potential.
For it is only through this act of conceiving, that models like SAMR will have the true power to not only transform student learning, but redefine the concepts on which they are founded.
The author realizes that this post will likely be contentious for some and will readily admit that he knows nothing in comparison to the SAMR developer, Reuben Puentedura. The blog post is not a critique of the SAMR model, but a proposed redefinition of its extended interpretation.