Technology integration frameworks are a great reminder for us to stay focused on the primary goal in education, meaningful learning for the students. As I re-examined the SAMR and TPACK models this week, there was one main difference that stood out to me. SAMR is evaluative in nature, while TPACK is a more theoretical framework that can help to guide planning. 

SAMR – The Technology Integrator’s Litmus Test

When I look at most visualizations of SAMR, I can’t help but think back to my highschool chemistry class when we would dip a strip of paper in solution, and judge its pH by the colour it turned. In the same way, we can drop our lessons and learning experiences into a SAMR flowchart like this and out pops the judgement of how effectively technology is integrated into it. Of course unlike the buffer solution gone wrong in chemistry class, we can then adapt and change our teaching practice to hopefully reach that hallowed ground of redefinition.

A “Litmus Test” representation from Common Sense Education

This is probably not the best way to look at it. SAMR should not just be a test or a tool, but a mindset that helps us to really assess how technology has impacted student learning, and the benefits of those changes.

Another representation of SAMR by Sylvia Duckworth

I found this article by Bea Leiderman helpful in really explaining how SAMR can guide instruction and the questions we should be asking ourselves to effectively use it. While visualizations of SAMR often make it seem like Redefinition is miles away from Substitution, by ignoring the questions “How is this different from what was done before?” and “What are the students making/learning?” they can actually be much closer than they appear.

I really liked this simple visual of the framework, and how it focused on teacher focused vs. learner focused changes as the big difference between Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition.

TPACK – A Useful Planning Tool

TPACK on the other hand feels far less evaluative in nature. It is a reminder that without all three of the domains of technology, content and pedagogical knowledge, something will be lacking in our students learning experiences. What is TPACK Theory and How Can It Be Used In The Classroom? summarizes it nicely and references an article by Harris and Hofer that explains how it can be used to guide planning. They suggest that TPACK can be used to effectively plan by first starting with the content (or concepts) that the students will learn (CK). The next step is determining the best activity or experience for helping those students to learn using good pedagogy (PK) and then finally determining what technology sill support, enhance or extend student learning most effectively.

Is This Relevant?

At times, I look at these models and wonder whether they are relevant in today’s context of education, where technology is a constant presence in the lives of our students, and the barriers of entry to learning and using new technologies are becoming smaller. One of the arguments outlined in the literature on TPACK is that technology is often kept separate because it requires direct instruction and become the focus of the learning, but is that argument as relevant when you can teach a 10 year old to rapid prototype and 3D print in a 50 minute period?

However, I realise that I have a different perspective, and these are worthwhile and important ideas to be talking about within schools. I recently had a colleague ask for suggestions of apps that students could use for independent math learning, that led to a much longer debate on effective use of technology. It led to the question “What is the value of an app that is essentially just fancy flashcards?” and we talked about more effective ways to engage students in independent learning. While of course there are tons of great apps out there, technology for the sake of technology is not good pedagogy, and we all need that reminder sometimes.