Qualifying SAMR

We live in an age that loves to upgrade. Our smartphones get thinner bodies, bigger screens, and more features. Our meals get new packaging, more taste, bigger portions. And our schools get new buzzwords, new standards, and new technology. As tech coordinator, part of my job is to facilitate the learning process by ensuring that teachers and students have access to computing resources and the knowledge to use them. Many of us coordinators evaluate tech integration according to the SAMR model:

Courtesy of Digital Learning Team

When we’re inspecting how technology changes teaching, it’s more useful to discuss the way the learning process and product change, not how much they change. Photo Credit: paurian via Compfight cc
It’s not useful to evaluate technology solely by SAMR, though. Treating it as a hierarchy, with “Redefinition” being the goal, is the same as saying that “change is good.” But few would argue that New Coke’s taste “change” was good, or that a “change” in US election districts to make it easier for an incumbent party to stay in power is productive, or that the “change” in a virus so that it mutates into a more easily transmissible strain is a good thing. So why should we treat “redefinition” as the top level of a hierarchy of tech integration? If it isn’t broke, should we be trying to fix it?

We need a qualifier that helps us to evaluate the substitution, augementation, modification, or redefinition that is happening – something that tells us what is broken and how to fix it. We’re making a conscious choice to integrate technology, and schools hire people specifically to help teachers do this, because… why? Because of broad ideas like “21st century learning” and because students are “digital natives” and because “we need to prepare them for an [unspecified, but different] future?”

The necessary qualifier, for me, is authenticity – one of the cornerstones of Understanding by Design. Does technology help you make students’ learning more authentic – are they practicing skills and habits, and creating products, that approximate things they’d do in the real world as productive citizens and employees? It’s easier to go into a teacher’s classroom and introduce them to new and, for many teachers, difficult technology concepts when explained like this. Your students should make videos not because it’s “fun” and “different” but because visual literacy is an important way that we communicate in the modern world. They should make an ebook because self-publishing is how lots of authors, like Hugh Howey, are finding success these days. They should make use of tools like Glogster and Prezi and Xmind because presenting ideas to a group should look as professional as possible and because professionalism is effective – if you expect it in the workplace, why shouldn’t you expect it at school? Our director rejects resumes because they look shoddy and cast doubt upon potential teachers’ competency as a whole.

Sometimes I feel that my position as “IT Coordinator” actually undermines my ability to help teachers. The title carries along with it an implication that I’m getting teachers to use technology for it’s own sake, which is hardly the case. My counterpart at the International School of Ouagadougou is the Curriculum Coordinator/Tech Integrator, and was formerly a Learning Community Director in Belgrade. Someone responsible not for technology but for learning. We say that technology is not something that should be taught separately – so why should those of us who support classroom teachers be referred to as people doing something distinct from learning support? And when the next generation of teachers enters the workforce already fluent in technology, why will “technology integrators” even be necessary?

Maybe redefinition is what is needed in my career.

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