Beth Holland

Food for thought…

In Response to “Redefinition”


There have been a number of posts circulating over the past few weeks about Dr. Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model. I’ve been reading closely as I plan/hope/might incorporate it into my upcoming Leading Future Learning presentation.

I like the SAMR model for two reasons. First. It gives educators who are new to technology integration a tangible model that is relatively easy to understand. There isn’t a lot of pedagogical lingo, and it comes with a nice visual (see below). Second, it provides an excellent opportunity to NOT talk about technology.

Image Credit: Dr. Ruben Puentedura

However, all of that said, recent articles have been a bit critical of the model. I’ve been reading those posts with interest as part of my prep for the aforementioned presentation next week. However, it was this set of tweets that pushed me into writing as I couldn’t figure out how to respond in 140 characters….

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 8.56.24 AM

SAMR as tangible model

As I said, I like SAMR because it’s tangible. However, as Darren Draper (@ddraper) states in THAT TIME WHEN SAMR GETS US INTO TROUBLE – the post that started this one, “Problems occur, however, when educators instinctively attempt to the climb the hierarchical ladder.” I don’t disagree. In fact, Carl Hooker (@mrhooker) likes to look at SAMR as a swimming pool rather than a ladder.

Image Credit: Carl Hooker

With this model, he provides supports for teachers’ thinking and also removes a stigma that you can “fall off the SAMR ladder.” I think this is a critical point as too often, when thinking about SAMR, teachers become paralyzed by the notion that everything has to be at the Redefinition stage – exactly the point that Tom Riley (@riley_ed) makes  in Transformational 1:1 learning and SAMR.

One of the major issues I have with SAMR is its place in the conflict between the short and long term. By introducing it at the beginning of a 1:1 mobile device rollout (which admittedly isn’t what it was actually designed for), it wrongly focuses the attention of teachers on how they can utilise the technology to adapt individual tasks in order to reach the ‘redefinition’ stage.

I stepped into this trap several weeks ago in an introductory iPad workshop. By introducing SAMR too early, the focus was immediately on getting to the top. One participant became a bit distraught when she realized that no matter how much she tried to infuse technology, her ultimate objective of writing a 5-paragraph essay would never reach Redefinition. Without the full pedagogy in place of working with mobile devices, she wasn’t quite ready to see the distinction between product and process.

On the other hand, last week, I had the pleasure of working with a group of adjunct professors at Bay Path College. One professor teaches a forensics psychology course and explained that as a final output, her students need to write a paper as that will be a legal requirement should they enter the forensic psychology profession. As we explored the potential for incorporating iPads into her curriculum with SAMR as a framework, we struggled at first to see how she could move beyond using the device as a word processor to generate the final product. This was because the initial focus was on the end result rather than the overall process. When she clearly articulated that her true objective was for her students to “make a justification based on clearly articulated evidence,” then we started to see how different aspects of the overall process could be supported both by iPads and  transforming the associated tasks via SAMR. To summarize a point that Dr. Puentedura made in his Boston iPad Summit keynote, in the path to Redefinition, the technology could serve the purpose of a lively sketchbook capturing pieces along the path to the creation of a final product.

SAMR is NOT about Technology

Richard Wells (@iPadWells) wrote a wonderful response to this dilemma of product vs process several weeks ago. In SAMR success is NOT about Tech, Richard asserts that technology is not- and should not be – the focus when looking at the SAMR model. In fact, he echoes the point that Dr. Puentedura articulated during his Boston keynote – the focus is on tasks and process, not technology. In fact, technology just helps the tasks along their way. As Richard illustrates in his post: how are we preparing students as learners in a world without an all-knowing teacher?


Image Credit: Richard Wells

When I first started teaching and employing the SAMR model, my examples all focused on products: from essay to collaborative doc, to media rich presentation, to published video. I felt that if I continued to layer technology onto the final products, then I was climbing the ladder. However, as I realized last fall after hearing Dr. Puentedura, the technology isn’t really doing anything. It’s the tasks that are changing. It’s the processes that we need to Redefine.

At the redefinition level, common classroom tasks and computer technology exist not as ends but as supports for student centered learning. – Source: Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

I’ve been thinking all day about this post and this idea. Too often, we get caught up in thinking that new = better. If we use a new tool, we will have improved outcomes. If we use a new device, then students will learn more. However, if I take the sum of the points from all of these fantastic posts, if we define the outcomes, use the best possible tools to create the most effective pathways to learning, and think about how to transform our processes in order to have the greatest impact, then we might just hit the elusive Redefinition.

Author: brholland

Researcher, Writer, and Speaker

19 thoughts on “In Response to “Redefinition”

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  2. Great stuff, Beth. I started a post this am that I’ll edit tonight and have up within a day or so the echoes your sentiments. It’s easy to get caught in the visualization of the model and consider it a “technology” approach, whereas, when really digging into the framework it’s about pedagogy and utilizing the amazing tools we have to enhance the student experience. It doesn’t always have to be used, and the goal shouldn’t always be to “climb” the ladder….in many cases “augmentation” or “modification” meets the learning outcome.

  3. I appreciate this reflection, Beth. Thank you for sharing.

    I guess my biggest question for you is this: Why must “redefinition” be the goal? Isn’t “improved learning” a better goal for the instructional use of technology?

    Another question I have centers on the validity of every SAMR level. The Jackie Gerstein quote at the end of your post has stood out for me as contrasting to the point I attempted to make in my post. If “common classroom tasks and computer technology exist not as ends but as supports for student centered learning,” then why must the tasks/teaching be limited only to the redefinition level?

    Can student centered learning not exist within the “lower” levels of SAMR?

  4. Hi Darren.

    I don’t know if redefinition needs to be the goal for all tasks and hope that I didn’t unwittingly imply it. I think what’s important is to know what’s possible and to think about how each step of a process can be enhanced or transformed rather than just the final product.

    To address your specific question, I do think student centered learning can exist with “lower” levels – particularly if we look at the associated tasks. Similarly, I think that student centered learning can happen without technology at all! In writing this post, I thought about a lesson that I planned for my 6th graders about doing online research. 15 minutes before the start of the class, we lost our Internet connection. Rather than computers, we used index cards. To be honest, because I created a more student-centric lesson while improvising, I know that the students had a more valuable learning experience.

    My interpretation of the Jackie Gerstein quote was that the technology supports the tasks, and the tasks ultimately allow us to change the process. By changing the process in thoughtful ways, then we can provide multiple pathways to learning.

    Wow. I really thank you for the thoughtful discussion.

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  9. great post! ive been following the discussions on this topic and enjoyed reading your perspective 🙂 i love this model because it really allows us to assess our own teaching in a safe environment. it is precisely the fact that the model is not a ladder of low to high that allows it to be an effective tool for self-reflection and evaluation of the learning experiences we design for not just the classroom but for any group of learners. in order to reach higher levels of thinking you have to have the basics down, so yes there is nothing wrong with being at the substitution level.

    I think the SAMR model allows us to see what we already do and say now that i have the technology what more can we experience. it’s not about the 5 paragraph essay, but it’s about the way that essay is designed and created and the collaboration that can take place as you engage in that process. it’s not about just reading from an author but can we bring that author into our classroom for a conversation and discussion. its not about researching a topic and writing about it, but creating a multimedia presentation in collaboration with others that can be shared globally.

    More than the technology tool we have to look at what learning experience am i bringing to my group of learners and what are the possibilities for what we can create and engage in together as a community of learners.

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  11. Thank you for taking the time to comment! I really like the point you make in your last sentence – that it’s all about the overall learning experience.

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  14. We’ve been playing in the wading pool (with flotation devices) for 30+ years. We’ll never get into the deep end at this rate.
    As mentioned in other comments the SAMR model is useful when we think beyond the products of learning to the tasks, processes, collaboration and thinking that goes into the products.
    I believe viewing the SAMR model as a ladder is spot on. Like a ladder I can reach heights safely with a series of steps to guide me. When I’m at the top of the ladder I get a unique “bird’s eye” perspective. I can move up and down the rungs of the ladder as needed. I also know that my ladder is just a device or frame. I’ll need other tools, skills and knowledge as I move up and down the ladder to complete a variety of tasks successfully.
    The SAMR model, when redefined beyond a competitive ladder for climbing to a reflective tool to improve instructional practice has a wide variety of uses. It provides teachers with the “bird’s eye” view and defines what is possible. It builds awareness that there are additional levels beyond “using” technology. It encourages movement away from how does this technology “fit” with what we are already doing, to how can this technology change what we are doing (and what does this mean for our students?) To be fair to Dr. Puentedura he does not present his ladder as the only tool. He embeds his model within a rich exploration of TPACK, 21st century skills, his five categories of learning – social, mobility, visualization, storytelling and gaming, and other models and content.
    The SAMR model is a reflective tool to inform practice not a checklist or rubric to mark teacher achievement. While maximizing the transformational purpose of technology, the model does not insist that every classroom process, task or product needs to be redefined. When teachers understand the purpose of the SAMR model they can use it to explore concrete examples of the different levels, discuss the impact of each level on student engagement and learning, and then design instruction as they move up and down the ladder to address the needs, abilities and interests of all students.

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  19. All of these levels have something to offer, but not all necessary.

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