Beth Holland

Food for thought…


I Completely Agree

I find myself agreeing a lot lately with the wisdom of veteran teachers who are calling into question the role of mobile devices (e.g. iPads, laptops, Chromebooks, etc) in their curricula. These educators have clearly defined learning objectives, truly understand the learning needs of their students, and have everyone’s best interest at heart.

I agree with the music teacher…

Who wants her students to focus on the joys of creating music, tapping rhythms, learning to dance, and projecting their voices as they sing. I agree with her desire for students to show poise and confidence as they perform in front of a group of peers, parents, and teachers. She is absolutely correct that no virtual instrument can replace the experience of blowing into a recorder or beating on a drum. These are valuable experiences that children should have an opportunity to experience.

And yet, what if….

That student who does not yet have the confidence to sing or play a solo in front of a crowd could video themselves for feedback with only the pressure of a screen in front of them. Or maybe, the student who wants to explore digital arts could create a poster or video ad for an upcoming performance. Perhaps, students could create a digital journal of their year, periodically adding audio or video recordings of their playing so that they can go back and see their improvement. To quote that thoughtful music teacher who questioned the role of iPads in her curriculum, the focus could be on “progress not perfection.”

I agree with the art teacher…

Who does not want to give up paint, or pastels, or clay. I agree that the tactile experience cannot be replicated with a mouse or touch screen, and that digital arts – while incredibly powerful – are not the only arts. He makes excellent points about tying art to culture and tradition, providing students with an opportunity to create something of permanence, and creating community around physical installations. Recently, I walked through a hallway containing fantasy flowers dangling from the ceiling and Greek God posters hanging from the walls. Through their art, those students shared their learning, and I was able to instantly make a connection to their experience.

However, what if….

Photos of those Greek god posters had been posted to a Padlet wall so that they could be shared with a broader audience, or an image of the fantasy flowers used as a ThingLink containing audio recordings of the students telling the story behind their creation. Sometimes, art reveals the final product but not the process to get there. Maybe students could use stop action animation to create a short video of how their final masterpiece came into existence. After the displays come down in the physical space, student creations could live on in a virtual school gallery which could then be shared with family and friends.

I agree with the PE teacher…

Who wants students to stop staring at screens and exercise. I agree that students need to feel exertion, to be physically active, and to learn how to pass, block, shoot, cut, jump, tumble, and – most of all – play as a team. Go outside. Sweat. Get dirty. Dive in the mud. Run! Absolutely, put the screens away and go play.

Now, what if…

Students could use a spreadsheet to track their nutrition, their improvements in time or distance or speed, or even their own player stats. Not only could this improve their health but also their math. Instead of using valuable class time to review game rules, strategy, or directions, maybe PE teachers could flip their classes and post this information ahead of time so that students come ready to play. As a high school sailing coach, I valued the opportunity to give video feedback. So many of my students could not improve without seeing both what they did as well as footage of others. I also kept a blog with practice notes, post race recaps, and lessons learned so that my team could ask questions, get feedback, and document their own progression. With the multitude of health apps and devices entering the market, students can start mapping/tracking their training, monitoring their heart rates, and documenting their fitness.

I agree with the 3rd grade teacher… 

Who wonders why it should take four steps to have a student actively read a web article in iBooks when they could just as easily hand them a print out. Yet what about the student who struggles with decoding but could otherwise comprehend the content? What if that ELL/ESL student could complete the task more effectively if they could quickly access a dictionary or incorporate text-to-speech in order to hear the passages read out loud.

I agree with the science teacher… 

Who does not want to give up physical labs; who wants students to weigh, measure, mix, and build. I absolutely think that students should construct circuits, titrate liquids, and dissect things. Meanwhile, I find immense value in students screencasting their problem solving, referencing virtual labs for remediation or enrichment, and collaborating on data analysis through shared documents.

I also agree that students need to spend as much time talking, debating, and sharing face-to-face as they do online, and that sometimes paper is the best technology.

If the new technology does not functionally improve the task, then stick with what has worked in the past. However, I also think we need to keep asking what if.


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.