Initial Thoughts on Two Common Technology Integration Models – SAMR and TPACK.

As an IB DP Chemistry teacher, models are an important part of what I teach.  In fact, one of the very first lessons in the course that I teach focuses on how our understanding of atomic structure has changed and developed over time. As new data arrive, we need to re-examine our existing models to see if they are still adequate.  Models that don’t stand up in the face of new data are either modified, or thrown out altogether in favor of a new model. Every model has its limitations, and is really only an approximate description of reality.

(How Our Model of the Atom has Evolved Over Time.  File Source:  Shared under Creative Commons Licence.)

To bring in another chemistry example, sometimes it is helpful to think of electrons in atoms as very small particles.  This is useful in many contexts, but does not paint a complete picture of the electron, because there are many other instances in chemistry when it is necessary to think of the electron as a wave of energy.  For those interested to learn more in one minute, check out the video below from “minutephysics”, one of my favorite YouTube channels.  

I bring this up here to highlight the inherent limitations of trying to categorize anything into a nice, neat model.  The more general the model, the more limitations and exceptions it will bring along with it. So, it is with this healthy sense of skepticism that I examine the SAMR and TPACK models for technology integration.

I’ll start by saying that these models were helpful for me, as a classroom teacher, to understand the ways in which digital technology coaches approach tech integration in their schools.  And, as a general framework for thinking about technology integration, they are quite useful as a way of organizing one’s approach to technology integration.

Substitute, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition (SAMR)

I found the SAMR model to be quite intuitive, and I liked how there is an element of growth fundamentally built into it.  The model allow for the progressive development of pedagogy by adding technology to what is already being taught/implemented in the classroom.  From the addition of new technology will come the realization of new possibilities, which will then foster new teaching methods, learning activities, and (hopefully!) increase student learning overall.  It seems like a great way to model an organic, step-by-step path toward increasing technology integration to aid student learning.

(The SAMR Model.  File Source:

However, although not explicitly stated, within the SAMR model it seems almost axiomatic that technology integration will automatically translate into more effective pedagogy and increased student engagement/learning.  But does it always? I would argue “no, not always”, and that using more technology does not simply replace good instruction/pedagogy. Adding technology may make a teacher more efficient (which is a good goal too!) but not always lead to increases in learning.  In other words, the technology use is independent of good pedagogy. In her blog post, @kristamoroder sums this up very well when she writes: “I know many teachers who are using formative assessment strategies (albeit somewhat inefficiently) without technology, while there are other teachers who could have a full lab of Chromebooks and still don’t give individualized instruction during feedback on student papers.”

Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK)

I like the TPACK model’s recognition that pedagogical and content knowledge play a role in the effective incorporation of technology to teaching.  The TPACK model seemed to acknowledge that there is more to effective technology integration than simply adding technology. The technology is part of the mix, but has to be balanced with by effective pedagogy, as well as appropriate for specific content.  

(The TPACK Model.  File Source:

I absolutely love this quote from Punya Mishra’s post about TPACK:  “Effective technology integration for pedagogy around specific subject matter requires developing sensitivity to the dynamic, transactional relationship between all three components. A teacher capable of negotiating these relationships represents a form of expertise different from, and greater than, the knowledge of a disciplinary expert (say a mathematician or a historian), a technology expert (a computer scientist) and a pedagogical expert (an experienced educator).”  That pretty much sums it up for me as well. I do believe that a combination of familiarity and experience in all three of these areas will produce better results than an expert in just one or two.

In this regard, TPACK appears to be to be a little more nuanced in its approach to technology integration, in that it accounts for the recognition that a teacher may realize that effective technology use will look very different in different classes and contexts.  For example, in my IB Chemistry classroom, my thorough understanding of general chemistry is absolutely fundamental to my effectiveness in the classroom. The use of technology can never substitute for this content knowledge – it can only augment it.

In summary, when reflecting on the two models, I feel as though they each serve a slightly different purpose.  I do not think this is a case of one being better than the other, but instead, both articulate different ways to think about technology integration.  SAMR appears to model action (i.e. – how can we help drive innovation through technology integration?), while TPACK seems to serve as an organizational model (i.e. – how does this technology relate to a given content or pedagogical approach?).   

Technology Integration – Always the Goal?  

And of course, we should not lose the forest for the trees. In other words, lets not scramble frantically to digitize every last aspect of our classrooms.  There are times that I feel technology does not enhance student learning. For example, I stress to my students that it is best to take notes in class by hand, and not on a laptop, despite the easily observable fact that most students are quicker at typing than writing. Laptops also allow students to highlight, organize, cut/paste, and annotate notes much more quickly as well.  So why do I stress to students that sticking to writing notes by hand (a technology that is thousands of years old) as opposed to typing? The neuroscience and evidence are on the side of the pencils and pens, and not the laptops.  

This well-documented example highlights an important consideration that we as teachers all need to make when integrating technology into our practice.  What is the real goal? The answer should serve to enhance student understanding/learning. If not, then technology might be bells-and-whistles at best, or perhaps even detrimental.  

Being a full-time classroom teacher, and not a technology coach/trainer, my thinking here is not fully set in stone.  One of my goals in my exploration of these topics in the COETAIL courses is to broaden my perspectives by hearing from others!  I would love to hear from you regarding SAMR, TPACK, or another model of tech integration (I didn’t have room for T3 here in this post).  What are your thoughts about technology’s role in the modern classroom?

4 thoughts on “Initial Thoughts on Two Common Technology Integration Models – SAMR and TPACK.

  1. Hi Brian,

    Hope you are well.

    Thank you for another succinct and well researched post – always a joy to read your writing and hear your ideas.

    I am totally with you on the notion that a framework is sometimes limited, as we as educators strive to compartmentalize the process of learning into neatly organised categories and ‘stages’. I often feel that we (understandably) ‘big up’ our role in the education process to a large extent, and also try to place ‘scientific’ frameworks around what we do, to try and make it an easier beast to manage.

    At the end of the day, we are teaching human beings who can have any number of contributing factors to their experience of the classroom. Who knows what issues at home they are experiencing; or if they might have had a disagreement with their friends prior to class; or if a sudden snow storm can prove more enticing a visual than our carefully designed PowerPoint (until we begin to actually talk to them and take in the context of our situation)! It is very difficult for a framework to include the many human factors at play.

    Your point about the potential limitations of technology are also prescient. I reflected in my blog post this week about how, a few years ago, I am very aware that my colleagues and I begin to integrate apps in a way that occasionally did not necessarily enhance the learning experience for our students, as was at best mere substitution for a more ‘concrete’ experience.

    We have to be aware that by placing the humans in front of us, always will be and should be our ideal starting point. A good understanding of our subject is vital, but even more so is a deep knowledge of our students, what they might be experiencing outside of the classroom, and exactly what it is that enhances their learning in the best possible way.

    Though written in 2010, I would thoroughly recommend ‘The (very) Lazy Teacher’s Handbook by Jim Smith:, I am reading this in my spare time and it is chock full of fabulous ideas for how to make the classroom fun, with the students at the fore front of everything that is done (with the teacher appearing to ‘lazily’ taking a back seat, but not really). Though not expressly stated, you can see how technology can sometimes fit within the approaches devised, and sometimes not at all.

    Jim Smith proposes a lesson structure here, that I feel often (but not always) fits into many different lessons, sometimes with tech. To summarise, the structure is: lesson starter, outcome focused delivery, new learning/task intro, learning development (independent tasks), learning plenary, back to outcome focused delivery (this process then repeats in a cycle of small and manageable steps that all enhance learning rapidly – a bit like the small steps and rotation of activities/instruction that you might see in a PE lesson), then finally a lesson end/plenary.

    One final thought from me in this lengthy blog post reply! On note taking, I am again with you on the benefit of written note taking, though I love to back up this process with a collaborative task afterwards. This, for me, is when technology often helps our students and aids their potential learning exponentially, e.g. blogging or use of collaborative apps. I have also striven this year to get the children to independently discover the information, to take notes on, rather than it being simply given to them. Again, I find that use of technological resources is much more interesting here than a bland old textbook.

    The somewhat overstated mantra…sometimes, but not always (and only if backing up the experience of the students that we know so well).

    Thanks again and happy blogging!



  2. Hi Brian,

    I enjoyed reading your post analyzing these two integration models. I appreciated the perspective you offer, including strengths and weaknesses of both. As a tech coach, we’ve used SAMR more with our staff than other models and I like that it addresses different levels of usage of technology. I would argue that moving through SAMR doesn’t have to be sequential…though many teachers might try to work their way from substitution to redefinition. That strategy seems much more equivalent to dipping your toe in the water and gradually lowering your self in! Anyways, behind both plans is just a solid reminder that we should all be asking ourselves if the lessons we’re offering are what’s best for our students.

    Like Rory above the mention of handwritten vs. typed notes caught my eye. I didn’t read the full article you linked, but did read the abstract. I’ve always been a big fan of some non-digital things for studying and planning. It’s how I tend to learn best. I might advocate for a variety of note-taking options though, even considering the study, as I would want students to have the opportunity to sort out what might work best for them. The abstract did seem to mention that typed notes might be more likely word for word transcriptions and less synthesis of the ideas. I wonder if a Cornell notes type strategy helps to push the quality of the typed notes beyond that to serve a more useful purpose.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas! I was looking at the Coetail list and did remember your name from our Learning2 email conversations, so thought I’d “stop” by your blog!



  3. Hi Brian,

    Great to read your post – I really enjoyed the opening paragraph that talks about how atomic structure has changed and developed over time. I like how you talk about the need to re-examine existing models to see if they are still adequate. This reminds us and our students of the constantly changing world we live in and being okay to modify or get rid of in favor of a new model. “Every model has its limitations, and is really only an approximate description of reality.” I like how this quote can apply to many teachings!
    I also found the SAMR model to be quite intuitive. It is clearly laid out and can easily be modeled into any classroom. As you mention, “the model allows for the progressive development of pedagogy by adding technology to what is already being taught/implemented in the classroom”. I found the SAMR model clear, concise and relates well to our school’s technology integration. However the SAMR model, at least I the video I watched, doesn’t go into how to get to the end result of technology integration. For example, what technology device are they integrating, is it across all classrooms or just one, what actually allows the students to create a piece of in-depth work digitally?
    I didn’t read much into the TPACK model, so it was great to read your summary and thoughts. I think with any technology it is important to always have ongoing training or education to help with integration into the classroom, just like you mentioned. This is really crucial with the younger grades, where technology integration can be very daunting.
    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on how the TPACK accounts for teacher recognition of effective technology use and how that will look very different in different classes and contexts. I liked your clear example in your IB Chemistry classroom and the fact that the use of technology can never substitute for this content knowledge – it can only augment it.
    You have a good point there and augment it again with your thoughts about how you stress to your students that it is best to take notes in class by hand, and not on a laptop, despite the easily observable fact that most students are quicker at typing than writing. This provides them with the opportunity to organize their work, show their thinking and process and they can add notes and thoughts as they come back to their journal. It also gives them the opportunity to be away from technology, even just for a moment.
    I looked at these models in regards to our school, but also as a coach who would develop professional development for teachers. I first thought that we would need to discover the best way to implement technology content. First, what does the school district have access to, are individual classrooms different, can teachers get access to a variety of tools in the classroom. When using technology in the classroom, is it school-wide or even district-wide. What’s it like in your school? Is this something that is school-wide for you, or is it each individual class, based on teachers comfort level with technology? I believe that it is likely there will always be a need for professional development surrounding technology and integration into the classroom, each individual teacher can work their own magic, but the key is having the school administrators and districts involved to make it a seamless transition. What do you think?


  4. “[…] that using more technology does not simply replace good instruction/pedagogy.”

    I LOVE this! I think this was something I needed to hear. I know that I’ve shed a lot of blood, sweat and tears to REALLY learn about elementary music. My previous experience had been secondary and post-secondary music education. Learning about the little ones and the foundation they really needed was a whole different ball game. Knowing what I know now, there have been successes to show that I am on the right track.

    Now. Throw in technology, and I feel like I’m back to square one. I’m still struggling with finding the appropriate balance between how to use the tech appropriately and still preserving a traditional, authentic, meaningful way of music making (check out my latest blog post Like you, I’m big on pencil/paper technology. I still require my students to notate their pieces by hand. I’ve had a go at using Noteflight ( for composition, and it was time consuming and challenging. So much so that my students requested to write it out by hand because it was “faster”. I would consider next time to experiment again with older students as they would have more time and experience to navigate the tech tools.

    I enjoyed your analysis of the SAMR and TPACK models. Also, thank you for sharing Punya Mishra’s post. I’d like to further examine the TPACK organisational model in a music context. Happy to share my findings on my next blog. Have a great weekend!


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