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: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Evolution_of_atomic_models_infographic.svg 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: https://www.flickr.com/photos/souvenirsofcanada/12306803713)
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: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TPACK-new.png)
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?