Could SAMR be a load of tosh?!

It seems that everyone has this idea of the “transformative” use of technology in education. Every technology event I attend, just about every “evangelist” trainer, every company sales person or “education specialist” and every fan-boy/girl has this view that digital technology is a life-changing, wonder tool to inspire and change you into a digital media, electronic innovator ready to save the world.


Technology allows us to do old things in more efficient ways and to do new things that were not possible before technology was available. This is the concept behind SAMR – a model developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura (@rubenrp on Twitter) to “help” educators design and implement digital learning experiences.

SAMR model
Image the creation of Dr. Ruben Puentedura, Ph.D.


I’m all for the aspiration to create learning experiences which are in the redefinition area – transformative – doing “digital” things that we could never have done before BUT what I am REALLY fed up of is the idea that activities that are “Augmentation” and “Substitution” are of little value.

Throughout history, the introduction of technology has brought improvements to functional tasks: the introduction and development of Edmund Cartwright’s Power Loom radically changed textile production by functionally improving the loom design in the late 18th /earlier 19th centuries; Ford’s Model T revolutionized car ownership in the US because it made cars affordable, the process of traveling by car remained relatively unchanged;  the vacuum cleaner improved the cleaning of our homes in the post-war era – our homes have never been cleaner but we’re just sweeping with a “hoover”; the electric typewriter improved on the manual typewriter and then gave way to the wordprocessor – the basic task is the same.

All these innovations incrementally improved the basic tasks involved.  Each made the task a little easier, a little more accessible but retained enough familiarity with the previous format that those involved understood what was required – the weavers using an industrial loom used their weaving skills to ensure the quality of the fabric produced; manual typists quickly adopted the electronic typewriter but their skills still allowed them to work with the new machines.

And yet, when we evangelise about technology, the value of doing the “same thing” with digital tech is often undermined – I’ve been told “but that’s not transformative” when I’ve explained how Google Classroom allows teachers to hand out their worksheets/notes and process their return and marking – “it’s just doing what you could do with paper – why bother?”

Google Classroom makes using tech to do the things teachers do much easier.


The whole reason to bother with substitution/augmentation tasks is to gain the efficiencies of time, reduce the level of administration and reduce opportunities for learners to go down the wrong path (you can’t forget to pick up the homework – it’s online and I’ve sent it to you!). Education has rarely benefited from the time saving introduction of technologies – often the introduction of technology adds more time and complexity to a task. Using technology to perform common, simple tasks and benefiting from time, resource and other gains is a good thing!

SAMR shouldn’t be used as an instrument to beat over the heads of our educators – it’s a useful point of reference – something we can consider BUT for many of our teachers doing what they used to do, bringing it online – sharing their learning resources and exchanges to support learners in an online space such as Google Classroom or OneNote Class Creator, is a fantastic step forward and a hugely positive use of technology.  We don’t need anything more complicated to be innovative – we’re about helping learners to learn – we are not here to be digital “show-offs”.

OneNote Class Creator creates simple digital spaces for your learners in Office 365
OneNote Class Creator creates simple digital spaces for your learners in Office 365

Part of the reason that technologies haven’t made the significant impact that we all hope for is because doing all the “wiz-bang” stuff we see at CPD sessions or conferences is often very hard to reproduce in a time-sensitive, resource poor classroom.

How many events have you attended where the trainer demonstrates a great app to make a video and then talks about “workflow” to get the content off the device and shared with the world? (I’m looking at you Apple).  How many times have you tried to use an online service only to find that the app doesn’t work with the free service for education (and you Microsoft). How many times have you waited 20 minutes just to get your class logged into the computers and ready to start (and you Windows – Microsoft again!)?  The innovative and aspirational demos of technologies we are sold don’t reflect the truth that lots of technology is difficult to use in Education – the added complexities of networks, filtering, support all add to the headache.  We need to keep things simple because that ensures success.

Showbie's paperless classroom is great but "workflow" with iPad is a hassle.
Showbie’s paperless classroom is great but “workflow” with iPad is a hassle.

Our teachers can and do embrace small changes, mini-digital revolutions,  changing small aspects of practice to use the digital tools they can be confident will work successfully.  Focus on what works, give teachers clear practical ideas to implement in the classroom such as:

  • using a shared Office 365 Word Document for learner work – learner shares it to the teacher – teacher comments digitally on the document using the review tools.
  • three learners all working on the same presentation. Shared Office 365 or Google Slides document – all working on separate slides AT THE SAME TIME (real-time multi-user editing).
  • issue assignment using Google Classroom from a Worksheet uploaded to Google Drive. It will copy and issue the assignment for you to your class and provide a “turn in” button for learners – it even organizes your marking for you.
  • Use a blog to share learning from the class each day. Take photos to provide evidence of progress and upload these to the blog.
  • Use an app like Skoolbo or Tynker to engage with literacy/numeracy or computer coding. While your learners are using the app, you can focus your time on supporting others.

All of these are happening in our schools. None of these is a transformative experience according to SAMR but they are all relevant, valuable and purposeful activities for learners and teachers.  SAMR? It’s only one way of looking at technology – I’m much more utilitarian.

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