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Featured Article from Principals Today Magazine; Term 1 - Issue 129

Understanding Redefinition

This article discusses the SAMR model and its relationship to a story about digital transformation. 

Schools throughout Aotearoa have experienced a ‘digital transformation’. Students and Teachers have needed to find new ways to learn. School Leaders have surfed a wave to sweeping change and simply had to ride it out. Looking back on the last twelve months, what is the net effect of these changes? Have Students experienced more authentic learning? 


The SAMR Model


In case you missed it, Ruben R. Puentedura’s SAMR model describes what usually happens when technology is introduced into the classroom (as detailed in the diagram below). He observed that, at the start, technology acts as a substitute with no functional change. Next, technology is used to augment learning, and there are some functional changes. Learning is transformed when technology is used to modify the environment by redesigning tasks. Finally, when students are working on previously inconceivable tasks, learning is redefined.

Keen to learn more about the SAMR Model? Check out these additional resources: 


An Unorthodox Application

Several months ago I read a discussion about a digital pregnancy tool. Kristoffer Marshall wondered what made a $13 digital pregnancy test different from a 20c cardboard one (View his post on Twitter). The marketing implied that the $13 digital test was ‘more accurate’. His partner wanted to be sure she was pregnant, so he pulled a test apart to figure out how it worked. Kris found that inside the plastic case of the digital test was a cardboard strip from the cheaper test. There was an LED to light up the area where the ‘+’ appears, and a light sensor to detect the ‘+’. An LCD screen displays ‘pregnant’ or ‘not pregnant’, and batteries and a processor made all this happen. At the start, we had an effective and cheap solution. It was portable, reliable, and easy to use. The final product was over 50 times the cost, and had no functional improvement. It was slightly bulkier (to fit all the circuits). It had a nice LCD screen—which gives the illusion of accuracy and authority.


How Does it Relate to the Classroom?

This is an effective analogy to help understand digital transformation within schools. How can we work out whether our schools have digitally transformed by changing the process of learning, or are they simply wrapping some technology around existing practices? During the national lockdown, some classroom teachers endured an awkward hybrid of endless Zoom meetings with students and colleagues. Time spent face-to-face was the main objective. This was exhausting for teachers, and stressful for students and their families. Parents were asked to keep students on task. There was no change to learning activities. Technology was wrapped around existing modes. Worksheets were just turned into pdfs.

Simply repackaging a day in the classroom as ‘Distance Learning’ is worse than pointless: it is harmful.

Many in our communities have suffered from the pandemic. Students, parents, teachers and leaders have struggled. Effective programmes that value the key competencies and their impacts on well being have been the most effective. The crisis created an amazing opportunity for some classrooms. These teachers had the freedom to reimagine learning. For example, some took advantage of the home environment by getting students to use kitchen utensils to share their learning. Students collected objects found in their house to illustrate measurement, colour, shape, character, letter and material. Teachers brought parents into the picture by involving them in discussions. Students had the unique opportunity to talk to their teachers one-on-one or in a small groups. There are many things that are only possible while everyone is at home.

Ruben R. Puentedura’s SAMR model is 15 years old now, yet it continues to provide meaningful ways to discuss teaching practice. It comes into relevance when stories like the digital pregnancy test come up. Schools that took the opportunity to transform their learning and who made the most of Professional Learning and Development for Distance Learning maintained engagement and ensured learning was not compromised. Students returned to school without any disruption to their learning. Many schools are now reviewing their programmes, and using Professional Learning and Development resources to redefine learning, enabling teachers to create new, previously inconceivable tasks.


“You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

- Rahm Emanuel, ex-Chief of Staff to former US President, Barack Obama


Check out the full issue of Principals Today magazine here

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