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Now is the Time to Transform Learning

The year 2020 has been unique. Teachers and administrators across our nation made a rapid and unprecedented shift to online learning in a very short time. Many educational materials went digital. Students went on spring break and were not able to return to school buildings. They used technology at home to keep up with schoolwork through the end of the school year. Teachers worked long hours to provide content and resources online. But they may have felt that their online teaching was not as effective as their in-person teaching. Though this situation was not ideal, it has opened up new opportunities for the use of technology even when classes meet in person again. The SAMR model is a progression of four steps to effective technology integration: Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition. The first two steps enhance the learning experience. The latter two transform it by introducing tasks that would be impossible without technology to support them. Technology includes applications on a computer or handheld device, online resources, images and animations, and electronic sharing capability.

Enhance Learning

Substitution refers to using technology without changing the assignment. It could be technology just for the sake of technology based on a vague notion of its need. It may add no improvement to learning or even be a detriment. Taking notes on a laptop or tablet has proven to be an ineffective use of technology in the classroom. Students are distracted from listening, whereas handwritten notes improve retention. Some of the distance learning that took place this year was effective substitution. If a student used to write a book report and turn it in, instead they had to type it and submit it online. Often, technology can augment learning with very similar results. Typed reports benefit from spelling and grammar hints built into the tools. These hints allow students to self-correct before submitting the paper. The task changes very little from the non-technological version, but technology provides a benefit. Giving a quiz or test online might allow for self-grading assessments, but the format of the quiz itself does not change. Another example of augmentation is using online resources to supplement a textbook. Substituting or augmenting with technology enhances learning. Most educators made a strong effort to substitute and augment with technology in recent months. They started the SAMR progression out of necessity.

Transform Learning

The distance-learning efforts are a foundation for modifying and redefining the educational experience, the final two steps of SAMR. Modifying learning tasks successfully depends on a good understanding of what technology enables. Think about your recent foray into distance learning. What new skills did you develop that might form the basis for modifying an assignment in the future? Did you video yourself? Did you edit the video before posting? Your own better understanding of these skills might enable a future project involving video production. If you modify an oral book report into a video report, students could include additional elements that would not have been part of the original assignment. They might video themselves giving the report or narrate over illustrations of the book’s contents. Technology transforms learning by changing the scope of what is possible.

Redefinition goes a step further. The ultimate goal is to use technology to produce results that are not possible without it. You can expect high achievement from students as they apply, analyze, evaluate, and create. You may recognize the higher-order skills of Bloom’s taxonomy. For a book report, the class could collaborate, adding each student’s video to a virtual class bookshelf. Each student then has access to all of the reports. They may even decide to read more books based on their classmates’ reports. Groups of students could read the same book and work together on their videos, transforming the report into a collaboration opportunity. As a student in Biology Education, I once collaborated on a project about the parts of a cell. We created a slideshow with a diagram of the cell containing hyperlinks to other parts of the slideshow. Each student was responsible for the content of some of the slides about the cell’s components. At the end, we each had a complete slideshow with content about the entire cell.

Start with Small Steps

If you have not already thought of assignments that would benefit from an SAMR transformation, ask yourself three questions (adapted from Dr. Ruben Puentedura, the creator of the SAMR model).

  1. Which task has the most impact on students’ knowledge and skills?
  2. Which project involves your favorite content?
  3. Which assignment have students traditionally struggled with?

Start with one of those three, and begin to think about how you would classify it. Is it completely technology-free, or has it progressed part of the way through SAMR? How can you transform that project so that it moves up one level? What would a redefined, technology-integrated version of the assignment look like? Time is a limited resource, so you may only be able to move one or two steps in the direction of technology integration at first. But that’s one or two steps in the right direction! The focus of technology integration and the SAMR model is not on learning the technology itself, because technology will change every few years. The focus is on learning content, and technology is the tool.

Reap the Benefits of Integrating Technology

For project work and review, transforming learning by following the SAMR progression has several benefits. Quizzing and flashcard apps meet the students where they are and personalize the educational experience. Immediate feedback allows students to retain correct information. Technology enables collaboration on a team project even when the group is not together. Technology is attention grabbing and students like it, which means they are more willing to learn. As students prepare for a future with increasing exposure to technology, they benefit from learning how to use it wisely. In the right hands, technology can lead to great accomplishments. Let’s start with effective use of technology in the classroom!

by Valerie C. Coffman, June 2020

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Category: Technology