Rethinking SAMR, TPACK and using technology well

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Thursday, March 13, 2014

Rethinking SAMR, TPACK and using technology well

Rethinking SAMR, TPACK and using technology well

I used to think of using the SAMR and TPACK tech integration models as “climb as high as you can” models. Now I see them differently. (Flickr / inkknife_2000)

I used to think of the SAMR and TPACK — two technology integration models — kind of like a mountain.

The higher you climbed the mountain, the better the mountain climber you were.

As I dig deeper into the two models, I’m starting to find there’s a lot more nuance there than I realized.

Using technology well, as common sense would tell you, has everything to do with your goal.

A quick summary of the two models:

The SAMR Model (Via

The SAMR Model (Via

SAMR — It stands for four levels of technology integration in education:

  • Substitution: Where you use technology as a direct substitute for a previous activity with absolutely no changes (think of using a word processor instead of a typewriter)
  • Augmentation: Another direct substitute for a previous activity but improvements are added (think of that same word processor but utilizing spell check and different fonts)
  • Modification: Where the activity is significantly redesigned with new technology (think of incorporating e-mail or blogs to the previous writing)
  • Redefinition: Where new tasks are created that were previously inconceivable (think of real-time editing a Google Document with someone on the other side of the world)
The TPACK Model (Wikimedia / Llennon)

The TPACK Model (Wikimedia / Llennon)

TPACK — It’s represented by three overlapping circles. Each circle represents a different kind of knowledge that goes into a lesson:

  • Technological Knowledge: The technology, digital tools, devices, etc. that you bring to the lesson
  • Pedagogical Knowledge: The teaching knowledge (methods of teaching in general)
  • Content Knowledge: The information and learning about your specific content area

When I first came across these two models, two things immediately came to mind:

“Wow, how did I not learn about these sooner?”

“I want to be in the dark blue area of SAMR and the brownish triangle in the middle of TPACK all the time!”

I even wrote a blog post asking “How high up the edtech ladder do you climb?”

I’ve since realized how frustrating it can be if you see “redefinition” and “TPACK” as your highest goals. Some activities are just not made for those levels.

Example: learning vocabulary. It’s extremely important in my Spanish classroom. There are some activities that incorporate some vocabulary learning that could reach the highest levels of SAMR. But to be at its most efficient, lower levels of that model will work.

Not everything has to be redefinition. Modification and augmentation are certainly useful too, and in many cases, that’s all that you need the technology to do to enhance learning. (And after all, isn’t that our goal in the end?)

I would argue that we can always do better than simple substitution, though. As devices and software and web apps and such continue to improve, there’s almost always a better way to do something than replicating it with technology (with the “$1,000 pencil,” as I’ve heard it explained).

(Flickr / tim.klapdor)

(Flickr / tim.klapdor)

I found this image by Tim Klapdor on Flickr to be an interesting interpretation of the emotions that go with SAMR. His chart shows some things to me pretty clearly (in my own interpretation, of course):

  • Simple substitution can make you look good. And it’s easy to do. That’s probably enough motivation for many to stop there.
  • It takes more time for good augmentation, when you try to extend your technology use to more than just “worksheets on the computer.”
  • I love the phrase “trough of disillusionment.” Replacing previous activities with technology is the easy part. It’s rethinking how you teach and creating new activities that harness the power of technology that’s hard.
  • Notice that as you enter redefinition, the time continues to add up but the visibility doesn’t. You do add the mecca of technology integration, though: enlightenment. This is where some of the most engaging, meaningful learning can occur.

Again, that’s my own interpretation and I’d love to hear yours if it’s different in the comments section below.

As a TPACK rookie, I’m finding it as a valuable planning tool. It makes me think of Zig Ziglar’s wheel of life (here’s a blog post about it by Chris LoCurto), where there are seven segments that make the wheel complete:

  • Career
  • Financial
  • Spiritual
  • Physical
  • Intellectual
  • Family
  • Social

If one part of the wheel is left out, it’s no longer a wheel and it needs improvement to roll smoothly again. (Makes me think of a flat tire.)

TPACK helps me keep everything in balance. As I plan, I make sure that the content I’m delivering is solid. I ensure that there are sound teaching fundamentals. And I make sure that the technology tools and processes are a good fit for what we want to do.

If everything’s there, often we will roll smoothly.

So, really, I don’t have to climb to the summit of the SAMR or TPACK mountains to achieve edtech greatness.

Instead of being a mountain climber, I should think of myself as a carpenter. I plan the course and choose the best tools possible to construct the best experience.

How do you view SAMR and/or TPACK. Do you interpret it differently than I do? Add your thoughts in a comment below!

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  • George Lieux says:

    SAMR is especially helpful for administrators and teachers to understand and discuss the TYPES of technology integration. It provides the necessary vocabulary for discussions about effective tech integration. Very few administrators taught with access to the technology we have today. Some (not all) think the presence of an interactive whiteboard in the classroom is evidence of high-level technology integration. SAMR helps all of us understand it’s HOW you use technology that will impact learning.
    TPACK explains for us how and why teachers, literacy and/or math specialists, and technology integration specialists need to work together. Coaching cycles with all three elements of TPACK represented, improve the chances of tech enhancing teaching and learning.

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  • Michelle Green says:

    Matt, I was curious about the image that meshed SAMR with the Gartner Hype Cycle, so I poked around a bit for the background on it. It’s an interesting assessment on what was the current status of edTech. Have you read his post or the work he points to that inspired the image?

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