The biggest hurdle in educational technology — and how to clear it

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Monday, September 22, 2014

The biggest hurdle in educational technology — and how to clear it

Jumping from the augmentation level to modification in the SAMR model can be daunting. Follow these steps to make the leap. (Flickr / Dennis Jarvis)

Jumping from the augmentation level to modification in the SAMR model can be daunting and requires “reinventing the wheel”. Follow these steps to make the leap. (Flickr / Dennis Jarvis)

There’s a reason the phrase “don’t reinvent the wheel” came into existence. Often, we don’t have to start a new idea from scratch when a simple tweak will do the trick.

But sometimes, we just have to destroy that wheel and build a new one.

That’s basically what we’re committing to do when we cross from “augmentation” to “modification” in the SAMR model.

Wait … did that entire last sentence sound like a foreign language? If so, let me quickly explain what I mean. (And if it made perfect sense to you, feel free to skip down past the bulleted list!)

10 ways to reach SAMR's redefinition level

(Image via Dr. Ruben Puentedura via

The SAMR model is a way of selecting, using and evaluating technology in the classroom. It was developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura, founder of the Hippasus consulting firm in Massachusetts.

SAMR is an acronym that categorizes educational technology use in three ways:

  • Substitution: Technology acts as a direct tool substitute for what we did before with no functional change (i.e. typing papers on a typewriter instead writing them by hand)
  • Augmentation: Technology acts as a direct tool substitute for what we did before but with functional improvement (i.e. typing papers with a word processor and using spell check)
  • Modification: Technology allows for significant task redesign (i.e. instead of typing papers, write a series of blog posts and allow fellow classmates to comment and engage in conversation)
  • Redefinition: Technology allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable (i.e. sharing those blog posts with a global audience, engaging in comment dialogue with people all over the world)

(I first learned about the SAMR model two summers ago at an educational technology conference. Since then, I’ve rethought my previous view of how SAMR is like a ladder and have listed several ways for teachers to reach the redefinition level.)

There’s a reason the dashed line exists between the augmentation level and the modification level. Think of that line like a tall fence to climb … a fence with barbed wire at the top! (OK, barbed wire may be a bit of an exaggeration … but it feels like it sometimes!)

That’s because when you use technology at the substitution and augmentation levels of the SAMR model, you can keep doing what you always did. Technology is a supplement to previous activities. That’s why the word “enhancement” is next to those two levels: technology enhances what you already did.

Making the jump from augmentation to modification, in my opinion, is the hardest jump to make. It takes teachers out of the comfort of substitution and augmentation. In essence, they often end up throwing their previous activities out the window and creating new ones.

That’s what modification asks from us: “significant task redesign.” Design it again. Significantly.

We don’t do this “significant task redesign” just to do the same thing as before in a different way. Instead, we try to accomplish the goals we’ve set forth for ourselves by doing greater things than we could do before. (And if those things were inconceivable without the technology, we’ve just made the soaring jump to the redefinition level.)

So, the question you’ve been waiting for throughout this whole post … how do we do it? How do we make the leap over the tall fence? There are several steps you can take:

1. Get crystal clear about your goals.

What do you want your students to learn? What do you want them to be able to do? Try not to think of the tasks you want them to do; focus on the end goal.

2. Review your previous activities (if you had them) and identify what you liked about them.

What made the most difference for students? What really got them thinking? Again, try not to think about “this worksheet was good” or “this chapter covered it well” … focus on the experiences of the students and the gains they got from them.

3. Take your goals and your favorite parts of previous activities and match them to tools with those same strengths.

Scan through lists of apps and websites with a discerning eye. (They’re all over the place. A few quick Internet searches will uncover several!) Which one (or ones) can combine your essentials — even if you don’t yet know how you’re going to use it?

4. Keep an open mind.

They say that there are no bad questions during brainstorming. There are no bad ideas or bad digital tools at this point as long as they have the potential to help your students reach their goals. You don’t immediately have to have the right answers. Embrace the process — even if there’s some uncertainty in it. (That’s part of the adventure.)

5. Generate several ideas for potential activities.

Make a list of things your students could do with the technology that would reach their goals. Identify what you like and what you don’t and then do some tweaking to get it right. Eventually, some of those ideas will fall to the back of the pack and you’ll have some favorites.

6. Gather opinions.

Provide your students the goals and some ideas for activities and tools to reach them. Then see what they think — if they have any new ideas, different ways to follow through on your previous ideas, new tools to suggest. Ask some colleagues or post your thoughts on social media to gather feedback. We don’t have to be lone wolves — there’s a big pack of people to help us out!

7. Finalize your ideas and put them into action!

Action is important — even if you aren’t an expert in new tools yet. Students are pretty sharp and can help you work through the technical parts of your new plan (and if they do help, that doesn’t mean you’re less of a teacher!). Jump in with both feet, and even if it doesn’t work out perfectly (even if it blows up in your face), your students will probably appreciate your willingness to try new things.

8. Be flexible and be ready to change.

Reflect on your new activities afterward. Ask your students what they liked about the activity and how good it was for teaching them. If something flops early on in the new activity, be ready to revise it or even try it again completely the next day. We don’t have to be perfect. The acronym FAIL (First Attempt In Learning) applies to teachers too!

Follow those steps and you’ll be well on your way to modifying your classes and redefining learning with your students!

Note that this process doesn’t have to be followed formally every time (especially if you’re thinking, “Wow, all of those steps sound like a lot of work!”) Eventually you can do it quickly in your mind as you process new ideas.

So get out there and modify! Try some new things and get innovative with technology! Your students will appreciate it.

How have you jumped from augmentation to modification (or redefinition) in the SAMR model before? What ideas do you have after reading this article? Share them in a comment below!

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  • Andrew Painter says:

    Thanks Matt for this great article. We are reviewing the SAMR model again at our school and the 8 steps you give really break down the process well. This will be great to help focus our discussions.

  • […] we’re doing instead of just substituting and augmenting what we’ve done before. (Hat tip to the SAMR model and Dr. Ruben Puentedura […]

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