Push My Thinking: TPACK or SAMR or ?

By November 4, 2013 My Thoughts 54 Comments

**Update 4/26/14: I LOVE the responses to this post; they made me consider a lot of different ways of looking at TPACK and SAMR, and really stretched my thinking. If you read this post, also read the comments- and check out the links that some people have included!

I’m going to preface this post by saying that I think both TPACK and SAMR are incredibly useful frameworks- and I use them a lot in my work with education technology. While I don’t want to completely discount either framework in this post, I do want to start a discussion- and explain why I am currently not finding them completely effective in my work with teachers.

tpackTPACK looks at the collaboration between technology, pedagogy, and content and argues that teachers need knowledge of all three. I agree with this statement, but I don’t agree with how this framework is presented. Take a look at the graphic to the right- it shows all three concepts represented in circles of equal size. I think this sends the wrong message; knowledge of content is less important than knowledge of pedagogy (even more so now because of how accessible information is) and there is even evidence that shows that too much knowledge of content can actually lessen a teacher’s ability to properly scaffold learning for students. Same goes for technology- it doesn’t deserve equal weight for the knowledge a teacher needs. One of my favorite books is Visible Learning by John Hattie– he analyzed fifteen years of research on what actually affects student achievement. Here’s a good summary of the book by Grant Wiggins-http://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2012/01/07/what-works-in-education-hatties-list-of-the-greatest-effects-and-why-it-matters/. Visible Learning is a decent place to start for forming a definition for what “good teaching” looks like (some of the top strategies are mastery learning, formative assessment, etc.)- and it also shows why an understanding of pedagogy is the most important thing a teacher needs to know. So, even though TPACK is useful for explaining the knowledge that teachers needs to use technology effectively- I don’t think it sends the message that teachers necessarily need to hear.

SAMR_modelNow, for SAMR. Again, I want to preface this by saying that I think SAMR is incredibly valuable in my own work, especially when I am evaluating the usefulness of tool. SAMR shows how a task can be “redefined” by using a tool- here’s a blog post that explains how a teacher is using better teaching practices because of Google Docs. She eventually uses the tool to have students comment on each others’ work and she is able to digitally individualize her instruction.

However, this approach not only isolates the tool from instruction, but it also seems to suggest that teachers are using lower level teaching strategies before using “technology” (and then suddenly, when they start using Google Docs, they learn how formative assessment works!). I don’t think that is reflective of reality; I know many teachers who are using formative assessment strategies (albeit somewhat inefficiently) without technology, while there are other teachers who could have a full lab of Chromebooks and still don’t give individualized instruction during feedback on student papers. While I agree that SAMR can help explain how “X tool can help you do Y”, I don’t use it with my teachers- because I don’t think every teacher understands what “Y” is. Because of that, I think it is more effective to focus on “Y”- on those “redefined tasks”- and on good teaching practices. There are already a lot of great teachers who are using the 4 C’s (creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking) without digital tools. They’re already doing “Y”, even if they don’t have “X” yet.

The approach that I think is more effective with teachers is: “you’re trying to do Y- and here’s how X can make you more efficient or effective (through increased access, better organization, more automation, etc.)”. That way, the focus for professional development starts with good teaching practices- rather than starting with the tool.

I made a graphic to summarize that argument— starting with pedagogy, then focusing on being more effective and more efficient.

What does everyone think about this? I know this is a pretty controversial post (at least for some of us ed tech nerds out there), so I’d love to see how everyone else is using the frameworks. What are your thoughts? Are you finding them effective? How? Push my thinking!



  • Amazing post, Krista! I use the SAMR model framework with my staff at the moment, and I’m finding that there are some gaps in how can translate. If they’re not already on the “same page” with how they structure their pedagogy (i.e. student-centred, integration of formative assessment, etc.), then it is almost impossible for that to translate directly into meaningful technology adoption. Thanks for sharing – great food for thought!

    • Thanks for reading and sharing!

    • D! says:

      I tend to disagree. In my view, the only variable that changes anything in educational methodology, is advances in technology. For example, the printing press and the humble pencil changed pedagogy. The internet and accompanying hardware are simply next in line. Great teaching is always influenced by available tools. Tech therefore deserves an equal circle if not a bigger one.

    • maa says:

      Great teaching should not be the case be influenced by available technological tools. It’s with a great teacher’s common sense of knowing how they become the right tools for teaching to enhance learning.

  • Brian Hamm says:

    I like your approach and agree with your last statement in the visual; “Great teaching hasn’t changed. The Toolbox has.” So much so, at SFS we are hoping to take ‘technology’ out of our Educational Technology Integrationists job title. Thanks for sharing.

    • That reminds me of a discussion I had last week with some of my library media specialist team. We had discussed adding “instructional technology” last year to their job titles – and agreed that “technology” isn’t necessarily a word we want to associate with. They are experts in “instructional resources”- no matter what that resource is (a pencil, Google Sites, etc.). I think we made the right decision to stay with “media specialists”- and your comment reinforces that! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • LMS says:

      I concur. Too many are too quick to rename libraries and Teacher Librarians as ITC’s and and tech coaches.

  • K. Shelton says:

    What a wonderful and thought provoking post!! I agree with your positions on both TPACK and SAMR. I shall be forwarding this to several of my friends that I have long had a similar debate with about these very topics.

  • Krista
    I took me a while to come up with the right name for my last job because I wanted to use the name to “INFORM” people as to what my role was (and it was more than tech integration). We came up with Digital Age Learning Specialist
    I wanted the word LEARNING in there and tried to leave “technology” out of it but add something that implied that things are different today and that digital age tools can help.

    Krista.. I loved the part of the graphic where you lay out roles of teacher and and how technology can play a role in that role… What about adding “Inspire Creativity” or something about Creativity and Innovation — technology gives us many ways to develop and express our creativity. And students learn as they “MAKE and CREATE”. Just a thought.

  • Kristi Levy says:

    I love your article, but your graphic appears as a broken icon for me 🙁 I would really love to see it!

  • Krista, I am continually inspired by your work. I appreciate all your continual push to help make teachers more effective and efficient. Thank for creating http://www.edtechchallenge.com/.

  • Thank you for a thought-provoking post. I agree with your comments about TPACK; less so, I think, about SAMR. I certainly agree that we need to focus on teaching, not technology, which is why I’ll be sharing your great infographic with my district teachers. Thanks!

    • Thanks! I also appreciate your willingness to say you disagree! 🙂 I’d love to hear how you’re using SAMR with your teachers- I haven’t found it effective yet, and I’m probably approaching it from the wrong angle!

  • Jayme Linton says:

    Interesting post, Krista. I appreciate your willingness to share your perspective and get this conversation going. I use the TPACK framework with pre-service teachers to help them understand that technology use should serve specific purposes in the classroom. I agree with your statement about focusing on teaching instead of teaching with technology. I’d like to propose a change to your diagram. Content should be first, rather than pedagogy. Content drives the pedagogy, which drives the technology. Whenever I use the TPACK diagram, I put the content knowledge circle on top to remind students that the goal is for students to learn the content. The pedagogical and technological choices we make should be aligned closely with the content.

    • I really like that idea! I definitely agree- that visual makes a lot more sense!

    • Not sure I agree that we want our primary focus on the learning of content. Is it not the learning process that is shaped by pedagogical design that is of interest? Bob, I like your idea of amping up the instruction with technology! Rock n roll.

  • Bob Abrams says:

    A thought provoking post. I agree with Jayme that TPACK is very useful for pre-service teachers to develop the conceptual understanding that technology is an integral part to everything they are learning and practicing. I have used SAMR with teachers when they have expressed an interest in integrating more technology. I wholeheartedly agree that the pedagogy must come first. I forget who said it in my PLN, but technology only amplifies the instruction. If it is good, it can get better…if it is not so good, it will get worse.

  • LMS says:

    Bullseye! Thank you very much. Let’s recognize and focus on good teaching practices (4C’s, Inquiry, AFL – Assessment for as and of learning, reflection, common established criteria, goal setting, and learner ownership that guarantees student success.
    At PD conferences I often ask? What is the purpose? Usually followed by stunned silence for a minute. Hence the need for mentorship, collaboration, and a dynamic working Curriculum Map that ensures transparency for every stakeholder. Nancy Wimbush Peel DSB

  • Mark Emmons says:

    Krista, Thank you. Any argument that refocuses the discussion away from tools and back to sound instructional pedagogy is worthwhile. So very often the focus has been on “tools” and not what instructional objectives can be met by using them. But, TPACK does identify the mix necessary to be successful and SAMR serves as a useful guidepost for understanding and evaluating the progression of one’s own practice – identifying a logical starting point and terminus (not that the process is ever complete).

  • Melissa Lim says:

    Jumping on the bandwagon here…completely agree that the focus needs to be on pedagogy first, not technology. Thanks for igniting this discussion!

  • ssweeney602 says:

    I would like to share with you a framework that I designed with a similar thought process to your own. I find that the examples have helped teachers still working to develop their technological knowledge (and remember that includes book, pens, pencils and paper) to determine the most appropriate tool for designing the student learning experience. http://tech4urcontent.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/TechIntFrame.pdf

    • Stacy says:

      I just read your framework and I love it! It’s simple and to the point. Your examples at the bottom are outstanding. Too many times, experts “dance” around the real answers. Thank you!

    • Danny Plyler says:

      Great graphic! Really points to the important questions in using any tool regardless of whether it has a battery or you just push it across the paper. Are the benefits to students and teachers worth the time? Thanks for sharing!

  • wordwanderer says:

    You are to be applauded for challenging the status quo and emphasizing teaching. Technology is the innovative medium for learning. Its novelty often allows students to be reached in more expansive ways. Still it is learning that is the objective through the (personal) exchange, and that must engage the higher fuctions of the person in critical and self-reflective thining.

  • Dave Strong says:

    I can’t agree or disagree totally with you just yet. We’re still in many ways in an infancy stage with our 1:1. I can, however, offer my perspective. First, I very much enjoyed and was inspired by your presentation at MWGS. I used both the TPACK and SAMR model with teachers as we prepared for 1:1 this summer. I don’t have enough data to support it as effective or not. I viewed it as a tool. TPACK enabled me to put the introduction of new technology into perspective for our teachers. I agree that technology is a tool but utilized the TPACK to reassure teachers that it wasn’t the answer but rather that they already had competencies in the other two areas; hopefully putting them at ease a little when faced with the daunting task before them.

    SAMR, on the other hand, was used to help them understand that as they utilized the new tool, there were more and less effective ways to do this. Simple taking all the PowerPoints they had and putting them into an accessible online format wasn’t a very effective way. Convenient, but not necessarily effective.

    I look forward to more insight from everyone and a healthy, open discussion about all of the uses of the technologies. I am very glad that others also keep focused, as you do, on what truly is important.

    • I REALLY like your approach with the frameworks. You’ve given really good, specific examples of how SAMR & TPACK have supported your work with teachers… and your explanation is really helping me to see where the gaps in my thinking were. I think I was trying to use TPACK as a motivational tool (“Hey! You need knowledge of all three!”) rather than a tool to reassure teachers who are feeling overwhelmed (which is a fantastic approach, and very different to what I was doing!). I still think TPACK sends the wrong visual message overall, but I really like the idea presented by +JaymeLinton above for re-ordering the circles! As for SAMR… again, I was trying to use the framework as a motivational tool rather than as a reflective tool. I still worry it focuses too much on the tool than effective teaching practices, but I can see how it might help teachers connect the dots once they’ve chosen a tool to use.

      Great response- I appreciate your thoughts! Thank you so much for replying!

  • Ben Harrison says:

    Like many I also agree that both TPACK and SAMR are outside the realm of most teachers at the beginning, but conceptually I agree with both. Most teachers think about a couple of computers in the classroom and what they can do. The models take the whole picture of education and all that can be done and categorize it.

    Krista, I think you have addressed something that has been danced around for far too long. Successful tech programs are that way because they are in successful educational systems. The technology adds to it. Far too many say “If I had…, then I could…” and have little success with their program in the classroom now.

    Personally, I don’t see SAMR and TPACK as different frameworks. Rather, with a little bit of perspective tweaking I see them as part of one framework. That would be a fun discussion, wouldn’t it?

    • This comment is going to ruin my life. I’m already picturing ways that they could be mapped together and with other frameworks (UDL, Marzano, etc.). GREAT idea!

  • David says:

    Wouldn’t you start with learning, rather than starting with teaching? I’d rather focus on what the learners do, and create conditions for that. Focusing on teaching and instruction is only one component of learning and ignores many essential things that contribute as much to the learning equation. Focusing on teaching alone is a shallow approach.

    • Uh oh- if that is what is being portrayed by this post, it was definitely not intended! Can you tell me where you saw that message so that I can modify it? I made sure that the first question in the graphic said “Are my students LEARNING?” rather than “How am I TEACHING?”. I completely agree with your statement, and I’d hate to think I was sending a different message.

    • Dave Strong says:

      I think the emphasis in this post has always focused on the learning. The focus always needs to remain with student learning; this essentially drives the teaching.

  • This is a very helpful discussion. I am currently preparing an all day session on ELA Common Core and Technology resources. In my preparation I ran across both TPACK and SAMR. My take away from this discussion is that it matters how these models are presented. Without the proper context, they seem like another bit of jargon. Dave S’s comment about TPACK really resonates with me. Too often new initiatives are used as ways to make teachers feel inadequate. But TPACK can be used to remind teachers of the aspects they already do well. No one can use all of the technology tools mentioned by other teachers or read about on the internet. So a framework is needed to guide a teacher’s selection. Emphasizing content and pedagogy provides such a lens. The CCSS themselves mention the need to use technology strategically. Strategy means a teacher has an end game or goal in mind and the tech tools work to achieve this end. The tools are not the goal. Student learning is the goal.

    • Very well put Jonathon. I’ve noticed the same needs of teachers in my district. Without a framework in place to engage in conversations about making the student learning the end goal, the flashy “cool tools” or “web 2.0 tools” will be a distraction and ultimately be a detriment to teachers unfamiliar with the new demands technology places on the teacher.

  • I think you raise a great point about the TPACK and I appreciate your infographic. Pedagogy is of the utmost importance and should be considered first and foremost. I’d go even further to say that the curricular goal, transferrable skills (NETS-S) and possibly even assessment should also be identified before choosing a “tool.” However, I can’t say I agree with your perspective on the SAMR. Your statement that “While I agree that SAMR can help explain how “X tool can help you do Y” is not really in line with the intended purpose of the SAMR.
    At its root, the value of the SAMR model is to help teachers become aware of whether they’re simply substituting something old for something new (I.e. notes on paper vs. notes on the computer). Or if they’re integrating technology in a manner which enables new teaching and learning opportunities.
    In other words, it’s an excellent guide for teachers to self-reflect and identify if they’re already using the 4 C’s (creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking) without digital tools, they should continue to do so if their use of technology does not significantly redesign a task or create tasks that were previously inconceivable.
    Reflective teaching means looking at what you do in the classroom, thinking about why you do it, and thinking about if it works – a process of self-observation and self-evaluation.
    By collecting information about what goes on in our classroom, and by analyzing and evaluating this information, we identify and explore our own practices and underlying beliefs. This may then lead to changes and improvements in our teaching such as moving upward on the SAMR continuum from Enhancement to Transformation.

  • I use the SAMR model and find it helpful for teachers to think beyond going from a paper and pencil worksheet to an e-worksheet.

  • Lissa Layman says:

    Thanks for starting this discussion Krista! We waited several months to introduce SAMR to our teachers and when we did it was because we wanted a common language that we could use. I still struggle with how to get teachers to understand it completely however – it seems that, in general, teachers are quick to think they are at a ‘higher’ stage than they really are.

    I’ve found both of these articles extremely thought provoking in the last several weeks and have come back to them time and again. Enjoy!
    What is technology integration? http://goo.gl/ORI1hf
    What’s the different between ‘using tech’ and ‘techn integration’? http://goo.gl/3pmoz

  • Caitlin, thank you for a wonderfully reflective post. That is why I began to think about the combination of Bloom’s and SAMR as illustrated here. http://linkyy.com/bloomssamr

    Some have argued I am incorrect and the two cannot be aligned and I am sending the wrong message to teachers. I respectfully disagree, since the visual is meant to remind teachers both to create tasks that target the higher-order cognitive skills (Bloom’s) as well as design tasks that have a significant impact on student outcomes (SAMR). If the teachers use another cognitive skills model instead of Bloom’s, that is fine too, but we must include a pedagogically sound model as well as thinking about the technology components.

    Educators have also pointed out they have seen redefinition tasks that only target the remembering level or have a creative assessment that is only at the augmentation level. Of course that is true, but I believe we should be planning for technology tasks, activities, and assessments that include both the higher levels of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy and the transformation area of SAMR model.

    I have created a page of SAMR resources, linking to tips, tricks, and articles in case anyone is interested. Multiple views are presented! http://www.schrockguide.net/samr.html

    • I REALLY like your visual connecting Bloom’s and SAMR. One of my biggest frustrations is that SAMR doesn’t use language teachers understand (ie: what does “redefinition” literally look for classroom practice?), and I think your visual captures that perfectly.

      I also agree with your comments about including “a pedagogically sound model as well as thinking about technology components”. Teachers usually became teachers because they want to teach- not because they want to learn technology. If technology really can improve teaching and learning practices, it’s up to us to make that connection clear… and we’re only going to be able to do that if we can use the language that educators know and understand.

      Anyway, thank you for your comment and for sharing your resources here. I’ll be at SLATE next week- I’m looking forward to your keynote presentation!

  • Rae Fearing says:

    Thanks for this thought provoking post Krista. I have just started using the SAMR model with teachers and, so far, they are finding it helpful. Many time teachers can be frustrated that their technology integration is not producing the desired results, the SAMR model can help with this. Teachers can benefit from the SAMR “ladder” as a way to redefine current activities with technology so learning outcomes are achieved. I combine the SAMR model with the 4C’s in this graphic to help guide teachers to higher levels of learning as they move up the SAMR ladder.

  • Mr. Ehret says:

    Simply Awesome Post! I remember learning all about my “Loti levels”… I am creating a course for teachers where they will be challenged to complete a lesson makeover to include more technology. Though, I want them to learn about Ed Tech Framework. Ultimately, I want them to walk away understanding your point about you’re trying to do Y and here’s how X can make you more efficient or effective! Thanks.

  • Harro says:

    Thanks for these ideas. I tend to agree with Eric Patnoudes’s reply. I think it would be nice to represent the SAMR model as a spiral model instead of a waterfall model. And tell any teacher that sometimes substitution already is a great step towards change. Of course we like to marvel at excellent redefinitions, but don’t forget many of those started by substitution and modification…

  • I’m new to the SAMR model, and thought your post does a very nice job of summing up the good and the not so good it brings to the discussion. I also am a believer that teachers should essentially focus on what works for the students. I try to engage teachers by asking them to start by defining their pedagogical objectives and then assess which tools (online or not) can best help them achieve those goals. However, the teachers that have the hardest time with technology will usually be reluctant to get exposed to what the new tools can help them achieve. Good old resistance to change.

    And then, there’s a whole discussion on how the educational model itself has to change. Let’s just think about how content delivery is becoming less and less of a priority for teachers: Contents are becoming ever more abundant. What does this mean for teachers? What should they be doing instead of lecturing (aka. giving class)? If edtech can be more than a mere substitute for educational activities, how does it transform educational processes?

  • acoure says:

    A well-written article. Agree with your sentiments and I’ve read a great deal of Hattie’s work and have found his research to be most useful when reflecting on teaching and learning.

  • Jenny says:

    I am a coach in a 1:1 district and I totally agree that it all focuses around the learning. Your idea that TPACK should not be equal circles has really stuck with me and makes so much sense. Also, I love how you suggested putting PD into context. “You are trying to get to Y, so here is how X can make it more efficient or effective.” You definitely impacted the SAMR/TPACK PD I’m doing on Tuesday to better get my thoughts across to the audience. Thanks!

  • Laudan Kirk says:

    I simply love this article. I find that as an ed-tech coach, when I work with teachers, pedagogy is the place to begin. I too agree that the more simple method seems to work best in working with teachers. Awesome graphic you created at the end of the article.

  • Robert Reid says:

    I spent the last thirteen years teaching at a rural high school where we were 1:1 on student netbooks. This year, however, I moved to the middle school within the same corporation and have encountered many changes that have made my teaching better.
    First, my 7th and 8th grade students are now 1:1 on iPads. This has changed how I create and implement some of my lessons, as iPads may work more effectively on certain things.
    Secondly, I have been able to use the SAMR model more often and “more efficiently” because students can use the technology not only for research and such, but use it for–and get immediate feedback on–various types of assessments. I have utilized SAMR (mostly S & A) a lot more lately, and it makes me wonder what else I am capable of doing for my students. I look forward to engaging them at higher levels when I learn more!

  • Galvin Ngo says:

    Awesome post! and equally awesome comment thread: (jumping in from the Philippines! 🙂 )

    I think Laurillard’s Conversational Framework, deepens an understanding of TPACK. Maybe these frameworks can be used as lenses to answer particular questions about education technology or technology integration, rather than using them as step-by-step guides:

    1. What can technology do? What types of technology are available? – SAMR
    2. How does effective integration happen? – TPACK
    3. How can technology enhance learning? – Conversational Framework

    I think that at the end of the day, the teacher in his/her classroom context provides for the most important framework – who his/her students are, what are the curricular goals, etc.

  • Jim Treloar says:

    Krista – I came across this article while I am preparing a workshop on tech integration for NYSCATE. My initial goal was to create a rubric from the SAMR model to be able to self evaluate lessons for tech integration as well as for just plain good instruction. I found TPACK useful for explaining as one reader did in an earlier comment how technology fits into the whole picture. SAMR is good for explaining the depth to which you need to utilize technology and, change to more student centered instruction, for the most impact. But neither could be used as an evaluation tool for determining what great instruction looks like and how to incorporate technology to accomplish that.

    I came across the Technology Integration Matrix which was developed by the University of South Florida (http://fcit.usf.edu/matrix/matrix.php) and modified by the folks at Northern Arizona University (http://www.azk12.org/tim/). To me, this is the tool that will truly help teachers understand what both good instruction should look like and how technology can be a driving force for achieving that. This links to the two page pdf of the matrix from Northern Arizona University – http://www.azk12.org/tim/docs/AZK1031_Matrix_Print.pdf

    Thank you for asking the questions.

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