SAMR and Teacher Confidence: A confluence of models

Posted by Will Kimbley on February 20, 2015

As someone who works to assist educators with the integration of technology into instruction, I work with a wide variety of experience levels and skill sets. At times it is a challenge to meet all their needs. Nevertheless, just as in any K-12 classroom, you accept people where you find them and seek to help them move forward. But how can we best do that?

Research has given us a couple of models that can serve as a lens to examine this and assist us in formulating strategies. The first, and probably wider known is the SAMR model from Dr. Ruben Puentedura.

SAMR model diagram
SAMR model. Click photo for explanation by Dr. Puentedura.

At its base level, technology is used as a Substitute. If you put a worksheet on an iPad, you have a very expensive worksheet. My own ed tech journey included a time when I was really proud that I had figured out how to scan student worksheets and turn them into fill-able PDFs that they could fill out on their laptops. Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to figure out that was a waste of good technology, not to mention bad pedagogy.

Writing a paper with a word processor can be seen as Augmentation. Students can change font sizes, use spell check, and even email their work. Modification comes in when online collaborative word processors such as Google Docs or Microsoft OneDrive are utilized. Students can communicate and collaborate in the same document in real time on separate devices transforming the task significantly. If you consider adding in something like Skype or Google Hangout, students can connect with classrooms literally around the world to collaborate on a document. Add in Google Translate and even the language barrier is not insurmountable and you can start talking about true Redefinition—a task that would be impossible without the technology.

Moving classroom technology use up through the levels of this model is an important task for technology leaders. Not every task needs to be at the top of the model, but why does so much technology use tend to be mere Substitution or, at best, Augmentation? For example, two of the most common tools I see are interactive whiteboards and document cameras. Schools spend quite a bit of money on document cameras that are used to show a teacher filling out a worksheet or solving a math problem on paper. Interactive whiteboards costing thousands of dollars are often used no differently than a regular whiteboard, and never touched by students. Why are many teachers stuck in substitution mode?

Teacher confidence comes into play

I believe much of the reason has to do with a teacher’s confidence in using technology. Mark Anderson  developed a flowchart examining teacher confidence based on the work of Dr. Ellen Mandinach and Dr. Hugh Cline.

Anderson model of teacher confidence

You can see that at the base level, teachers are in Survival mode, often afraid of breaking technology. As someone who was around when personal home computers were first introduced. I quite understand this fear. I remember when putting in your floppy disks in the wrong order could mess you up for hours. Part of my job is to give them some training and practice and let them see that today’s Web 2.0 technologies are not as fragile thus instilling confidence and moving up into the next stage of Mastery.

Where teachers begin to have Impact is when students also are using technology. To quote Alan November, “The person doing the work is doing the learning.” When technology is teacher-centric, students are left out of the experience. It is also worth mentioning that the Impact stage says “using tech effectively.” How effective is it to only use an iPad to practice math facts, or a laptop only to take a reading quiz? Innovation comes into play when technology becomes second nature. Its no longer a question of how to fit technology into a unit. Effective technology use is a matter of course in everyday lesson design.

What I noticed when looking at these two models is a confluence where one helps explain the other. In many cases, especially early on in technology integration, technology is used as a substitute because teachers are in Survival mode and seek the comfort of a familiar environment. It is after they have received some training and feel a sense of Mastery that they can begin to move into Augmentation and beyond.

Building confidence

Our role as leaders is to help build teacher confidence with the use of technology so that they can move beyond mere Substitution. We can do this in a number of ways.

  • Provide them with working, effective tools.
  • Provide enough tech support; teachers don’t have time to troubleshoot on their own.
  • Provide sufficient devices so students can use them reasonably. You don’t need to have 1:1, but one iPad in a classroom is not technology integration.
  • Ensure that there is adequate infrastructure for reliable and readily available internet access. If teachers know the tools, infrastructure, and support are reliable, it builds their confidence. When it is not, quite the opposite is true.
  • Bring in quality professional development—hands-on, ongoing, not just sit and get.
  • Offer release time to observe exemplary classrooms and to collaborate with one another.

Lastly, give them permission to try, and permission to fail. Technology integration can be messy and fraught with failure. Just like learning to walk, falls and missteps should be expected. Support your teachers, build their confidence, so they can effectively use these essential tools for teaching and learning. Keep in mind they are teaching students who grew up with, and will go into, a world full of technology. Don’t let the classroom be a technology free zone.

See follow-up resources from the TICAL database.


Administrators Need Tech Training, Too

Posted by Jack Jarvis on May 25, 2012

early surgery using anesthesia
First etherized operation (re-enactment)

A current buzz phrase in educational administration circles these days states, when it comes to classroom instruction, “The curriculum you get shouldn’t depend on the teacher you get.”  This refers primarily to the fact that some teachers still cling to outdated practices even when evidence to the contrary often exists right next door in a colleague’s classroom.  I would submit that the concept also applies when it comes to the quality of technology use at the school level; that is, the technology you get shouldn’t depend on the principal you get.”

I offer the following analogy to demonstrate how this concept translates to decisions made by top administration in regards to tech integration in the modern school:

Imagine you live in a society in which you may only seek medical attention from the physician or hospital in your Medical Attendance Zone (or MAZ). You are limited to receiving services only in that area.  Now, consider needing a heavy-duty procedure (like the knee replacement I just underwent) and being limited to receiving services from a surgeon and a hospital in your MAZ.

Your surgeon is new at your hospital, younger, very tech-comfortable, and entirely capable of using an MRI to evaluate what should be done.  However, the hospital administration doesn’t understand the whole “tech thing,” as they call it, and refuses to provide a modern MRI machine.  Nor has the administration provided training to the Head of Surgery in how to use even the hospital’s older technology so the Head can train the surgeons he/she supervises.

Now imagine your brother, who lives a few miles away, needs the same surgery.  His MAZ surgeon not only has state-of-the art technology available but also training in its use.  After your scan, his hospital sends the MRI data out to a company that  transforms that MRI image into a 3-D model of your arthritic knee and then virtually corrects any deformity to return the knee to its pre-arthritic state.   Using all this information, a set of custom cutting guides is then created for your surgeon’s use during your individual surgery.

This is exactly where we find ourselves in ed tech these days.  The technology experience students at a given school get depends greatly on the district, superintendent, central office educational supervisors, and site administration.   What makes the situation more serious is that we’re not talking about knee replacement surgery but about students’  survival in the future job market and the accompanying quality of life itself.

As a site administrator for 13 years in a large urban district, I can attest to the fact that in all the district meetings held to train us administrators, not one ever included or was devoted to tech integration within the classroom. I’ve known supervisors  who not only knew little about technology but discouraged tech use.  While most districts in the state have beefed up their tech infrastructure and put computers in classrooms, few have trained their leaders in how to integrate those resources into modern instruction.

On the bright side, there are clearly superintendents and principals who are now definitely “getting it.”  Through programs like TICAL and professional development opportunities like Leadership 3.0, these leaders are building a vision and understanding of how to use technology to advance learning.  Yet we still have a long way to go. Those of us who are tech pioneers and advocates need to continue to push our organizations to move ahead.  To return to the medical metaphor, no school leader should be encouraging students and teachers to bite on sticks when effective anesthesia should be the norm.


Three Wishes for the New Ed Tech Task Force

Posted by Bob Blackney on April 30, 2012

I guess you know when you are getting old when you can say things like, “I have watched educational technology in California for thirty years.”  Unfortunately, this statement is all too true in my case.  From the days of AB 803 to the current state initiatives, the State of California developed many technology master plans and visions for technology in education.

Recently, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson called together a group of bright and energetic stakeholders from across the state to update the California State Technology Plan.  As this talented group headed to Sacramento, I thought, “If I could have three wishes that could actually be granted by this group, what would they be?”  After some hours of pondering—and lowering of expectations from grand to achievable in the present budget environment—I was left with these:

Wish Number 1: A simple tech plan

While Wish Number 1 would cost no money, it could save hundreds of hours of time at each school and district.  Right now we have the “kitchen sink” template for technology planning.  It includes detailed planning for the next three to five years out.  The resulting document easily exceeds 100 pages.  Much more beneficial would be a simple two to five page document that is updated yearly/bi-yearly in light of the changing technology and budget landscape that might be accomplished within that shortened period.  This makes particular sense given how quickly the tech environment changes.  Fives years ago, who could have foretold the present explosion of mobile technologies, software as a service, and lightweight operating systems?  Certainly not Microsoft.

Wish Number 2: On-line learning

Most of the nation has devised a plan to enable schools and districts to provide on-line learning and for districts to collect ADA for student participation in these programs as part of the general educational program.  On-line learning in its many forms is not a futuristic vision, but is a fact for most industries, local governments and state educational systems.  Woefully, this is not reality in California. California should look to the many states that appear to have this figured out and adopt or adapt one of their systems.  Last year, it appeared we might have new legislation that would allow our schools to offer on-line learning, but at the last minute the bill was gutted and morphed into a bill to protect shark fins.  (Really!  You can’t make this stuff up.)  California’s students should have the same priority as shark fins, but in the meantime, we deprive students of valuable options.

Wish Number 3: Funding for schools

Funding for technology in California has varied between miniscule and non-existent.  Given this dearth of funding, two general strategies have been used, both based upon the notion that since there is so little money in the pot, equal distribution would be too small to make a difference.  One strategy has been to pool funding into more significant amounts and have schools write grants to access resources.  Using this strategy, successful applicants might have enough money to implement a program.   The second, and current, plan gives funding to leadership projects and county offices to provide services within the counties.  What’s the matter with that approach?  The answer is pretty simple.  Learning takes place in schools, and if no money is going there then students never get it.  In some form, at least half of the state funding should find its way to support schools.

Some general principles

In granting my three wishes, there are some general principles I recommend to the Task Force.  First, allow for a great deal of local discretion in planning and implementation.  California is a big place and planning for the whole state is difficult if not impossible to do from Sacramento.  How can a single school district in a remote area of the state do the same things that a large urban district might?  Would you even want them to try?   Second, shoot for the middle.  The average teacher and student are not looking for a cutting edge solution but for simple, easy-to-use, proven technologies.  Lastly, plan for a “beer budget.”  We don’t have the funding to support grand designs and would be better not to start there.  California is more like the Simpsons than the Kardashians, and a plan that acknowledges the budgetary facts would be welcome.

Well that’s it, my three wishes.  None of these would cost additional money and could be accomplished in the next school year.  Not a grand vision of a digitally connected future with each student linked to a myriad of digital resources, but a more pragmatic look at what can actually be done.


The Professional Development Dilemma

Posted by Tim Landeck on September 27, 2011

All K-12 employees need to receive professional development in their field. Teachers need to learn about new and better ways to deliver instruction. Classified staff needs to learn about the new programs and district initiatives. Administrators need to learn about ways to manage their staff and facility in a more effective and efficient manner. Technical staff needs to learn about the new technology developments to select and implement the systems that will assist in making everyone’s life easier and more effective in education.

Can any of these job areas do without their trainings and if so, for how long? When will the lack of funding to support forward movement in professional development be felt by the students and community? It seems that professional development funds are usually cut soon after the funding for the district grant writer. In other words, it is one of the first items cut from the budget.

In these lean times in education the technical staff is faced with a large dilemma.  We need to keep up with the latest and greatest in technology for the K-12 arena; however, there are not funds available to send staff to trainings where they learn about ways to do more with less and improve the technical workings of the school site, district or county. These individuals are already highly skilled and trained personnel but we need to keep them this way. With limited, or no professional development funds available, how can we keep our staff up to speed with the ever changing world of technology?

The technology staff is expected to integrate the latest technical innovations as they are released.  It seems to me that the technical staff’s lack of continued professional growth would be felt sooner by their “clients” than the other groups. Everyone needs to continue to grow and model being lifelong learners, but when we cut the training to the technical staff, there is no opportunity for growth in the technical department and this equates to stagnant progress that affects everyone in the organization, from staff to students to community members.


Spring Axing

Posted by Tim Landeck on May 30, 2011

Every couple of years I see the lush, green field across from the picturesque, cliff-hanging lighthouse in my town brought to the city council for development.  Activists turn out in force and, with passion and voice, quell the development of this unique field for a few years until another developer sees the chance to triumph in the public forum, and the battle begins anew.

Like the environmentalist, our Technology Department never has the opportunity to trust that something is preserved forever.  This spring, as in so many others, the budget ax is on the upswing.  Faced with a dire financial situation, where can we chop into the bone even further?  As department heads scurry about like a recently disturbed ant hill, the question always comes up, “What does that tech guy do, anyway?”  The answer?  Whack!  The elimination of yet another K-12 technical position that is supporting site and/or district-wide access to innumerable resources.

What does anyone do? When I look around the district office and school sites, I see many positions that I don’t understand clearly.  What are their specific responsibilities?  What do they contribute each day?  Does my lack of understanding mean that the district can function just fine without these people’s daily activities? I don’t think so.

I am clear about the activities and productivity of those who report to me.  I trust that other department leaders also have a quality work ethic, are supervised appropriately, and do a fine job of overseeing their staff.

Unfortunately, when I deliver the repeatedly requested bullet list of technology department personnel job responsibilities and activities to my superiors, I know that the readers will not fully grasp the importance and significance of these activities.  If you don’t understand technology, you don’t understand technology; no bullet list will be sufficient to help you make informed decisions.

And there you have one more unique yet critical task of the technology department: educating non-technically minded educators and leaders about what we do.  Like the activists who fight to protect that green field across from the lighthouse, we must struggle to help our policy makers understand technology well enough to make wise decisions come budget time.