The SAMR model for the integration of ICTs into the classroom is a typical example of the way in which the introduction of ICTs is seen as transformative. It shares with models such as the Apple Classrooms Of Tomorrow (Entry, Adoption, Adaptation, Appropriation, Invention) and the various models adopted by the United Nations, the notion that ICTs are a force for dragging the classroom kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.
The model suggests that teachers will move from merely substituting traditional technology with ICTs, for example replacing a chalkboard with an Interactive White Board, to redefining what they do in the classroom, using the affordances of new technologies to re-conceive of their pedagogy. In other words technology will “disrupt” educational practice. This vision is often presented as one which will champion a movement away from Instructivist (teacher-centred) towards Constructivist (learner-centred) pedagogies.
While I am in agreement that ICTs can be a force for more learner-centred approaches, there are several problems with the way the debate has been framed.
Firstly, the relationship between teaching and learning is not a simple one-to-one mapping. While the balance of power between different learning theories has shifted over the last fifty years from the dominance of Behaviourism in the mid 1900s towards the triumph of Constructivism, and the emerging ideas around Connectivism. While, obviously, hopefully, there is a connection between what a teacher does, and how a student learns, this connection is not necessarily a direct or simple one. If a teacher delivers a lecture it does not invalidate the Constructivist notion that students construct knowledge in their own minds, and do not simply receive it into their heads from the mouth of the teacher: ie knowledge is constructed, not transferred. While Constructivism clearly favours notions of active learning, just because I am passively listening, does not mean that I am not actively constructing ideas within my brain! As any teacher knows, sometimes you need to tell. Instruction is often the most efficient way of getting an idea across, especially with older kids and adults! Discovery learning suffers from a central contradiction, the Scholars Dilemma, how do you discover something you don’t know exists! Sometimes, often actually, one does need to be told things!
A common way of framing the ICT debate is to argue that ICTs will shift the balance from the lecture towards problem-based, inquiry-based learning. While this is broadly valid, what it overlooks is that this is largely an argument for what learners ought to be doing. It doesn’t necessarily speak to what teachers ought to be doing. I totally agree that classrooms should become places for inquiry and active learning. However, I disagree that this means that the lecture is dead! The Guide on the Side is an argument for dereliction of duty, the teacher becomes a mere facilitator who stands back and watches from the sidelines. The teacher should be the meddler in the middle, intimately and closely involved in the learning of her students, sometimes being the sage, sometimes being the guide, but always involved. I find that most of my lessons involve short bursts of instruction followed by discovery and guided practice, or, of course the other way round.
One argument for ICTs that accords well with this conception is the Flipped Classroom Approach, which sees the teacher’s time as being maximised by actively assisting and engaging with students rather than in delivering content, something ICTs can do quite adequately.
Secondly, the model assumes that Education needs disrupting! I do not necessarily disagree with this point, but the model, with its insistence that ICTs will, at its most advanced levels, transform education, frames itself as a challenge to teachers to do things differently: not just in terms of using ICTs, but also in terms of pedagogy. This assumes that teachers are not doing things properly at the moment, and this alone may explain why teachers feel threatened, and reluctant to adopt ICTs. My reading of teachers is that most teachers adopt different strategies and deploy their pedagogical understandings on a more or less opportunistic and ad hoc basis. There are times when I need to mediate content or concepts for students, and times when I want them to use their knowledge and skills to explore problems or learn how to research issues and frame their new understandings in ways which increasingly resemble the academic language and ways of thinking demanded by the discipline they are studying. The core business of education is the same today as it was, well, thousands of years ago!
When Socrates guided his students towards understanding through dialogue, the pedagogy he pursued was no less valid than problem-based learning for example. One of the great strengths that teachers deploy is their ability to select strategies and activities that will best support learning in their own contexts from the multiple approaches and theories on display. Models such as ACOT and SAMR tend to assume a linear movement in which, over time, a teacher will come to appreciate that one method, or technology is best! This idea is deeply flawed, and downright dangerous!
The SAMR model uses the metaphor of a swimming pool. One implication is that some uses of technology are shallow, and others deep. This is somewhat misleading. What if I am substituting collaborative writing in groups to Google Docs? My pedagogical purposes are not shallow or trite even though I am merely substituting one technology (paper-based editing) for another. On the other hand I could be using a new technology (skype) for an entirely trivial task. My task would be seen as being in the deep end because it would be impossible to achieve without the new technology, and yet my pedagogical purpose might be negligible
Clearly what is meant is that teachers should be challenged to map the affordances of technology to meaningful pedagogical practices, and encourage Higher Order Thinking, not that we should be trying to get so creative with technology that we lose sight of what we are trying to do in the classroom. If technology does provide new and exciting ways of achieving what could not be achieved without it, then well and good, but clearly teachers should be encouraged to seek out good educational practice first and foremost, rather than innovating for the sake of innovating.
My third reservation with the model is a related point that the process of integration is not linear. One does not start at one end of the swimming pool and as one gets better at it, end up in the deep end. Perhaps the metaphor still holds if one visualizes teachers swimming laps, going up and down, being at different stages at different times. And yet even this formulation is less than helpful because it does not help to explain why a teacher would choose one solution above another. Teachers choices of technology surely cannot be determined crudely by a linear progression based on whatever criteria are used?
Surely teachers make the choices they do because they can see a benefit to how they teach a particular unit of work.
A better metaphor would then be that of a craftsman reaching for a particular tool depending on what it is that they are doing at the time. Experience will have shown the craftsman what tool works best in what context. The model shown on the right was developed by Angeli and Valanides to describe how teachers map the affordances of technologies to content they wish to deliver using pedagogical approaches which will work with particular students in particular contexts.
The diagram may not be as pretty or as catchy as the others out there, but it describes far better what happens with real teachers in real classrooms. In the interplay of Knowledge, Pedagogy and Technology, somehow teachers are muddling through!