Education: Through a lens – clearly

Martin Levins
16 October, 2010
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Do you know what a prosthesis is? My colleagues responded in ways that implied injury or disability, but I prefer to think of it as something that will allow you to do things you couldn’t do without it.

In this context, we can refer to all tools as prostheses and engage Gary Stager’s idea of technology as a prosthesis for the mind – it allows us to do more cognitively.

With technology I can draw, I can produce a video, I can research, I can write. Some of these things I can do without technology, but I can do them better with it.

On this page in the July issue of Australian Macworld, I reported briefly on the work of Ruben Puentedura (, who consults to the state of Maine in the United States, and the teacher education program that accompanies their laptop rollout.

At the International Society for Technology in Education conference held recently in Denver, I attended a workshop given by the Maine team, including Puentedura, who developed the predominant rubric used in Maine education: Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition (SAMR).

While this seems like Yet Another Set of Acronyms, it acts as a lens to focus on the use of technology in designing learning experiences.

I like this approach as it removes any emphasis on technology and the teacher’s technological skillset, and looks instead at learning as its primary focus and considers how the use of technology can act in a prosthetic manner.

We began the workshop by considering a question: “What’s the most compelling use of technology in education you’ve seen at this year’s ISTE Conference? Why?”

You’d expect some good answers from conferees attending one of the biggest events in educational IT, even if the 17,000 attendees were swelled considerably by booth organisers, many of whom were Interactive Whiteboard pushers.

IWBs are not of themselves bad, the problem rests with the way they are promoted, and the way that I have seen them mostly used – the ‘Stand and Deliver’ model of expository learning where the teacher pours information into the students for later regurgitation in a test.

The demonstrators of these technologies never fail to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity for learning – reducing their shtick to mind-numbing close tests or simple drag-and-drop item matching.

So, it was unsurprising that our group found it difficult to articulate an answer, but it wasn’t as simple as this.

Our stumbling was also due to our lack of a scaffold – pegs to hang activities and learning experiences on – and this is exactly where the SAMR rubric excels.

We quickly see that a lot of what we have seen during the week was Substitution (such as using an IWB rather than an overhead to show URLs related to a study of Macbeth) or Augmentation (looking at Flickr images tagged as Macbeth).

As educators, we always look for an improvement in grade (“Hey mum, since we got those laptops, I got an A”) and Puentedura specifically addresses this, stating that his research shows that Substitution and Augmentation do not fundamentally change achievement in any statistically significant way.

The latter two levels of use, however, have been shown to transform the learning experience rather than enhance it, leading to significant increases in achievement and understanding. According to research by Bloom (the taxonomy guy), this is a similar improvement to that of 1:1 tutoring!

Modification (using to look at word frequency in Shakespeare’s play) and Redefinition (Using to ‘perform’ the play to a world audience) can result in improvements in achievement of up to one and two standard deviations respectively.

Using this lens, I can see what my technologies are doing.

This article originally appeared in the September issue of Australian Macworld magazine.

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