Word Up – on SAMR, that is…

Technology for Technology’s Sake

If you’ve been reading the latest e-learning articles and blogs, you’ll note that the current in vogue ideas of technology in the classroom is that the tech used needs to serve some kind of purpose.  Why is this particular tech being used?  What’s its function?  How does it play out in the overall learning objectives?  And if a simpler mode of delivery could be used, why isn’t it?

Many of the writers that I’ve been reading are cautioning the use of tech in the classroom, and argue that simply using a Word program, for example, to write up an essay, is a waste of time.  That this use of tech is merely “substitution” and does not further learning in any meaningful way.  A further argument is that the tech used, ideally, should be of the higher SAMR – the redefinition level  of tech use in the classroom.  You know, the mind expanding, we never could have done this 20 years ago, type of tech.

Who’s Your Audience?

That’s fine, for an audience of learners born and raised in the western world.  An audience of adult ESL immigrants is different.  They have different needs.  They have had a different kind of exposure to tech, if they’ve had any at all.  And before  I get back to the “Word program example”, I want to revisit the SAMR model for a moment.

I’ve looked at SAMR before.  Here’s another picture below,  just to refresh your memory.  The idea behind SAMR is that tech use is a kind of hierarchy, with the ultimate goal to reach the redefinition stage.

Redefinition means being able to guide your leaners in a way that expands their mind, that takes advantage of multi user collaboration, critical thinking,  creativity and problem solving in a way that standard classroom procedures and a textbook can’t.

Using a WORD document, then,  would not be considered a mind expanding activity.  Its use is old school, CALL-style tech that we need to step up from.  It most certainly isn’t redefining.  Or is it?

Think about what functions are available in a typical Word program.  You know what happens when you make a spelling or grammar error; the red or green squiggly lines appear.  This makes the self-editing process decidedly easier, and quicker.  Clicking under a red-squiggly line opens up a drop down menu of suggested corrections, allowing the writer access to more options when correcting her or his writing.

Once satisfied with the document, students can peer correct by sharing their documents in an active directory, via email, or in an LMS.  An editing peer can then select “track changes”, and “add comment”, then forward the peer edit back to the original author.

The question is, is this essentially different than a handwritten piece that goes through the same process?

Substitution:  “Tech acts  as a direct tool substitute, with no functional change”.

Certainly, a Word doc could be used as a simple substitution, but there are functional changes that the learners take advantage of (spell check, grammar check, track changes, using pre-loaded templates, thesaurus, word count, formatting options, including headers and footers)

Augmentation:  “Tech acts as a direct tool  substitute, with functional improvement”.  At the very least, Word is augmentation for the reasons listed in substitution.

Modification: “Tech allows  for significant task redesign”.  Learners can insert tables, create charts and graphs, save the Word document as a pdf, or use a “book creator” app to add images, and professional formatting.

Redefinition:  “Tech allows for the creation of new tasks previously inconceivable”.  Connecting to the internet allows access to search engines.  I’d argue that teachers are now able to use search engines to do a quotation enclosed search of a paragraph submitted by a learner to check for suspected plagiarism.  Programs such as “turnitin” are based on this same technology, allowing teachers to determine whether the work submitted is an original piece, or something pulled off of the thousands of free essay sites available on the internet.

Alternatively, learners can further use internet research on their Word documents to find similar points of view, or contrasting points of view.  Final drafts can be posted on a class blog, and thus opened up for comments and suggestions from a much larger audience.  This can also be done in the LearnIT2Teach blog, which opens up blog writing to the ESL community (students can use just first names to ensure confidentiality.)

Depending on how its used, Word can be on any level of the SAMR model, from straight substitution through redefinition.  I am not, by the way, proposing that the use of Word is the only piece of technology that can be used in a writing class. The tech writers who claim that using Word isn’t advancing learning in any meaningful way are not thinking of the bigger picture, nor are they considering how Word can be used in an Adult ESL class to expand learning, to develop critical thinking skills, and to develop multi user collaboration creatively.

Book Report Example:

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