Ancient Writings – Image Source:
In a workshop last week (I seem to be doing more of those these days), I found myself pining for the old days. You know, when gopher, ftp, pine, lynx were common terms used by teachers involved in the Texas Education Network (TENET). As a TENET Master Trainer (how wonderful it was to have that title as a young educator, but now only brings back warm memories of the people I had the chance to work with), I was always reading my copy of ISTE’s Learning and Leading with Technology.

One of the articles introduced me to Dr. Judi Harris’, a person I’m still in a bit of awe some 15+ years later. Her awesome contribution to the conversation of learning at a distance involved the formulation of activity structures (1997 !!!). Believe it or not, I found myself reflecting on the applicability of activity structures (e.g. parallel problem-solving) as I had teachers working to solve problems, and was myself making connections to various types of projects.

Judi’s words–and I feel comfortable with calling Dr. Harris by her first name, having grown so familiar with her ideas of old (I still remember being in awe when she sent me a copy of her manuscript to read)–resonate with me today:

…most teachers don’t really believe that learning to apply a new tool educationally is just a matter of “plug and play.” Most of us know to “tweak” an idea to fit the unique nature of the context (learning styles and preferences, teaching styles and preferences, past experience, resource availability, etc.) in which they work. We expect to learn from mistakes and unexpected reactions when an idea is first implemented. 

Yet we know from both experience and research (e.g., Rogers, 1995) that tweaking someone elseís idea isn’t nearly as satisfying, or as effective, as designing an activity that fits the unique combination of factors that present themselves in any particular classroom at any particular point in time.  

Reinvention; the process of taking something like a new tool or idea and making it our own in its application, is very important to both teachers and students. Feelings of ownership are crucial if new tools are to continue to be employed in ways that will benefit users. This is what is known as true adoption of the innovation (Rogers, 1995). Think about it: which is more satisfying – watching an original idea that you created succeed, or observing someone elseís idea that you borrowed and tweaked get a good reception? 

When we are asked to wade through large collections of lesson plans, replicate projects from other classrooms, or follow overly-prescriptive directions for educational activities written by folks who canít possibly know our students as we do, we are asked to ignore much of what experience and reflection have taught us. Using Internet tools and resources in our classrooms in ways that will benefit students and teachers – in ways that are truly worth the time, effort, energy, and expense – call upon us to function more as instructional designers than direction-followers. Creating and implementing learning activities as a designer is an artisanís endeavor. I speak to you as that artisan; analogously, as chef rather than cook; conductor rather than metronome; educator rather than automatron.

Artisan, chef, conductor, educator. Yes, the lost art of design may still be found in ancient writings from 1997, 1998. The activity structures that are worth mixing in with Dr. Puentedura’s SAMR Model include the following…do you see these activity structures as fitting into the REDEFINITION level of the SAMR Model?

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As you look at Redefinition in the SAMR Model above, where transformation occurs as a result of active, constructive, intentional, authentic, cooperative activities–5 principles of meaningful learning with technology–ask yourself, isn’t there a natural connection to Dr. Judi Harris’ work?

Again, consider what Judi wrote back in 1998:

I suggest that, keeping in mind a specific, feasible educational use of the Internet, and in terms of both content and processes that students need/want to learn, we consider the honest answers to two questions:
  • Will this use of the Internet enable students to do something that they COULDN’T do before?
  • Will this use of the Internet enable students to do something that they COULD do before, but better?
If the honest answer to both of these questions is “no,” there is no reason to use Internet tools or resources in the way that we are considering. Our time, effort, and resources would be better used in another way. In any particular instance, if using traditional tools and approaches can allow students to learn just as well or better than using new tools and approaches, it doesnít make sense to use new tools in traditional ways. It isn’t “worth it” to do so, for students or for teachers.
This implies that when we do use these new tools, usually it will only be “worth it” for us to do so if they can be applied in new ways to help new and worthwhile things to happen in our classrooms. “Well, that’s obvious,” you might be thinking. Perhaps. Yet, whenever we are offered new tools, something interesting happens. Most of what we initially do with the new tools looks very similar to what we did with older tools that were functionally similar to the innovations.

That highlighted section above…it reminds one of Substitution. But what about Redefinition?

Below are activity structures that, IMHO, fall into SAMR’s Modification and Redefinition areas:

Information Collection and Analysis – Are these equivalent to SAMR-Modification?
  • information exchanges: Sharing information that is intrinsically interesting to young people on an international scale.
  • database creation: Collecting and organizing information into databases that project participants and others can use for study and analysis.
  • electronic publishing: Creation of electronic periodicals, report repositories, and online galleries which appeal to an international audience.
  • telefieldtrips: Rich, multidisciplinary and multimedia virtual experiences where students either take a local fieldtrip and share their experiences online, or electronically follow adults who are researching scientific relationships or historical sites.
  • pooled data analysis: Learners pool similar data from different locations and then analyze the patterns that emerge from the combined samples.
Problem SolvingAre these equivalent to SAMR-Redefinition?
  • information searches: Students are given clues and must use either online or more traditional resources to answer questions; usually structured as competitions.
  • peer feedback activities: Participants offer constructive responses to others’ ideas and their expression.
  • parallel problem solving: Problems are presented to and explored by students in several locations before they come together online to compare, contrast, and discuss their separate problem-solving methods.
  • sequential problem solving: Students interact by collaboratively creating a common work.
  • telepresent problem solving: Participants from different geographic locations and time zones participate either asynchronously or in real time in a virtual meeting.
  • simulations: Students experience a high depth of learning and task engagement by participating in simulated contexts.
  • social action projects: Learners understand and take action to help solve authentic global challenges.

Would you agree that Harris’ Problem-solving activity structures easily fall into Redefinition? If so, that makes me ask the question, how hard is it to simply upgrade the technology in the “old examples” to reflect new tools? Wow, what a neat source of “fresh” ideas!!

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure