Imagine students in the United States learning side by side with students in Spain. Matt Miller, author of Ditch That Textbook, created this type of cultural exchange with a fellow teacher abroad. Their students met in groups using Skype to discuss predetermined topics they had studied in class. Next, the students wrote about their conversations in their second language, either Spanish or English, and edited each other’s work.
Traditional classrooms seat students in rows facing the teacher, who is the sole source of instruction. However, today’s technology has the ability to remove walls and provide a truly global education. Students like Miller’s are already using technology to achieve cross-disciplinary, hands-on learning in the modern classroom.
So, how do teachers move beyond this traditional model to incorporate technology in ways that engage students in more personalized activities while still allowing teachers to interject when appropriate? How can teachers channel today’s rapidly developing technologies into a world of new experiences for their students?
Ultimately, it is helpful for teachers to have a rubric or tool to assess if they are truly and effectively using technology to transform their classrooms.
The Absurdity Test
Seymour Papert, an MIT mathematician, computer scientist, and educator, has said: “Nothing could be more absurd than an experiment in which computers are placed in a classroom where nothing else is changed.” As a pioneer in the use of computers in the classroom, he argues that simply introducing technology does not enhance the learning environment. Instead, it is necessary to modify most if not all aspects of the learning environment—physical space, content, assessment, and means of instruction—and to leverage technology to invent new ways to learn that otherwise would not have been possible.
Based on Papert’s statement, this measurement of efficacy could be referred to as the “absurdity test.” If this is the assessment, then it would be ideal to define a rubric by which teachers can measure and evaluate the outcomes. For example, consider a bivariate rubric with one variable based on Bloom’s Taxonomy (or Revised Bloom’s) and the other being the SAMR model.
Benjamin Bloom created his taxonomy in 1956 as a framework for categorizing educational goals, and generations of teachers have applied it since. An update of the taxonomy in 2001 focused on a more dynamic conception of classification.There are six categories: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create. Each builds upon the previous.
The SAMR Model
The Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition (SAMR) model is similar to Bloom’s taxonomy in its tiered format. The premise is that each level shows the progression of the application of any technology, but most often referenced for education.
Passing the Absurdity Test
So, how would this rubric translate into an understanding of efficacy? As teachers consider the use of technology in their classrooms and beyond, they should evaluate at which level the application is on both Bloom’s Taxonomy and the SAMR model for the use case. For example, if the use of technology serves as a substitution for an existing technique and only supports a student’s memorization of facts and recall of information, this is not significant use of technology, and thus absurd relative to the cost and effort involved. However, if teachers are able to achieve modification and redefinition on the SAMR model and/or increase the opportunity for students to analyze, evaluate and create under Bloom’s Taxonomy, then technology is helping students reach their peak of learning.
These are, of course, just general models. School systems may create absurdity tests and rubrics that include their unique visions. The point is that we think carefully about technology incorporation to ensure it is meaningful, and that we are implementing technology in education to create new ways of learning that were not previously possible.
As teachers work toward the ideal classroom, they will need to combine digital and nondigital components with intention. Technology is not a magic means to achieve learning outcomes, but rather a tool that, when paired with thoughtful examination of learning practices and strategy, can make a transformative impact in our schools and beyond.
Are you using technology to further your classroom’s goals? Are you making your classroom more personalized and adaptive, allowing students to work alone or in small groups on tasks of their own choosing—independently and together at times—and get help from the teacher when needed? Try applying Bloom’s, SAMR, or your own unique rubric to ensure that your technology adoption passes the absurdity test.
2. “About Mystery Skypes/Hangouts and why we need more” Ditch That Textbook. Nov. 25, 2013.
3. “Bloom’s Taxonomy” Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching.