The RAT, SAMr, Transformative Technology, & Occam's Razor - Digital Literacy Dover

Wednesday 9 April 2014

The RAT, SAMr, Transformative Technology, & Occam's Razor

Digital technologies are all well and good, but if we're going to use these, can we at least make sure we are actually changing what is possible to achieve? For our students to learn?

Probably the single greatest challenge in my role is to encourage ICT use that does not make the mistake of just replacing or substituting pixels for pages. There are two frameworks, SAMR and RAT, I prefer RAT, but for some reason SAMR seems to get a lot more attention, which is crazy in my opinion, it's far too complex to be of any really practical use, and it's often misinterpreted.

Replace, Amplify, Transform*—that's it. 

SAMR is almost impossible to pronounce, in English anyway, and while it's simpler than most, it can be simpler, without, I believe, losing anything that is crucial. I don't need to wrestle with the distinction between Augmentation and Modification, seriously—is it that important? What I do see on a really bad day, is tech that is not just replacement, but worse; allow me to reiterate, people using computers in ways that are actually WORSE than not using tech at all—like the person who insists on printing out name labels for each kid, I mean, really? Just get a pen and a write the name on a sticker. I'll tell you what level of integration that is— Retrograde.

But don't take my word, take Michael Fullan's:

Many of the innovations, particularly those that provide online content and learning materials, use basic pedagogy – most often in the form of introducing concepts by video instruction and following up with a series of progression exercises and tests. Other digital innovations are simply tools that allow teachers to do the same age-old practices but in a digital format. Examples include blog entries instead of written journals and worksheets in online form. While these innovations may be an incremental improvement such that there is less cost, minor classroom efficiency and general modernisation, they do not, by themselves, change the pedagogical practice of the teachers or the schools. (Fullan M & Donnelly K, 2013, p25)

The RAT (or TAR if you prefer)

So, while I love and cherish SAM(r) I have new friend, its name is RAT (Hughes et al, 2006), and it is remarkably non existent on the 'Interweb'—I'm not sure why, but when I couldn't find any graphics to illustrate it for some upcoming PD I'm prepping I realised that I would have to ... *takes deep breath, yes it's hard to admit* make my own—so, here they are (CC free, just help yourself),  mash - mend - make your own, but please lets put some life back into the RAT framework, it was published in 2006, and from what I can see, it has been sleeping in obscurity ever since.

I'd describe what RAT means, except that, well, there's no need—that's the beauty of it, it's obvious (if you speak English).

R :: replacement | redundant | retrograde
A :: augmented | average | acceptable
T :: transformed | terrific | tremendous

Some Examples

R: Type up at the end - purely cosmetic 
A: Utilise proofreading tools to enhance the final published artefact
T: Utilise tech from the first draft to the final publication 

R: Read on screen (PDF)
A: Utilise screen tools to find keywords and define unfamiliar terms
T: Utilise tech to annotate, analyse, critique and share understanding and various perspectives. 

R: Students email questions about an upcoming unit to teacher (replace post-its)
A: Students post questions to a shared web page (eg A Blog, Padlet, Seesaw/Teamie)
T:  Students post, read peers, and respond—teacher moderates 

There are more examples here

Now all we need to do is wrestle with the holy grail of tech integration—defining the nature of transformative tech, I like these attempts, from the RAT paper:

Technology as Transformation

The Technology as Transformation Category involves technology use that transforms the instructional method, the students' learning processes, and/or the actual subject matter.

  1. The actual mental work is changed or expanded 
  2. The number of variables involved in the mental processes are expanded
  3. The tool changes the organisation in which it had been used 
  4. New players become involved with the tool's use (or expanded use of the tool). 
  5. New opportunities for different forms and types of learning through problem solving, unavailable in traditional approaches, are developed.

... it [transformative use of ICTs] improves the process of bringing thought into communicable expressions in such significant ways that, once the tool is understood and used regularly, the user feels wanting if it is not available because it has opened up new possibilities of thought and action without which one comes to feel at a disadvantage. It's become an indispensable instrument of mentality, and not merely a tool. (Pea, 1985, p 175)

… we will be best served by setting our imaginations free from seeing a computer as a machine that lacks the warmth and security of a book, seeing it instead as a technological alternative providing almost unlimited potential to operationalise the humanistic values that fuel our noblest conceptions... (Reinking, 1997, p 642)

The more important question (that the bucket load of people who blog about SAMR rarely seem to address in my experience) is how do you  move ICT use from one end to the other, from replacement to transformation (RAT), or from substitution, to redefinition (SAMR)?

There are few answers:
  1. Maybe you don't need to, sometimes good old-fashioned traditional tools are more effective than using a screen, hard for me to admit that it is true… Sometimes. But not as often as Technophobes would have you believe… but if all you are doing is replacing with technology then there really is no point.
  2. Maybe amplification (or augmentation/ modification in the SAMR model) is perfectly okay for the task at hand. Technology doesn't have to transform learning for it to be beneficial, I have often found that if we let the kids have the freedom, they can transform learning all by themselves. They can take amplified practice and transform it due to their greater confidence, or more effective use of technology, more effective than was maybe conceived by the teacher...
  3. Focus on what it is about ICTs that make them unique—called 'unique affordances' or 'features'. Avril Loveless* listed these back in 2002 as 

    "provisionality, interactivity, capacity, range, speed and automatic functions which enable users to do things that could not be done as effectively, or at all, using other tools." (Loveless, 2002)

    I found that list to be a little ... long, ie hard to recall/use, and a little out of date, in terms of the development of social media, and the internet in the past 10 years; so I took the liberty of coming up with my own. Actually I came up with this before I came across the 'Loveless List' as I call it. Mine is a framework for amplifying/transforming ICT use, called SAMMS: Situated learning that makes the most of access to an abundance of online resources, to work in ways that are multimodal, mutable and socially networked. Here's a link:

And more here on my own blog if you want it:

Fullan M & Donnelly K (2013). Alive in the swamp, assessing digital innovations in education. London: Nesta. Available online: www. nesta. org. uk/library/documents/Alive_in_the_Swamp.pdf.

*Hughes J, Thomas R & Scharber C (2006). Assessing Technology Integration:
The RAT – Replacement, Amplification, and Transformation - Framework. 

*Loveless A (2002) Literature Review in Creativity, New Technologies and Learning. FUTURELAB SERIES

Pea R D (1985). Beyond amplification: using the computer to reorganise mental functioning. Educational psychologist, 20 (4)167 – 182.

Reinking D (1997). Me and my hypertext :). A multiple digression analysis of technology and literacy (sic). The reading teacher, 50 (8), 626 – 643.

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