A Critical Review of Puentedura’s SAMR

SAMR Pedagogically Sound (1)My introduction to the SAMR Model was at the Illinois Computing Educators Conference in 2013. I believe it was Scott Meech, at the time the Director of Technology for Downers Grove School District 58, who made the intellectual introduction. Scott has always been very much aware of the EdTech landscape and I accept his thoughts and views in the field as pedagogically sound. So when he was telling me how SAMR was being used as an evaluation and development framework for lessons involving technology in his school district a tool/vocabulary for having better conversations around technology in education, I was intrigued. I myself adopted this framework as a way to evaluate lessons involving technology in the hopes to better educate teachers on the potential use of technology in ways that are beyond a fancy spiral notebook to type papers. For the past two years, I have heard my colleagues also adopt SAMR as a framework to evaluate their own work in this field.

As I am nearing the end of my intellectual journey towards my PhD in instructional technology, I have taken umbrage on the complete lack of use of any peer-reviewed materials by my colleagues at K-12 level conferences when discussing their uses of EdTech. What brought about this realization was my attendance at the Association for Educational Communications and Technology Conference in 2013. At that conference, all presentations had a comprehensive list of references for their presentations. It was eye-opening to discuss research and the use of EdTech that was pedagogically sound and backed up with a treasure trove of references.

With my recent attendance at the 2015 Illinois Computing Educators Conference, I was once again baffled at what was presented. There were presentations of work that had no references to the educational peer-reviewed research of merit. While my colleagues are certified professional teachers, I feel we need to raise the bar on how we present to our groups. Keynote speaker Sylvia Martinez did reference several times the works of Jean Piaget and Seymour Papert in her presentation. And her book, Invent to Learn, has a good collection of references to back up the assertions made by her and co-author, Gary Stager. She is definitely the exception to the rule.

And that brings me to Ruben Puentedura and SAMR. While writing my doctoral candidacy paper, I decided to include peer-reviewed work on SAMR. To my surprise, I found very little. In fact, the work by Dr. Puentedura has been called into question because of his lack of study with the framework, and his qualifications as a chemistry professor and not an educational specialist. In an open letter to Dr. Puentedura, Dr. Jonas Linderoth, who holds a PhD in pedagogy, does an excellent job exposing many of the holes and questions about the theoretical backing behind the SAMR Model.

One particular passage from Dr. Linderoth’s post resonated with me:

I could not find a single publication about the SAMR-model and not a single peer-reviewed article (or any other popular-scientific publication either) written by you. Instead all searches lead to slides, podcasts and videos. I also found some teachers’ critical blogs about you that claimed that there was no publications about the model?  Surely this cannot be true? After all you say in one presentation and I quote,  “I spent about a decade on the research, and fast forward to past the nineties to about the year 2000 and what came out was the SAMR-model”  and later in the same presentation you say “in fact a lot of my research was spent trying to track down data so I could quantify this”.

With this being the case, then we should have a plethora of foundational references for this model. Unfortunately, we have none. Dr. Lucy Santos Green, an assistant professor at Georgia Southern University, suggests that the work of Dr. Puentedura closely resembles the work of Dr. Joan Hughes (Green, 2014, p. 39):

The closest I came to locating anything resembling SAMR in research was in an article by Joan Hughes in which three functions of technology were identified: a) replacement, b) amplification, or c) transformation (2005, 281). In fact, the explanation and theoretically supported description provided by Hughes is strikingly similar to the SAMR model.

There are valid questions to raise. There are valid reasons whether to consider the use of SAMR without critical review of the framework. There should be more of a push to have Dr. Puentedura provide theoretical support for his framework in a peer-reviewed format. As stated by Dr. Green (2014, p. 40):

. . . applying simplistic models to the development of large-scale technology integration programs, professional developments, and the like without investigating the research and pedagogical beliefs that shape those models is irresponsible and dangerous. Such application flies directly in the face of a profession that emphasizes information-literate behavior: finding, retrieving, analyzing, and using information.

We, as educators, need to ask those who speak to us from a position of influence to provide sound pedagogical reason and research to support their beliefs. In a letter to a snake oil salesman, Mark Twain outlined the frustration and feelings we all should have towards those who make great claims without providing sound pedagogical merit. I am not calling Dr. Puentedura a snake oil salesman. I am suggesting that those who come to us with claims need to come with intellectually honest support to reinforce their claims. We would ask the same of our students. Why not ask the same of our colleagues.


Green, L. S. (2014). Through the looking glass: Examining technology integration in school librarianship. Knowledge Quest, 43(1), 36 – 43.

Hughes, J. (2005). The role of teacher knowledge and learning experiences in forming technology-integrated pedagogy. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 13(2), 277–302.

Linderoth, J. (2013, October 17). Open letter to Dr. Ruben Puentedura. Retrieved from http://spelvetenskap.blogspot.com/2013/10/open-letter-to-dr-ruben-puentedura.html

SAMR + Hype Cycle – HiRes” by Tim Klapdor is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0


  1. Jon Orech

    Thanks, James.

    I couldn’t agree more about NOT using SAMR as an evaluation tool. I had one teacher ask me if “Redefined” lessons coordinated with “Distinguished” in the Danielson Framework.

    Newsflash: There is plenty of “below the line” learning out there that are really powerful…with or without technology.

    For us here in District 99, we just use it (along with several other “models”) as a conversation starter…as a means for (particularly traditional) teachers to think about the role technology plays in their lessons; it isn’t just a “yes” or “no” question.

    To think that ANY single model is the cure-all is dangerous in any profession, particularly in education. To base any teaching structure on a single (unsupported?) model is hardly scholarly.

    1. Pilar Quezzaire

      I have worked with tech integration frameworks as part of my remit at an international education organization. When I developed technology guidelines for schools, I encouraged to use of frameworks, but omitted SAMR because it is not academically vetted. I have also found it to be problematic for curriculum and lesson design. I discourage schools my our network from using SAMR (despite its popularity.)

      SAMR is very seductive as a model, because it suggests that adding technology magically creates good learning experiences. The opposite is often the result, in part because the model does not consider the balance of technology with purposeful teaching and learning. SAMR is about “stuff,” not why the stuff matters, or how it relates to teaching and learning.

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  3. Joan Hughes

    I developed the RAT model out of my dissertation work (Michigan State, 2000) along with TPCK actually, as applied in English language arts (see dissertation here: http://www.slideshare.net/joanhughes/hughes-full-dissertation).
    I’ve used the RAT model with teacher in professional development as a way to start having some framework for seeing what they are aiming for with technology integration. Uses always spread across the whole continuum and are not lock-step. Since the dissertation I’ve used the model in any research I do that involves school-based practice, as the article you cited in this post. Here’s another article that uses it in the context of Web 2.0 integration: http://www.slideshare.net/joanhughes/change-pre-press
    Thanks for your informative and thoughtful post – Joan

    1. jimohagan (Post author)

      I read this paper you wrote in 2005:

      Hughes, J. (2005). The role of teacher knowledge and learning experiences in forming technology-integrated pedagogy. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 13(2), 277–302.

      Is there any updated research you have done that has been peer-reviewed that builds off this work?

      1. Joan Hughes

        Hi Jim,
        The article linked above about Web 2.0 is peer-reviewed (unfortunately the journal called Educational Technology is available only in print – go figure!). This article incorporates RAT into discussion of how to increase adoption of web 2.0 technologies. The document on slideshare is the pre-press which I can release and not violate copyright. Please email me if you would like me to send you the actual peer-reviewed journal copy.
        The citation is:
        Hughes, J. E., Guion, J., Bruce, K., Horton, L., & Prescott, A. (2011). A framework for action: Intervening to increase adoption of transformative web 2.0 learning resources. Educational Technology, 51(2), 53-61.

        We are working on a manuscript that will be submitted soon that are a set of teacher case studies of iPad integration in STEM courses. Again, we use RAT to distinguish some of their practices with iPads. I would be happy to share it with you when we have submitted it (a few months from now).

        I have a book chapter that does a similar look into 2 English language arts classrooms that use iPads and we distinguish practices with RAT. I would be happy to share that directly with you it’s not up on slideshare.
        The citation is:
        Russell, G. S. & Hughes, J.E. (2014.) iTeach and iLearn with iPads in secondary English language arts. In C. Miller & A. Doering (Eds.) The new landscape of mobile learning: Re-designing education in an app-based world (pp. 292-307). New York: Routledge.

        I plan to work with a few practitioners on a practitioner-oriented piece this summer. Would be happy for any input you might suggest.

        Joan – joanh at austin dot utexas dot edu

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  5. Damian Keil

    Thanks for the interesting post James,

    I too have used the SAMR model. I first came across it at an Apple Education event in London and was amazed that it described the process we had gone through when we redeveloped our Distance Learning degree in Sport Science. In 2011 we moved from a traditional paper-based delivery to using eBooks and iPads (all our students get iPads and the units are ‘delivered’ using iBooks).

    During the re-development of the resources we seemed to follow the model as we re-conceptualised our pedagogy, i.e. early developed activities were based around substitution, with later ones focused on modification and redefinition. Only retrospectively do I make this comparison, as at the time I was unaware of the model. Now that I have found the model, it is a way of stimulating staff to ‘think outside the box’ when developing resources, in a similar way to Jon mentions above.

    Only recently did I read Dr. Linderoth’s post and now, thanks to your post, and Dr. Hughes’ comments, I am now looking into using R.A.T. to develop the programme.

    Thanks again,


    1. jimohagan (Post author)

      Thank you for your comment, Damian. Sounds like you found a good use of SAMR. The danger I realized was how some were using this as a full blown tech integration model. I think Jon was spot on in the appropriate use, and it sounds like you have a similar perspective.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment.

    2. jimohagan (Post author)

      Sorry that I missed your insightful post, Damian. I am not against SAMR but I have many questions that have few answers other than seeming just faith in perceived sound pedagogy. As a self-reflection tool, I see value, but some are considering this their Tech Integration Model which provides no guidance for where one should live in the technology. It’s encouraging that this post has impacted you to look at other pedagogical frameworks that provide more substance in theory and thought.

  6. AlCarr

    I really enjoyed reading your post and have found your links and other articles extremely useful. I’m a class teacher with an technology coach responsibility across my school and I too have become extremely frustrated with the lack of or extremely poor referencing of edtech research.
    I stumbled across both yours and Dr Jonas Linderoth’s articles this evening when trying to find high quality peer reviewed research. I’ve completed a number of MOOCs recently provided by reputable institutions and I’ve found links to edudemic articles and infographics similar to the ones you have linked in your other posts and tried to pass them off as ‘research’. Any direction you could provide me with good background research into the effect that technology has on learning in the classroom would be extremely appreciated!

    1. jimohagan (Post author)

      Hello Al. Thank you for your comments. I just did a blog post on research that details the characteristics of ideal digital spaces. The post has several references. Realize, not all are peer reviewed, but I tried to find as much peer reviewed sources as I could. And that isn’t to say that I have stopped looking for more sources to support my theories and findings. http://www.e-ohagan.com/?p=206

      I hope this helps. Please do contact me if you find anything else of note!

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  9. Aaron Davis

    Great reflection. SAMR is such an interesting model. In the dire search for the golden bullet, the simplicity seemed perfect. However, once you start to question it, everything starts to unravel. In my search I found so many different points of view and arguments (http://readwriterespond.com/?p=869). Will now need to add your post to the mix.

    1. James O'Hagan (Post author)

      Thank you Aaron. I looked at your post and found the many variations on how SAMR has been used and questioned. I like how it put everything together. I had my own thoughts about the many graphics and mashups that seemed intellectually dangerous (http://ohag.co/samr-no-model).

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