Monday, 2 February 2015

Using the SAMR model to conceptualise asynchronous discussion forums

Asynchronous discussion forums (ADFs) are text-based, online forums that individuals can access at a time and place of their choosing. In this post I will discuss how ADFs can be conceptualised for learning at all levels of the SAMR model developed by Dr Reuben PuenteduraThe SAMR model offers a way to consider the different levels at which technology may be integrated into teaching and learning: Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, or Redefinition.

The obvious case to make here is that ADFs can facilitate an online debate that acts as a substitute for a more traditional classroom debate. There are similarities between the two approaches in that the debate would generally involve a topic that generates a certain amount of controversy, for example embryonic stem cell research, and learners would be expected to employ critical thinking skills and evidence-based arguments. The key differences are that in an ADF-mediated debate, learners would be practicing written rather than oral language skills, and they would have more time to gather evidence and make their case. 

Although ADFs could be substituted for a classroom debate, they need not replace it entirely. They could be used as a pre-debate activity, providing learners with an opportunity to gather evidence and refine their arguments. Alternatively, the classroom debate could be used as a lead-in activity to generate interest for the subsequent online debate. In either case, the ADF augments the classroom debate by affording learners a space in which to engage in dialogue over a longer time frame. 

This brings us to the modification aspect of ADFs, where learners can engage in a debate for longer, and potentially more deeply, as well as providing direct links to evidence that supports their case. They and their peers have more opportunity to evaluate these evidence bases, and thus they are moving away from what is offered by a traditional classroom debate. 

ADFs can redefine the traditional classroom debate by extending learner agency, for example by providing opportunities for knowledge creation as opposed to knowledge acquisition (McCormick and Scrimshaw, 2008). By posting to an ADF students are able to synthesise what they have learned, express it in their own words, and negotiate meaning with their peers. ADFs thus enable learners to engage “in the dialogues through which knowledge is constantly being constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed” (Wegerif, 2006a). This would not be possible in quite the same way during a classroom debate because of the more fleeting nature of verbal interactions.

An additional agentive feature of ADFs is that they look both forwards and backwards, pedagogically speaking (Lankshear and Knobel, 2008). That is to say, they provide learners with an opportunity to explore new understanding, whilst also demonstrating existing knowledge and skills. Consequently, there are more opportunities for students to learn from their peers, rather than from their teacher.

A further important affordance of ADFs is the increased opportunity for learners to engage in higher-level thinking. When I analysed the forum statistics following an ADF debate I assigned to my Grade 10 students, the number of views far exceeded the number of posts, supporting the notion that many students were reading the existing discussion before posting, i.e. engaging in higher-level thinking before participating, rather than simply posting for the sake of it. This is consistent with Saade and Huang’s (2009) findings from their university-based study of learners using an ADF, and is arguably an advantage ADFs have over traditional classroom debates, where learners don’t necessarily have the time for higher-level thinking before making a contribution.
ADFs also clearly demonstrate how technology can facilitate social learning, i.e. computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) (Stahl et al., 2006; Wegerif, 2006b).  They are computer-mediated communication environments that “turn communication into substance” (Dillenbourg, 2005, in Stahl et al, 2006, p.12). Or, put another way, ADFs reify learners’ participation in a discussion, leading to the negotiation of meaning (Wenger, 2008). 

ADFs can record learner activity as well as being a product of their thinking. These records of interaction and collaboration have been identified as potentially important resources for improving intersubjective learning (Stahl et al, 2006). Intersubjective learning considers that individual meaning making comes about through social interactions with others, and is partly constituted by those interactions (Suthers, 2006). It could be argued that traditional classroom debates afford this as well, but again the asynchronous nature of ADFs allows more time over which these interactions may occur. 

A final point about ADFs is that they provide a great opportunity for metacognition, or making learners’ thinking more visible. For example, the forum software I use has a peer-grading facility. As learners grade the contributions from their peers, it helps them to focus on what they could do to improve their own contributions, and thus they are thinking about how to improve their own learning. I feel that ADFs can be conceptualised at each level of the SAMR criteria, including the key levels of modification and redefinition, for the reasons outlined above. In a future post I will return to ADFs and discuss how they may be used to enhance both general and subject literacy.


Lankshear, C. and Knobel, M. (2008). New ways of knowing: Learning at the margins, in Hall, K., Murphy, P., and Soler, J. (eds.). Pedagogy and Practice, London, Sage in association with The Open University

McCormick, R. and Scrimshaw, P. (2008). Information and communications technology, knowledge and pedagogy, in Murphy, P. and McCormick, R. (eds.). Knowledge and Practice, London, Sage in association with The Open University

Saade, R.G. and Huang, Q. (2009). Meaningful learning in discussion forums: Towards discourse analysis. Issues in Informing Science and Information Technology, 6, pp.87-99

Stahl, G., Koschmann, T., and Suthers, D. (2006). Computer-supported collaborative learning: An historical perspective. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (pp.409-426). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Available at last accessed 01/02/2015

Suthers, D.D. (2006). Technology affordances for intersubjective meaning making: A research agenda for CSCL. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 1, 3. Available at; last accessed 01/02/2015

Wegerif, R. (2006a). Dialogic education: what is it and why do we need it? Education Review, 19, 2, pp.58-66

Wegerif, R. (2006b). A dialogic understanding of the relationship between CSCL and teaching thinking skills. Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 1, pp.143-157

Wenger, E. (2008). Meaning, in Murphy, P. and Hall, K. (eds.). Learning and Practice, London, Sage in association with The Open University