Games in the SAMR model

The promise of educational games is too good to be ignored. Imagine kids spending hours doing something they love, and learning at the same time. This image is the dream of some students and parents; and seen with suspicion by others. Educators raise questions such as “What is the effectiveness of games in learning?”; “Can learning through games be applied to school content?”; or “Are there differences in outcomes between games created for learning and games created merely for entertainment”. In this post, I write about the potential role of games in Education.

When discussing educational technology, it is important to consider the great differences between tools encompassed in this term. The use of a PowerPoint presentation by a teacher is definitely different than explorations of environments created by virtual reality. The need to better understand the different levels of engagement with technology led to the creation of the SAMR model.

In this model, an activity can be classified in four categories. Substitution, when technology only replaces analogical tools, such as using MS Word instead of paper or MS PowerPoint instead of a blackboard. Augmentation: when technology enhances learning but the activity is essentially the same, for example, when teacher present multimedia content instead or in addition to text and lectures. Modification: when technology changes the activity, such as when the members of a team or the entire classroom use online tools to conclude a project; and finally, Redefinition, when technology allows for activities that would be impossible without it, for instance exchange between students from different parts of the world (November, 2012, p.1447) or the creation of “portfolios” that would be available on the internet for anyone to see. It is important to point out, as mentioned by teacher and blogger Josh Work, that there may be disagreements related to where a particular tool or practice fits on the SAMR model.

According to the SAMR model, some games fall on the second level. Those are usually written or voice recorded explanations or tutorials. They can also be followed by a quiz after each chapter or screen. This type of “games” replace a face-to-face explanation with some improvements, one can go back to repeat a part of the explanation and also keep track of performance on quizzes.  Even so, other games can be classified on the fourth level, when technology brings something unique for the learning experience. Those games are fun regardless of their educational value. They can be played as a self-directed activity and provide a sense of accomplishment to students (November, 2012, loc. 126). Although this is not the focus of my analysis, I would like to mention that at a more advanced level, students do not just learn by playing video games, but also creating them.

A 2013 research done by Professors Daniel Schwartz and Dylan Arena also concluded that both games developed for Education and commercial videogames have a positive impact on learning. One experiment divided students in subgroups. One subgroup played a version of Space Invaders called Stat Invaders, in which the invader follow probability distribution, while the other did not. Then, both groups watched an explanation of probability distribution and took a test. The group who played the game performed twice as well as the other group (p. 540). The same type of experiment was done with the game Civilization IV and students who played the game had also better results in tests about the World War II (p. 540). In both studies, there was an additional group that played the game, did not watch the explanation, and in those cases, performed worse than the ones who only watched the lecture, and than the ones that played the game before the lecture.

That last finding show us that games (experience) work when they are combined with explanations (instruction). New tools and technology do not reduce the responsibility of teachers, they increase it. Teachers need to incorporate computers and other devices to their classes, in order to provide students with exposure to tools that will be inevitably present thought out their lives. However,  it is not enough to follow the latest trend if that means losing perspective of learning goals and learning results. After all, not all videogames are beneficial for learning.

To sum up, different type of activities engage technology at different levels. Identifying where a particular activity fits on the SAMR model is helpful when exploring how to create better learning experiences by engaging technology at a higher level. Also, using videogames as a pre-work tool is valid, depending on the videogame and the content of the class. Teachers need to careful analyze their choices. And finally, researchers only found results in the adoption of video games when they are followed by explanations of concepts. We are still in an early phase of educational games, but the results so far indicate an exciting journey ahead.

Calvin and Hobbes School


Areana, A. D. & Schwartz, D. L. (2013). “Experience and Explanation: Using Videogames to Prepare Students for Formal Instruction in Statistics” In Journal of Science Education and Technology. Springer

Grey, L. “Determining Your Classroom Digital Workflow” In EdTech. Retrieved from:

November, A. (2012). Who Owns the Learning?: Preparing Students for Success in the Digital Age. Solution Tree Press.

Richardson, W.  (2012) Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere, TED Conferences

Work, J. (2014). “Technology SAMR Model for Administrators – Part 1: Staff Presentations” In Edutopia (website). Retrieved from:


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