SAMR: a model for technology integration in museums

Heather Schneider, Shedd Aquarium, USA, Miranda Kerr, Shedd Aquarium, USA


What is SAMR? SAMR is a process started in formal education for intentionally integrating technology into teaching and learning. SAMR stands for substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition, and refers to the layers of ways to enhance or transform a task at hand. We believe this model is a valuable tool for the museum world because it allows us to open our minds; to rethink how technology is used, how it can empower staff to feel comfortable integrating with technology, and challenge the status quo. As a small team of two staff, the digital learning team at Shedd Aquarium uses an empowerment model so that all learning staff feel confident integrating with technology. SAMR can support integration and innovation with technology across many areas in a museum, not just education. Whether you are thinking of a gallery map, gallery tour, exhibition signage, or educational program, SAMR offers a framework to explore how you can substitute, augment, modify, or redefine a project. During this How-to Session, attendees will get a brief introduction to SAMR, hear how Shedd has piloted and implemented this tool, and learn from our iterative process and how we are evaluating successes and challenges that have come from the SAMR process. Then we will break into small groups to test out these tools and discuss how SAMR can be used in real world museum examples. We will provide a variety of examples, but feel free to bring your own project to be SAMRed! Walk away with new ideas, new tools and the resources to help get you started applying SAMR.

Keywords: Technology, Learning, Integration, Framework, Education, Informal

What is SAMR?

The SAMR Model was created by Ruben Puentedura, Ph.D., and is a model that started in formal education for intentionally integrating technology into teaching and learning. SAMR stands for substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition, and refers to the layers of ways to enhance or transform a task at hand using technology. Each layer builds upon the one before it, but does not imply that the levels in the enhancement section, (substitution and augmentation), are mediocre ways of technology integration; a task is simply modified slightly more in the next level, allowing for new opportunities than the previous level. Moving a task to substitution can be a positive integration strategy and allow for enhancement of a learner’s experience.


Figure 1: a visual of the SAMR model explaining each level along with an example of a task that goes through each level. Image taken from St. Andrew’s College “Teaching the Teachers – Introducing the SAMR Model,” by Sam McNeill. Available

Even though more commonly used in formal education, this model can be a valuable tool for the informal learning world of museums, as well. SAMR can allow museum educators to open our minds to rethining how technology is used, how it can empower staff to feel comfortable integrating with technology, and challenge the status quo. For addition resources about the SAMR model, please see the Tools & Resource section below.

SAMR integration in Shedd Learning

The Digital Learning Team at Shedd Aquarium is comprised of two staff members who support and empower digital integration into the work of the Learning Group, which is made up of three departments and over 35 staff members. By using an empowerment model to give all Learning staff confidence in integrating technology, this small team of two individuals creates a larger impact and affects more change than they could have on their own. Alongside staff training on digital tools and updates on the latest technology trends, the SAMR process is the main tool used in this empowerment model for technology integration.

In order to support digital integration across our Learning teams at Shedd, the Digital Learning team has created, tested, and iterated a SAMR toolkit for our program teams. These tools support the SAMR process, including steps and questions to lead the SAMR brainstorm. This process is carried out in small groups for each program, typically with the program manager and any staff assigned to develop or implement the program. The Manager of Digital Learning walks the program team through the steps, recording the responses to the questions and new ideas. The SAMR toolkit includes to following information:


SAMR Power Point Presentation

  • A Power Point presentation was created to introduce all Learning staff to the definition and concept of SAMR. After sharing examples, all staff walked through a practice SAMR brainstorm exercise.
  • SAMR Examples Spreadsheet
    • For reference and to jumpstart ideas, we created a spreadsheet that lists out common program components and ways to substitute, augment, modify, or redefine those tasks using technology.
  • Initial Questions
    • SAMR starts with asking: What are you trying to accomplish in the program? What are the learning goals? How can technology move that forward/support goals/make staff tasks easier?
  • SAMR Brainstorm Template (figure 5 below)
    • Each program team brainstorms ways technology can help meet learner outcomes and enhance the program experience for learners, at the same time creating efficiencies for staff.
    • The process starts by listing activities that occur in the program (including but not limited to learner-created projects, reflection journals, evaluation, data collection, etc.).
    • For each activity, the group brainstorms how technology might create efficiencies, support learner outcomes, or create new opportunities for the program that were previously not possible.
    • These two SAMR models (figures 2 and 3) are included in the tool as a reference, and remind the group of the questions we are asking:
      • Substitution: what will I gain by replacing the task with new tech?
      • Augmentation: does the tech add new features that improve the task?
      • Modification: does the task significantly change with the use of the tech
      • Redefinition: does the tech allow for creation of new task previously unconceivable?

Figure 2: SAMR infographic example included to support brainstorm process. Created by Sylvia Duckworth and Educational App Advice ( and


Figure 3: SAMR infographic example included to support brainstorm process.  Image taken from “A Guide for Bringing the SAMR Model to iPads” by Patricia Brown.  Available:

  • Next Steps
    • A section to determine and record next steps after completing the brainstorm. The following questions are posed: What are your next steps? Do you need to explore the technology or practice using it? Do you need to modify curriculum? Do you need to put in iPad requests or social media plans? Do you need to contact the manager of Digital Learning for any support?” Thinking through these responses supports accountability for continuing with the SAMR plans.

Developing this idea was an iterative process to understand the needs of staff using SAMR during the development of their programs. After an initial pilot with just two programs, and then a year of implementation with all Learning programs, we now have an updated version of the SAMR process and toolkit. Originally, we thought the best approach would to be to brainstorm activities level by level, but the model proved more fluid than that. For example, adding a digital tool to a program may be substitution, but a slight tweak of how it is used brings it to augmentation. Therefore, it made more sense for processing through the ideas for each program task to keep them together, instead of separating them by level. The modified SAMR Brainstorm template also emphasized the steps in the process by numbering the sections and adding questions to support discussion at each step (as shown in figure 5). Although “next steps” had been present in the original template, the updated version highlighted this step by numbering it along with the other steps and placing it before the images.


Figure 4: the initial version of the SAMR Brainstorm. Note that each level of SAMR had a separate page. A zoomed-in version of the last two pages are shown as an example so the text is legible. Screen shot of document created by Shedd Aquarium.

Figure 5: the current updated version of the SAMR Brainstorm. Note that additional prompts have been added, as well as numbering the steps in the process. Screen shot of document created by Shedd Aquarium.

Examples of SAMR in Shedd Learning

High School Marine Biology and digital journals

The first program to pilot the SAMR brainstorm process was High School Marine Biology, a program that introduces teens to marine science and research techniques, and includes living on a boat in the Bahamas for a week while snorkeling and collecting data. This program was chosen because it is an established program, (ongoing for over 40 years), looking to add some new digital aspects; the program staff volunteered to pilot the process and provide feedback to the Digital Learning team. After brainstorming a list of activities that take place in the program, the program staff identified two activities they would like to focus on for the SAMR process: participant journaling and data collection

Figure 6: in the initial version of the SAMR brainstorm, each level of SAMR had a separate brainstorm for the activity (in this case, journals).  However, it was noted that some of the ideas listed under one level connected to ideas in another.  For example, “evaluation” was listed under Augmentation because typed journals would be easier to read than written journals, an improved functionality; but “evaluation” was also listed under Modification because digital journals could potentially redesign the task of evaluation with new ways to code and interpret them.  Screen shot created by Shedd Aquarium.

Figure 7: a journal entry from a participant in High School Marine Biology 2016, created in Evernote using both the text and draw features. The image drawn depicts a stingray in the mangroves. The participant writes, “I like the beach seine and quadrat methods. There aren’t any methods that I can think of that I would like to try at the moment. I would like to learn more about the stingrays in the mangroves, I think this would be a good topic to continue talking about and researching. So can we actually figure out if the stingrays are habituated to stay near the shore because of humans and feeding? Was this a one-time thing? Is it possible to come back next year and possibly do a count to see how many stingrays are “not afraid” of humans and swim closer to the boat? Would the number shrink within the next year or grow?”  Screen shot of student work taken by Shedd Aquarium.

Park Voyagers and 360 video

In the Park Voyagers program, Shedd staff bring hands-on aquarium activities to children at local park district facilities. In this example, the program team thought about how we could use technology to innovate on how we bring Shedd Aquarium to children at offsite locations. With a newly acquired 360 camera and virtual reality (VR) headsets, we were able to pilot a screening of 360 videos of three of Shedd’s exhibits, so children could experience them in VR off-site. One learner commented that this was the coolest thing they’ve ever done.

Figure 8: screen shot of 360 video recorded in the Amazon Rising exhibit at Shedd Aquarium. When viewed in the VR headsets, the video would be seen as a true 360 experience. Screen shot taken by Shedd Aquarium.

Underwater Robotics and social media

In our Underwater Robotics program, teachers receive materials and training on how to construct an ROV (Remote Operated Vehicle). Back at their schools, these teachers lead groups of students in designing and building an ROV to compete in a robotics competition.  This program has been utilizing Twitter to promote #SheddROV for years, but each year the program team brainstorms ways to expand how we use social media. In previous years, we Live-Tweeted the competition, created Storifys, and encouraged a photo scavenger hunt using our hastag.  In the most recent SAMR brainstorm, we added a Twitter training component for the teachers, encouraging them to create an account for their ROV Club to share their progress as students build the robot. The Tweets shared at the ROV Competition by these teachers and clubs are available in this Storify:


Figure 9: a Shedd Learning staff member demonstrates Twitter to teachers in the ROV Club Program. We added instructions on how to create a Twitter account as part of the regular teacher professional development workshop for the program. (Image courtesy of @roboticcrusader via Twitter)

Implementing SAMR at your museum

SAMR can support innovation and integration with technology across many areas in a museum, not just education. Whether you are thinking of a gallery map, gallery tour, exhibition signage, or educational programs, SAMR offers a framework to explore how you can substitute, augment, modify, or redefine a project.

Where do you start? Introducing the SAMR model as an integrated strategy for the Shedd programs team was an iterative process. Each museum is different and will uncover unique needs for their organization; however, being open to changes during the process can help mold an effective strategy for your team. It is recommended to start with one to two programs as a pilot for using and testing the tool. Involving those who directly plan and implement the program itself is key for a successful transition from idea to practice. These staff members will have firsthand knowledge of the goals and outcomes of a program, along with the activities that help accomplish them. These will also be the people who will ultimately be responsible for the integration of whatever technology is selected. With that said, it is helpful to have an outside facilitator for the Brainstorm, to allow all involved to participate, and also to help guide the process. A collaborative conversation around ways to integrate technology boosts everyone’s experience level for the next SAMR brainstorm; be sure to get feedback from all those involved to help advance the tool for your needs. It is recommended that teams create a plan for piloting the tool in order to stay organized and be able to document and reflect on the process.

Do you need to have an IT representative, Digital Learning staff, or a tech background to use SAMR? NO! Teams who choose to use the SAMR model should take some time to understand the tool and have the willingness to explore how current activities can be transformed with technology. Is it nice to have someone who has a tech background involved? Sure, but with today’s readily available resources and highly connected online professional networks, information, examples, expertise, and a pool of supporters are at your fingertips.

Participating in SAMR Brainstorms and beginning to challenge the status quo can be a fun and creative process! Energize your team to get the creative juices flowing; for example, try using fun analogies of the SAMR model that connects with group. At Shedd, we like sharing the “What’s in the Ocean” infographic (figure 2). This exemplifies SAMR through the use of a person standing on a beach. They progressively begin to explore the waters in new and different ways, from canoeing, to snorkeling, to diving, and then through the use of a submarine.

Ultimately the SAMR model aligns with an educator’s true passion: to be a life-long learner, finding new ways to enhance and transform their methods in order to provide the best possible experience for the learners. Being open to creating the best experience for our learners means that sometimes technology is not the answer; but without the SAMR process, you’ll never discover if there were ways technology could support, improve, or even completely redefine the experience for the better.

SAMR Tools & Resources

The SAMR Model Explained by Ruben R. Puentedura

Ruben Puentedura on Applying the SAMR Model

Learn from educators who are testing and using SAMR by following #SAMR on Twitter

Additional collected resources on SAMR can be found at

Cite as:
Schneider, Heather and Miranda Kerr. "SAMR: a model for technology integration in museums." MW17: MW 2017. Published January 30, 2017. Consulted .

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