Redesigning and creating tasks to transform learning using digital technologies

A few weeks ago I facilitated some professional development for teaching staff and management at a primary school (students aged 5-11). I was asked to design and lead a workshop that would help kick-start staff collaborative sharing with Google Docs, including engaging those who were skeptical about the use of new technologies of this type. I decided to use a task that I had already re-designed for my Year 9 Social Studies class back in 2013 and have the staff participate in the task as my students would have. The purpose was that they could realise the benefits of technology transforming pedagogy while at the same time learn the technology. Also, to stimulate the sharing of ideas for transforming their own practice whether it be in their classroom or management/administration situations.

New and Different Ways of Learning

The New Zealand school curriculum/Effective Pedagogy section (2007), discusses E-Learning supporting pedagogy and has a summary statement that has been at the crux of my thinking around digital technologies and learning since I started this blog in 2008. It states that

“Schools should explore not only how ICT can supplement traditional ways of teaching but also how it can open up new and different ways of learning.”

SAMR ModelWhen describing learning tasks with digital technologies, I now use the SAMR model (Puentedura) to help give teachers a
framework to measure if a task is genuinely opening up “new and different ways of learning” or if it is merely “supplementing” previous traditional practices, which are often teacher led.

(Image the creation of Dr. Ruben Puentedura, Ph.D.

The SAMR model encourages us as educators to utilise technology as a vehicle to transform learners experiences through Modification: significant redesign of a task or entire curriculum. It also identifies how technology enables us to  Redefine learning opportunities which were previously not available to us. In other words, “opening up new and different ways of learning”. The transformation approach to pedagogy does give students more ownership and engagement. These new and different ways of learning occur when students are given opportunities to utilise and develop more meta knowledge skills such as problem solving & critical thinking, communication & collaboration, and creativity & innovation (Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe & Terry).  

A Task Redesign – Transforming Learning

Mt Ngarahoe

The Original Task:

The unit that the Year 9 (Age 13) Social Studies students were covering is called “Our World – New Zealand Geography”. The students were each given a printed write-on workbook (copy here) and the teacher used a prepared 115 slide Microsoft PowerPoint (copy here converted to Google Presentation) to lead the students through the various tasks. Already this task is “enhanced” with digital technologies by the teacher providing supplementary digital images, no doubt previously accessed through a resource book.

I did not use the unit’s write-on workbook or teacher PowerPoint, but I instead redesigned all of the tasks. The specific task that I am highlighting here required the students to identify and locate, and gain a better understanding of New Zealand geographic features such as volcanoes, mountain ranges, rivers, lakes etc with the overall purpose of gaining knowledge and familiarity of their own country and its geographic features (pages 5-13 of the workbook).

The Redesigned Task:

With the students having direct access to computers, the internet and online collaborative tools, I redesigned this task to make it student-centred through investigation, collaboration and student led presentations. I wanted the students to lead the learning. I scaffolded the difficulty level so that the students would gradually move on to more challenging components at their pace.

Step 1 – Set-up: Students in pairs were required to create a copy of this “Geographic Features Investigation” task template and share it with each other and the teacher.

Step 2 – Modified Task: Students were then required to move through the document task activities with their partner

ACTIVITY ONE Complete the Different “Type of” Geographic NZ Place Names
This first activity can be set up as a competition between groups to find the right answers leading to initial excitement and engagement. It allowed students to both use prior knowledge but also to find the information by locating and naming the features themselves.
This involved a good amount of communication, collaboration and inquiry going on.

ACTIVITY TWO – Categorise and find other examples of types of Geographic places from New Zealand
Students took the knowledge gained and now had to apply it by categorising the table headings from the previous activity. They then had to look for New Significant examples for each type.

ACTIVITY THREE What are the Highest, Longest, Largest and Most Powerful??
This activity requires finding more information out along with a lot of discussion and guessing. Students are also required to use include measurements.
(Other options – I did this with staff and everyone typed in their guesses BEFORE finding the correct answers. This part could even be done as a whole group activity/competition)

ACTIVITY FOUR – Geographic Feature – Research & Presentation
This is an in depth research and presentation extension task that could be completed over a few lessons (and homework). I have completed similar tasks with students in other subjects and it always proves popular and engaging.
I also have an exemplar “Farewell Spit” which I regularly use to help guide the students around how to construct research and presentations. I usually deliver this Farewell Spit presentation to the class at the beginning of the task along with these research notes for them to refer to. Students learn important research and effective presentation skills.

google_apps-usedActivity four involves a completely redefined task which involves the students collaboratively recreating information and presenting to an audience. All of the Meta Knowledge skills are now being used with students having to find & choose information, outline their research and synthesise findings in their own words. They need to think about how they are going to communicate effectively to their class audience in an informative way and with impact. All elements of problem solving & critical thinking, communication & collaboration, and creativity & innovation are now in play.

Teachers Sharing Ideas: Google Docs Collaboration is included for Professional Learning & Development with school staff.
Note: Staff do not complete Activity Four (research & presentation) as it takes a few periods for the students.


Digital technologies allows us to redesign tasks and curriculum that place the student at the centre. We can engage students more when they collaborate and create. The tasks can include scaffolding to allow students to work at different levels leading to their growing confidence in what they are doing. Not only do student assessment outcomes improve, they also gain life-long learning skills that can be applied across all subjects (learning areas) and into their futures.


Effective pedagogy. (2007, September 19). Retrieved August 29, 2015, from

Kereluik, K., Mishra, P., Fahnoe, C., & Terry, L. (2013). What Knowledge Is of Most Worth. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 29(4), 127-140. doi:10.1080/21532974.2013.10784716

Puentedura, R. R., Dr. (2014, August 29). SAMR and Curriculum Redesign. Retrieved August 29, 2015, from

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