EDU520 Digitally-mediated Learning Activity

The following is a high school biology lesson about bacteria and viruses rooted in educational theory with consideration of purpose, audience, and expected learning outcomes. Conversation Theory and Cognitive Load Theory support the content covered, method of delivery, and involvement with the content.  This lesson was designed to teach the following essential understanding: microorganisms have an essential role in life processes and cycles on earth.bacteria

Theoretical Framework

Conversation Theory and Cognitive Load Theory will inform the construction of the teaching and learning approach for this learning activity. Gordon Pask’s Conversation Theory says that, “…learning occurs through conversations about a subject matter which serve to make knowledge explicit” and that, “…subject matter should be represented in the form of entailment structures which show what is to be learned. Entailment structures exist in a variety of different levels depending upon the extent of relationships displayed (e.g., super/subordinate concepts, analogies)….”  (Instructional Design, 2013).

Conversation Theory (Gordon Pask)

Pask’s theory has the following three principles:

1) To learn subject matter, students must learn the relationships among the concepts

2) Explicit explanation or manipulation of the subject matter facilitates understanding (e.g., use of teach back technique) and

3) Individuals differ in their preferred manner of learning relationships (serialists versus holists) (Instructional Design, 2013).

Conversation theory is appropriate to the study of viruses and bacteria because it stresses the interaction and ordering of concepts necessary to understand how bacteria and viruses fit into the larger picture of life.  In addition, it stresses the importance of teacher-learner interactions throughout each lesson to continually refine the learners’ understanding of content while allowing the teacher to alter approach and expectations. Pask’s theory is particularly appropriate with adolescents because they require a learning approach that focuses on mastery within a setting of belonging (Greene and Walker, 2009).  This learning theory allows for the interaction that supports students’ social and emotional needs, according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, allowing them to focus more intently on learning objectives (Burwell, 2008). It is also appropriate for adolescents because it allows for the evaluation of technology on the basis of whether or not it contributes to this interaction (Atherton, 2011).

Learning and Teaching; Conversational learning theory

John Sweller’s Cognitive Load Theory also informs the construction of the teaching and learning approach for the lesson. His theory is based on the brain’s ability to make sense of information by chunking it into schemas, or mental frameworks (Instructional Design, 2013).Content needs to be introduced, presented or organized by students in order to reduce cognitive load and build schemas that will be maintained in long-term memory (Instructional Design, 2013).  Instructional design can be used to reduce cognitive load of material with high interactivity by eliminating some of these elements (Paas et. al., 2003).  Eventually, these essential elements must be processed together, “…because it is only then that understanding commences” (Paas et. al., 2003, p. 1).  Instruction that places interacting elements into schema, “…means that only one element must be processed” thereby reducing cognitive load (Paas et. al., 2003, p. 2).   Pass, et. al. write that the manner in which information is presented to learners and the learning activities required of learners can also impose a cognitive load.  For this reason, learning activities that add minimal extraneous cognitive load will be chosen.  An effort will be made to make sure any cognitive load that is added be germane, enhancing learning (Paas et. al., 2003).  Reduction of extraneous cognitive load improves learning by freeing working memory for intrinsic and germane cognitive load (Paas et. al., 2003). In addition, instructional control will decrease as learners progress with control being shifted to learners (Paas et. al., 2003).

Learning activity proposal

The learning activity proposed is a unit on bacteria and viruses culminating in a discussion of the pros and cons of a vaccination program in Haiti.  The lessons are designed for high school sophomores.  The unit will enable students to describe how viral and bacterial diseases are transmitted and reduce unnecessary fear or anxiety about disease transmission.  An understanding of bacteria and viruses will help students to better understand the decisions of health care providers and their own personal responsibilities in the prevention and treatment of disease.  Students will be able to discuss the current limits of science in the prevention and treatment of disease and that prevention and treatment options are constantly debated and revised based on cost and effectiveness and research; and that these decisions and programs are not universally considered “right” or “good”.

By the end of the unit, students will be able to describe how bacterial and viral infectious diseases are transmitted, explain the roles of sanitation, vaccination and antibiotic medication in the prevention and treatment of infectious disease and describe the benefits, drawbacks and challenges of vaccination programs.  Students will give examples of the role microorganisms play in life processes and cycles on earth.  To achieve these outcomes, the following content will be covered:  Similarities and differences between viruses and bacteria and how they compare to other life domains; methods of disease transmission and descriptions of various kinds of diseases and their particular transmission and symptoms; reproductive methods of bacteria including horizontal gene transfer and the lytic and lysogenic cycles of viruses; definitions and descriptions of sanitation, vaccination and antibiotics; the role of beneficial bacteria including probiotics, and various views on a vaccination program for cholera in Haiti.

Students will work in groups to make graphic organizers for how bacteria compare to other life domains (concept map) and the similarities and differences between viruses and bacteria (Venn Diagram).  These activities allow for interaction between students and have a holistic approach beneficial to learners according to Conversation Theory.  This activity also “chunks” material into schemas as suggested by Cognitive Load Theory so that it can be more easily placed in long-term memory.  Next, students will use the Internet to determine five methods of disease transmission.  They will list and describe bacterial and viral diseases that use each mode of transmission and present their findings to their classmates.

Students will also participate in an activity about the spread of viruses. They will use small cups of “bodily fluid”, one of which is “infected”, in order to simulate the exchange of fluids.  Students will be challenged to work out the “index case” through conversation.  This activity is supported by conversation theory because it provides explicit manipulation of subject matter.

Next, students will analyze various diagrams and animations of bacterial fission, including horizontal gene transfer, and the lytic and lysogenic cycles of viruses.  Fission will be discussed in the context of bacterial evolution and antibiotic resistance for holistic learners. The lytic and lysogenic cycles will be presented in the context of symptoms of various diseases (cholera or the flu as compared to herpes or HIV) also for holistic learners.  The step-by-step presentation of the reproductive processes will accommodate serialists.  Students will be asked to define sanitation, vaccination and antibiotics, and give examples of each.  Students will again work in groups to decide if each of these is a preventative measure or treatment and produce a graphic to depict their findings.

At this point, instructional control will begin to be shifted to learners.  Students will be asked to argue for or against the statement: “Bacteria cause more harm than good.  Scientists should focus their studies on how to rid the planet of these destructive organisms”.  They will be required to support their argument with their research in order to make their argument convincing.  This research and reading will be assigned for homework to make the activity more student-centered.  “Experienced online teachers recommend putting the responsibility for learning on the students (by assigning) them readings…and hold(ing) them responsible for learning the material” (Bates and Watson, 2008, p. 40).  Using research, they will be required to respond to classmates’ arguments. Students will then be asked to work in groups during the face-to-face portion of the class to come up with three reasons they agree with the statement and three reasons they disagree with the statement.  They will then be asked to share these reasons during a whole-class discussion. Conversation Theory supports this portion of the learning activity because the learning will occur through conversations about a subject matter.  Use of discussion forums helps to “…facilitate peer interaction with the goal of building learning communities…and connecting students…” (Bates and Watson, 2008, p. 39).  Finally, students will read various articles that share opposing views on a vaccination program for cholera in Hiati.  Students will again be asked to argue for or against the implementation of such a program.  Here, students’ will look at a holistic view of viruses and will understand how factors outside the understanding of viruses affect how we interact with them.  As with the portion of the activity that deals with bacteria, this portion is also supported by Conversation Theory because students will be required to share and respond to one another’s ideas.  In order to avoid cognitive overload, students will be required to organize arguments for and against vaccination before writing their argument.  Upon completion of these learning activities, students will have a knowledge base to discuss the pros and cons of microorganisms and their role in life processes and cycles on earth Technology


keyboard imageThe bulk of the unit will be in a physical classroom setting as it is intended for students attending a public school who are, by law, required to attend school.  A diagraming program such as Inspiration, Lucidchart, or Mindmeister will be used to allow students to make the various graphic organizers required in this learning activity. The required presentation of disease transmission will be done in Google Drive.  These assignments would be completed during the face-to-face portion of the learning activity so that the instructor can interact with each group as they work, providing “…the opportunity for teachers to interact one on one with…students needing the most help” (Means, 2010 p.293).  During group time, students may be more apt to ask questions.  Diagrams, animations and articles will be disseminated using Moodle.  On-line discussions will be included making this a hybrid or, more accurately, a blended unit. The on-line portion will be included in order to get participation from all students regardless of their personalities and time constraints of class meetings.  Kurthen and Smith write, “Online discussion can help extend the discussion so that all students can participate” (2005/2006, p. 243).  It will also be included in order to motivate students and allow them to work at an independent pace to decrease cognitive load and encourage the construction of schema.  The discussions required in this learning activity will be conducted using Edmodo, chosen for it’s “Face book feel” which will encourage students to share due to their familiarity with the format.  The online learning will be introduced in the beginning of the course to allow the tool to be, “…accepted as part of the normative environment”  of the course (Kurthen and Smith, 2005/2006, p. 241).  Informal learning components will be included via links on a web page and suggestions for further reading.  Through the use of the Internet, students can easily extend their learning by using links provided to various web sites and/or conducting their own research.

Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology (This is a PDF file)


Technology in the unit will include audio files (podcasts), videos, and readings in a digital format including traditional websites, blogs, and news articles. This technology will, “…engage interest and attention…by connecting Web-learning resources to learning standards…bridging informal and formal learning…(giving) learners choices…(inspiring) imagination and intellectual curiosity…and (providing) opportunities for students to express themselves” (The United States Department of Education Office of Educational Technology, 2010, p. 17).  The use of discussion boards will allow students to, “…collaborate to answer each other’s questions…in an informal peer mentoring process” (Revere and Kovack, 2011, p. 119).  This collaboration can increase students’ sense of belonging by creating a social environment where friendships can develop.  This may motivate students and lead to increased engagement (Greene and Walker, 2009).  Through technology, students can, “…collaborate to answer each other’s questions…in an informal peer mentoring process” (Revere and Kovack, 2011, p. 119).  The U.S. Department of Education’s report on technology states that technology can help to attract students’ attention by allowing learning to be individualized, and personalized and by forming a link between formal and informal learning (U.S. Department of Education, 2010).

Video: The Basics of Blended Learningscroll down and click on the video on the left!Assessment

Video: Student Reactions to a Hybrid Math Class


The learning outcomes will be measured with both formative and summative assessments.  Formative assessment will be used to inform, “…both the instructor and the student- about the learning process” and because it “…can be highly effective in improving student performance” (Drouin, 2010, p. 114).  Various formative assessment methods will be used during the face-to-face portion of the class including exit cards, “muddy water” (name two things you need to be cleared up), thumbs up/thumbs down, drawings, observations made during class and during conversation with individual groups or individual students.  Formative assessments will not be graded, but descriptive feedback will be given to students either orally or in writing (Doubet, 2012).

  Summative assessments will include discussion boards, a presentation on viral and bacterial diseases and a traditional test. Larry Rosenstock says the best method of assessing a student’s understanding is to have students, “…get up and present their work repeatedly and formally with live audiences” (Boss, 2011).  Rosenstock says that seeing one another’s presentations, students witness all levels of work and can therefore make corrections to their own work; they can say to themselves, next time, “…mine’s going to be more like that one and less like that one” (Boss, 2011).

A formal test will be given as one piece of student assessment in order to, “look for discrete knowledge and skill for the individual student” (Boss, 2011).  The test will be given on Moodle and will include some multiple-choice, matching, true and false as well as short essays to assess “higher level skills” such as analysis and evaluation.  In addition, the test will be used as a formative summative assessment (FSA) to encourage the long-term retention of concepts.  The practice of using FSA means that summative assessments are reviewed with students, preferably in groups with one another, so that they, “…get feedback about their comprehension of concepts” which can help with long-term retention of concepts and, “…fosters interpersonal relationships, increases motivation, and enhance(s) self evaluation skills” (Drouin, 2010, p. 114, 115).  Since students prefer to work in groups and learn more effectively through conversation (according to Conversation Theory), students will also find the review of the summative assessment more enjoyable and are more likely to have positive peer to peer interactions both inside and outside class (Drouin, 2010).  A Group FSA activity will be used because group FSAs, “(appear) to have a positive effect on student-student interactions and students’ motivation to participate in collaborative active learning activities” (Drouin, 2010, p. 118).  Giving the test on Moodle will allow students to see their work along with descriptive feedback from the teacher and can be easily reviewed later in the course before a final exam.  It also allows parents to have access to student work to participate in the formative summative assessment.

Students will be given a reaction evaluation about the technology used in the unit as suggested by Kirkpatrick’s Learning and Training Evaluation Theory (Chapman, 2012).  Student’s verbal feedback about the technology will also be taken into consideration when evaluating the effectiveness of technology choices.  Decisions about the use of this technology in the future will be based, in part, on its ease of use and how engaged students show themselves to be during class.  How well students are prepared to share in the review of the discussion board will give insight into its effectiveness.  The discussion board’s effectiveness will also be evaluated on its ability to contribute to student interaction, per Conversation Theory.  In addition, student performance on the summative assessment for the unit as well as the same portion of the final exam and a similar portion of the state standardized test will inform future decisions about the unit.


This lesson takes into account the unique situation of high school students and uses educational theory to support the use of various traditional and technical methods to increase student outcomes, including social, emotional, and academic outcomes.

Comprehensive Assessment: What Experts Say


Atherton, J. S. (2011). Learning and Teaching; Conversational learning theory; Pask and Laurillard.   Retrieved from

Bates, Constance and Watson, Maida. (2008).  Re-learning teaching techniques to be effective in hybrid and online courses.  Journal of American Academy of Business.  13(1), 38-44.

Boss, Suzie.  (2011).  Comprehensive assessment: What experts say.  Retrieved from

Burwell. (2008).  Motivation.  Retrieved from 

Chapman, Alan.  (2012).  Kirkpatrick’s learning and training evaluation theory.  Retrieved from   

Doubet, Dr. Kristina.  (2012).  Middle school matters #217: Dr. Doubet, Fomative assessment. Retrieved from    lt.aspx?name=formative%20assessment

Drouin, Michelle, A.  (2010).  Group-based formative summative assessment relates to improved student performance and satisfaction.  Teaching of Psychology.  (37), 114-118.

Kovach, Jamison and Revere, Lee.  (2011).  Online technologies for engaged learning: A meaningful synthesis for educators.  The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 12(2), 113-124.

Kurthen, Hermann and Smith, Glenn.  (2005/2006).  Hybrid online face-to-face teaching: When is it an efficient learning tool?  International Journal of Learning. 12(5), p. 237-245.

Means, Barbara.  (2010).  Technology and education change: Focus on student learning.  Journal of Research on Technology in Education.  42(3), p. 285-307.

Paas, Fred, Renkl, Alexander, and Sweller, John.  (2003).  Cognitive load theory and instructional design: Recent developments.  Educational Psychologist.  38(1), 1-4.

The United States Department of Education Office of Educational Technology.  (2010).    Transforming American education: Learning powered by technology.  Retrieved from

Instructional Design.  (2013). Conversation Theory (Gordon Pask).  Retrieved from



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