dan lasota's masters in education portfolio for online innovation and design


Lesson Plan Reasoning

3 June 2012

Make your final edits, then write a one-page defense for your assessments and learning activities, describing how they will culminate in the desired learning objectives. Your rationale should be based on relevant learning theory, situational factors, and pertinent characteristics of your learners.

In my job at UAF eLearning I was assigned to work on the design of a Differential Equations class. I had been exposed the the course material in my junior year as an undergraduate about 25 years ago. I had forgotten much of everything and even after some recent tutoring and time with the textbook, I would not be able to claim competency with the chapter content. However, I know it well enough to compose this lesson plan for the theoretical material using real pedagogy. The curriculum is an amalgam of a few textbooks, Khan Academy curriculum and other online course content that I reviewed. The revised lesson plan referenced is available on this same site.

Situational Factors

I described the situational factors for this unit plan on First Order Differential Equations earlier as weekly writing for ED 655. One factor to explicitly state is that nearly all of the students taking this course have studied under the pattern of “the traditional ‘two midterms and a final’” (Fink, 2003, Chapter 3, Section 2) in their previous eight years of mathematics courses. This unit is taught in a way that breaks that pattern. This disruption in instructional methods should be given serious consideration. The activities that I selected were not chosen for the sake of change in itself, or to pay homage to taxonomies or certain theories of learning; I chose the methods in this unit to counter-balance the effects of not having face-to-face time with the instructor, teaching assistants or student peers and to augment students’ depth of learning. Another factor that comes into play is that this course is being prepared to teach students at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Part of the mission statement for the University reads “UAF — America’s Arctic University — promotes academic excellence, student success and lifelong learning” (Alaska Board of Regents, 2006).

Learning Activities

The learning activities I have created all contribute to information fluency in the realm of this unit. Students begin in the traditional manner, reading their text and watching scribble lectures. This is followed by more traditional work, solving equations from their text. These activities will form the basis of their domain knowledge. In order to get the students to use critical thinking I have them actively identifying and critiquing their peers published work on the class blog. The students are expected to publish not only their solutions to medium complexity problems to the blog for peer review, but also a larger more time intensive lab activity involving programming, application procedures and visualization of their solutions.

Some of the instruction is given in video form. The Khan Academy videos provide the advantage to students of being able to rewind or jump ahead to sections they are interested in. The students can of course re-watch entire videos later if desired. The argument that interactive video is more effective than a traditional classroom lecture can be backed up with research. (Zhang, Zhou, Briggs, Nunamaker, 2006) studied different kinds of video to see how their effectiveness compared with classroom lecture as measured in student test scores. “The tests supported our hypotheses on the positive effects of interactive video on both learning outcome and learner satisfaction in e-learning” (Zhang et al., 2006, p. 24).

The learning activities progress from low level learning objectives like textbook homework, through lab activities that include visualization and application and culminate with published pieces of work that are subject to higher level evaluation and recommendation.


“We need to introduce high quality formative assessment practices because it is engagement with these practices which provides a secure foundation for lifelong learning and contributes directly to a learning society” (Boud, 2000, p. 152). Each of the assessment mechanisms I use are formative. They are meant to give students feedback on their grasp of domain knowledge and in some cases expected practices in the field of mathematics. More importantly they are meant to promote reflective thought. If the students learn to think critically they will be able to analyze and understand other complex knowledge systems later in life. When they forget the particulars of Differential Equations, they will remember how to relearn them.

Even the quiz at the end of the unit, usually considered more summative, is partially formative as the results will be reviewed on the class blog afterwards and by email if necessary. I have built in some feedback loops to the assessments. The graded portion of the student’s blog posts are graded according to the supplied rubric. The formative assessment provided by peers and the instructor are also recorded for certification purposes (course grade). But the students have the opportunity to redo work that they are not satisfied with, at least in a limited time period. “Unless students are able to use feedback to produce improved work, through for example redoing the same assignment, neither they nor those giving feedback will know that it has been effective” (Boud, 2000, p. 158).

Another one of the situational factors involved here are academic departments that have an interest in maintaining rigorous content. There will be a lot of scrutiny on the content presented in the course and the assessments used to measure student achievement. Some of the formulaic weight of quizzes, midterms and final exams will be prescribed by the interested department. It’s also a factor that many of the students enrolled in the class have done so mainly for purposes of fitting into their schedule. They may very well be taking the next class in their academic journey in a face-to-face classroom and their knowledge obtained through this course will again be a reflection on many aspects of the University, including online education itself. Therefore, the quiz at the end of the unit will be at least on par with the analogous material taught in a classroom.


There are high expectations placed on the design of this course and on the learning outcomes of the enrolled students. The online medium of the class mostly impacts the students’ communication with instructors and peers. The delivery of instructional material is not adversely affected and in some cases may be better than what is delivered in a classroom. The design of multiple peer-to-peer interactions and postings on the class blog is meant to counter the isolating effects of online learning. The learning activities were meant to introduce lessons to the students so they could initially grasp it at a low level of competency on Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning objectives, and as the unit progressed the learning objectives increased in level. Parallel to that development ramping was an assessment cycle that measured achievement of the learning objectives along the way. Much of the assessment was immediate or designed for feedback within days of submission.

I am confident that students enrolled in a course with material and activities of this nature would be deemed competent in First Order Differential Equations by any objective standard.


Alaska Board of Regents Policy, Part I, Chapter 01.01 § 030 (2006).

Boud, D. (2000). Sustainable assessment: Rethinking assessment for the learning society. Studies in Continuing Education, 22(2), 151-167. doi:10.1080/0158037995017731

Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences : An integrated approach to designing college courses [Amazon Kindle version]. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass

Zhang, D., Zhou, L., Briggs, R. O., & Nunamaker, J. F. (2006). Instructional video in e-learning: Assessing the impact of interactive video on learning effectiveness. Information & Management, 43(1), 15-27. doi:10.1016/j.im.2005.01.004

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>