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Kerry O’Hanlon – Design Narrative - A Virtual Lesson with High School Students

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Kerry O'Hanlon
27 March 2013


As an International Baccalaureate Chemistry teacher, I had to look at ways of incorporating the functions of our VLE into virtual lessons in case of school closure.


In Jakarta, the school has had to close on a number of occasions, usually because of rain, but in the past, terrorist threats have also had an impact. Some of these events can last a number of days and so can significantly affect the number of teaching hours. The school adopted the VLE Moodle in order to be able to contact students virtually and lessen the effect of such closures.

One such closure took place in January due to flooding. Students, parents and teachers were informed on the school website and by text at 4:00 am on the day of closure. The expectation was that students would take the same classes online as they would have taken had they been in school. The normal class time would be 1½ hour. The unit that was being studied, Kinetics, was being taught through a series of labs that were performed in order and structured activities on Moodle that could be done at the student’s own pace.


The lesson was about looking at the effect of catalyst on the rate of reaction. Students were required to relate the action of catalysts to their previous knowledge of collision theory and the distribution of molecular energies


I reorganised the lesson order, as I couldn’t find a simulation that could have replaced the lab that they should have been doing that day.

All students were sent on email telling them to look on the Moodle page for the Chat and to make sure that they had signed on to the chat at the start of the lesson.

In the introduction to the chat, I placed a link to a simulation to enable the students to determine the effect of a catalyst on rate in an attempt to mirror the experiment that they would have performed in class. There was also a worksheet provided with the simulation with steps to follow as to what to do with the activity and some follow up questions to the task.

Students also had access to other resources on Moodle, including a presentation on the action of catalysts that they could use to explain their results.

Any remaining time was to be used to complete the self-study part of the unit.

The chat room was open throughout the lesson time so that the students could seek clarifications and carry out the discussions that would normally take place while doing practical work.


Only 50 % of students were online at the start of the lesson, overall 75% of students accessed the activity in the allocated lesson time.

Interactions in the chat room mirrored the interactions in the classroom; those that normally asked a lot of questions and lead the discussion in class were the same students who dominated in the chat room.

All students completed the activity in good time. Learning this topic virtually had no noticeable impact on their understanding of the material as was shown by the results of the topic test given two weeks later (I had another class studying the same material but on a different day that I could use to compare results)

A complaint about the virtual day was that students ended up with far more homework than they would normally have had. Whether this was because they didn’t use their allotted lesson time productively or that there was too much work set was not analysed.


There was confusion amongst the students about the expectation that they attend their lessons virtually. This was exacerbated by the message that the school sent out which started with the school being closed and, at the end of a very long message, ended with the continuation of school virtually. Future messages, in the event of another closure, will now start with the announcement that it is a Virtual Day.

The chat room was a great way of keeping the lesson going virtually and better mirrored the classroom situation than a discussion forum would have done, due to the fact that students could ask short questions and know, because of the synchronous nature, they would be quickly seen and promptly answered.

I was very lucky that the current topic was pretty much a self-study unit so all I really needed to do was find a replacement for a lab. One of the problems I would foresee with trying to design a virtual lesson is getting the timing right. Most uses involve students tackling the work at their own pace and it would be rare to design online activities to be completed in a specific time slot. Given the same situation again, I would design a number of activities that cover more than one lesson, but ensure that I allocated class time when students were back in school for the completion of the activity.

Extra content Lesson PPC

Kerry O'Hanlon
11:23 on 1 April 2013 Design Map.jpg

Kerry O'Hanlon
11:26 on 1 April 2013 (Edited 11:28 on 1 April 2013)

Embedded Content


Brendan Hurley
2:06pm 28 March 2013

Really interesting design narrative Kerry. 

Would it be a good idea to run an introduction to Moodle on a day when the students are present in the school?  That way they’d know what’s expected of them in the event of a school closure.  It might reduce the confusion.

Kerry O'Hanlon
2:34pm 28 March 2013

Hi Brendan,

Well you've spotted some ambiguity in my Design Narrative (unlike yours, I have to say!) We use Moodle regularly in Science so students are experienced in accessing the resources, the confusion lay with having to access the resources during their allotted lesson time. Maybe not the best use of our online facilities - where students should be allowed to learn from the resources at their own pace. Maybe it's the teachers, rather than the students, that need the training for a virtual day?

Andrew Marriott
3:58pm 30 March 2013

Can I clarify whether the "chat" feature you mention is the same / similar to the chat function on Elluminate?

It great you were able to compare the outcomes of the virtual lesson with a F2F lesson on the same subject so as to see how effective it was in comparision.

I guess the key question is without the requirement to use the virtual lesson would you deliberatly set up an online lesson again ?

Clare withers
9:22am 1 April 2013

This is a really good narrative.

Can I just clarify what happens if students do not have access to the VLE from home? Are they given a chance to catch up when they are next at school. 

Are you required to always have a virtual day lesson plan as well as f2f plan or do you always try to deliver the lesson you would have delivered in the classroom?

Kerry O'Hanlon
11:16am 1 April 2013

Hi Andrew, the ‘chat’ feature is actually an instant messenger, I just gave it the same name as Moodle does. If it weren’t a requirement, would I set up a virtual lesson again? For this topic the answer would have to be no. It is a topic with huge potential for hands on practical work and the real-life manipulation and observation that goes with that. Where students learn a lot from practical work is where it goes wrong – why did it go wrong, did I do anything that caused this outcome, how could I have approached the task differently? A computer simulation just doesn’t allow these opportunities.  On saying that, I see great potential for virtual lessons for topics like Atomic Theory. There are some great simulations of Rutherford’s Gold Leaf experiment and Chadwick’s discovery of the neutron where students that cannot be performed in school. Students can observe, discuss and come to their own conclusions about what is happening. Discussion forums or instant messaging can provide a record of the discussion, allowing for more detailed analysis of the conclusions drawn at a later stage without disrupting the flow of conversation.


Hi Clare, Thanks! There were a number of students who couldn’t access the VLE, but the information was still available for them to look at when they could get online. The feature that they didn’t have access to was the instant messaging, and I suppose that this would be an argument for using a discussion forum. Personally, I have found that discussion forums don’t work too well with school children – why put a question on the forum when you can ask someone in school the next day? The instant messaging was put to good use because of the immediacy of the reply. We are not required to have a virtual lesson plan for every lesson plan; however, some lessons just don’t work well in the virtual environment (practical subject – needs to be hands on). Some teachers did video the labs that should have been done that day and asked students to discuss – I would prefer to try taking something that is more adaptable to the virtual environment, even if it is perhaps out of sequence, and save the hand’s on work until we are f2f.

Sibylle Hyde
12:26pm 1 April 2013

This is a really rich narrative design, Kerry.

I enjoyed reading your answers to the questions too. A practical subject is much harder to simulate, I imagine, than a social science. 

I've looked both at your design and at Brendan's learning design and now wonder how far I can get with a series of activities, which is something I need to do next.

You say you were pretty lucky that the unit you designed this for was much of self-study unit, presumably that is the best starting point for beginners like me.

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