Anatomy of a Lesson: Computer Operating Systems

Posted by Rob Reynolds on Feb 5, 2018 6:00:00 AM
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[Our Anatomy of a Lesson series provides an in-depth view into the thinking and learning design decisions that go into TEL Library lessons for different topics. The primary content contributor for our "Computer Operating Systems" lesson was Stacy Zemke. Rob Reynolds served as primary course designer. Click here to learn more about our Introduction to Computer Systems and Technology mediabook.]

Background Thinking and Conversations

ROB: What is your general thinking as you talk to students about computer operating systems?

STACY: I think the most important thing for me is to make the concept both real and relevant. I want students to realize how many operating systems they actually touch everyday so that the concept has a reality beyond a PC or a Mac. I want them to think about operating systems in terms of ATM machines, smartphones, cars, and home audio assistants. And then I want to help them translate that personal connection to operating systems into a deeper understanding of the concept.

ROB: For example?

STACY: Once students realize the broad, personal impact of operating systems, it’s much easier for them to understand why they are so important in computing systems. They can see that the operating system is the central brain that lets everything else know what to do.

ROB: In your “Explore” section, you help students understand operating systems by having them think about what happens when one stops working properly.

STACY: Right. It’s the old, “you take things for granted until you don’t have them” approach. The idea is to help students think about the critical functions of operating systems by getting them to see what is lost when there’s a problem.

Designing the Lesson

The primary design question we asked for this lesson was “How do we give learners a clear sense of what an operating system is, how it functions, and why it’s so important in computing systems?” The design idea for the lessons was to establish a strong sense of personal relevance for the concept and then convert that into a deeper understanding of how operating systems work.

TEL Library uses a common learning design template for all of our lessons. This template incorporates a prescribed learning progression or experience that is designed to promote learner agency.

TEL Library Learning Design Model

The lesson begins with our “Overview,” in which we work to create both context and relevance for the learner. We decided to spend time here introducing key terms for the lesson, to stimulate thinking about the impact of operating systems with our “Big Question.”


We follow this with a video that provides an overview of computer operating systems, as well as their primary functions and system managers. At the end of the video, we ask learners to think about their own connection to operating systems with regard to personal computing.


Our learning video style, which uses moving images and text call-outs, also provides a nice example of how to structure information in a presentation.


In our “Read” section, we provide a clear set of definitions and terms related to operating systems. Our goal here is to help learners develop a good, practical sense of what an operating system is and what it does. We follow this core information with a list of desktop/laptop and mobile operating systems, along a description of each. These examples establish a connection between lesson information and practical application, and also reinforce a sense of personal relevance related to operating systems.


The next step in the lesson is to encourage learners to think about the information we’ve presented and consider applies to them personally. We do this in our “Reflect” section with a simple poll.


After this reflection, we take a deeper dive into operating systems by elaborating on the five major managers that make up most, but not all, OS functionality. This section ties neatly back to our Big Question about how computers know what t compute (and how they do it).


Our next goal in the lesson is to move learners past information into personal application. We accomplish this via a journal assignment in our “Explore” section. For “Computer Operating Systems,” we have learners think about what happens when an operating system stops working. What challenges do we face when this happens? What are the quickest remedies?


We extend our topic application further with a discussion activity that asks learners to discuss their personal preferences with regards to operating systems, as well as the basis for those preferences.

Using This Lesson in a Class

All TEL Library lessons are designed to be used within a variety instructional delivery models. In a traditional, face-to-face class, the core content will most likely be assigned as outside reading. The “Reflect” poll could be used as an out-of-class or an in-class activity to stimulate class discussion (learners can complete these via their mobile devices or computers), and there is also ample flexibility with regards to the gjournaling and discussion activities. These can be used as homework assignments or as in-class group writing and thinking activities. This flexibility is also valuable in flipped or hybrid classrooms, allowing instructors to pick and choose which content sections and activities to have students complete on their own, and which ones to bring into the classroom experience.

In our online, self-paced courses, some lessons, such as this one, may have an added writing assignment that asks learners to submit a writing sample as a type of formative assignment. For instructor-led courses, our assumption is that institutions and instructors have likely already defined their more formal (graded) writing assignments and/or prefer to personalize these to their own preferences and the experiences of their particular student learners.

Tags: Anatomy of a Lesson, Learning Design

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