August 2, 2005

Online Learning Gets Physical

This article from the NY Times (free subscription needed to read the entire article) reveals how Minnesota is one state offering Physical Education online.

To most this seems like an impossible course to teach online however, in many cases, it offers great benefits to students:

“I’ve never seen a response like this to any course,” said Frank Goodrich, a veteran football coach who is one of two instructors teaching online physical education this summer to about 60 high school students.

The course allows students to meet requirements by exercising how they want, when they want. They are required to work out hard for 30 minutes four times a week and report to their teachers by e-mail. Parents must certify that the students did the workouts.

One recent day, after Dustin McEvoy lifted weights, Sasha Hulsey swam in a lake and Marc Sylvestre played hockey, they sent in reports with details on their warm-ups, cool-downs and how fast their hearts had beat. Mr. Goodrich, reviewing their e-mail messages on his laptop the next morning, said that although most students were sticking to their required routines, a few slackers were headed toward F’s.

I like the way they allow students who are practicing many of these things outside the classroom to receive credit for them. I’ve been fortunate to have my university advisors, encourage me to choose projects and assignments that I’d be doing anyway as part of my job. This is the kind of approach that fosters life-long learning and demonstrates it very clearly to students.

Much of traditional views of P.E. deal with social skills involved in team sports which is obviously difficult to bring to an online course. However, developing fitness and health habits can be greatly enhanced with the use of technology and even access to customized workouts.

Even the course’s author, Brenda Corbin, who writes curriculums for the Minneapolis district, was dismissive at first.

“I refused to be a part of it,” Ms. Corbin said of her initial reaction a year ago, when Ms. Braaten and district administrators approached her about writing the physical education course.

“How do you know they’re really working out?” Ms. Corbin said she asked.

But she later changed her mind. “I was uninformed about what you can do over the computer,” she said.