Online Phys Ed Classes: Legit or Loophole?
I have a confession. Back in high school, I satisfied my required gym credit by taking a nutrition class — online.
With online education becoming more prevalent these days, some states in the U.S. allow students to satisfy high school physical education requirements through online courses. Making gym class virtual may seem ironic in an era when more than one in three American children and teens are overweight or obese. But online classes open doors for students who don’t have space in their schedule or for those who might prefer to workout in private.
High school level online coursework isn’t new, but the ability to potentially bypass physical activity at school is something to consider — especially when society is arguably spending more time sitting and in front of screens .
K12. BYU Independent Study. Advanced Academics. as well as through individual school districts offer physical education and health courses online.
The Florida Virtual School might be considered one of the prime examples of online education for teens, although enrollment is reportedly plummeting, leading to teacher layoffs. The virtual school is free for middle and high school students in Florida and has more than 120 online courses. The school offers four online high school courses under the health/physical education umbrella, including personal fitness and outdoor education.
Kristen Satin, a teacher of seven years with Florida Virtual School, told Mashable her online students have a “vast knowledge of how to workout,” after completing the courses. The classes utilize embedded videos, text, live virtual sessions with instructors and desktop sharing to teach about stretches, cardiovascular exercises, muscular strength and training.
The students participate in the online course at their leisure and must keep a workout log. Satin said the virtual school keeps students accountable for their progress through monthly phone calls with parents and students, as well as with “discussion-based assessments.”
“I always felt like they were a good time to connect with the student because they don’t get that face-to-face time, so when we talk to them, you can really build a relationship,” Satin said.
Students can even send phone text messages with quick questions to teachers, who are daily available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Satin, who previously taught first and second grade at a traditional school, said she had to change her mindset for teaching virtually.
“Seven years ago I was a little bit leery about it, coming from the traditional brick-and-mortar classroom and you saw those children every day, and you really had that connection,” she said.
Now as an online teacher, Satin still has that connection. “It is amazing how just through conversation you do have a connection — you know more about them — it really comes through on the phone.”
Cognitive vs. Physical Skills
Online physical education may be effective for aligning cognitive concepts of a class with national or state standards, according to Brian Mosier at the University of West Georgia. An assistant professor, Mosier teaches health and physical education majors, in addition to conducting research about online physical education in grades 9 to 12.
Mosier told Mashable these online classes are better suited at the high school level for personal fitness courses, rather than for team sports. But when it comes to physical skill development, he said, “You don’t get better at tennis by playing Wii.”
“You get better at tennis. by taking tennis as a class or getting skill development … and continue to play for a lifetime,” he added.
Mosier adds that accountability about whether a student actually did the online work could also be a concern.
“Just as an online English class, a teacher may question, ‘Who wrote that paper?’ Or an online math class, ‘Who really did the problem?’ With a physical education class online, ‘Was the student really involved with physical activity? Was it a student begging a parent to sign off on an activity log so that they got credit?’”
He said some teachers have used heart-rate monitors or accelerometers to ensure students actually do the physical activity. But there’s even a hitch with that: Someone else could be wearing it.
Mosier said a blended model may be the most appropriate solution for online physical education: Teach cognitive concepts online, but have some physical activity face-to-face. He adds online learning is “not for everybody.”
“What it all comes down to … is that there needs to be a quality physical education program, whether it be face to face — which, ideally, would be the best — or whether it be online.”
Is Physical Education Online a Farce?
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are staggering: In the past 30 years, American childhood obesity has more than doubled for children and tripled among teens. The issue is so widespread that First Lady Michelle Obama made childhood obesity her platform with the “Let’s Move” campaign.
In May, the Institute of Medicine recommended that physical education should be a “core subject,” citing it as “foundational for lifelong health and learning.” The committee also said all children should get “at least 60 minutes per day of vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity regardless of their region, school attended, grade level or individual characteristics.”
At Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida — where students can take physical education classes as diverse as sailing, kayaking and snorkeling — an administrator told Mashable that opting for online courses is effective for students who might have a cramped schedule (e.g. several advanced placement courses).
“So the online environment works as an option for students,” said Jayne Greenberg, the district’s director of physical education and health literacy. “But in terms of accountability, it’s very difficult with physical education and the physical activity component.”
Greenberg also worries about socialization lost when kids are sitting at the computer taking coursework instead of interacting with other students.
“In some cases, we’ve almost engineered physical activity out of our lives.”
Greenberg said she is personally more of a proponent for students taking physical education at school — considering in a location like Miami, teachers can monitor heat conditions and hydration.
“By not monitoring appropriately physical activity levels, performance, etc. are we really doing the best job in educating our students for the importance of being physically active for … a lifetime if they’re not taking physical education in an environment that would nurture that kind of productivity?”
What do you think about students’ ability to take physical education online? Should it be a viable option, or is it a lazy loophole in the education system? Share your thoughts in the comments.