Integrative Experience Course Provides Kinesiology Students with Hands-On Learning

April 28, 2014

Integrative learning comes in many varieties: connecting skills and knowledge from multiple sources and experiences; applying theory to practice in various settings; utilizing diverse and even contradictory points of view; and, understanding issues and positions contextually. -Statement on Integrative Learning, Association for American Colleges and Universities & the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

Integrative Experience teaching assistants and instructors (from left to right): Sangsoo Park, Jamil Halaby, Ethan Pais, Tom St. Laurent, Andrew O'Loughlin, Amy Whited, Eliza Frechette, Alyssa Kwartlter, Leeze Meteleva, Tess Cigliano, Lauren Flynn

It all comes down to this moment for the students in Kinesiology 394IE. For months, they’ve studied, discussed, researched, and prepared, and now the moment is here. It’s time for “The Big Reveal.”

It begins simply enough for the 100+ upperclassmen in the class as co-instructors Eliza Frechette and Thomas St. Laurent present them with a single task: to work together in discussion groups to design and present a proposal for a health and wellness program that tackles a real world problem such as type 2 diabetes. The challenge, however, is in creating a proposal that could become a viable real-world product.

Frechette and St. Laurent conduct weekly lectures and bring in various guest speakers to introduce professional development concepts. Much of the class’s “dirty work,” however, falls on the shoulders of the teaching assistants who run the weekly discussion groups.

“In a lot of ways, the students run the course,” says Amy Whited, a graduate student teaching assistant who has helped teach the course multiple times. “They set the timetables and begin to feel empowered. We just give them that little push so they don’t need to be handheld anymore. The great thing about this class is there’s no single approach to solve these problems.”

Professors Joe Hamill and Barry Braun, along with Instructor Eliza Frechette, originally designed the course to meet the university’s integrative experience requirement. Since its initial conceptualization, the course has flourished under the department’s commitment to a team-building approach to classroom instruction.

“This class is not run and taught by one person, but rather by a teaching team,” says Frechette. “It requires an incredible amount of team work, flexibility, and creativity to put together a truly collaborative course. At the end of the day, our students benefit from the experiences and knowledge of the entire teaching team. Our students also see a group of nearly a dozen teachers and teaching assistants working together to form a cohesive and professional teaching team. It is a great experience for faculty and students alike.”

Over the course of the semester, the students will learn a variety of skills: applied learning and critical thinking; team dynamics; epidemiological research methods; learning about budgeting and how to create a business proposal. The focus on a health and wellness program design provides opportunities to interconnect disciplines. They learn to connect a kinesiology framework with wellness programming, to investigate nutrition and public health approaches, and factor in such real-world complications as facility management and accounting. The course also provides lessons in team dynamics and conflict resolution, time management and organization, research methodology, creativity and professionalism.

And along every step of the way, the teaching assistants acting as discussion group leaders are prodding, questioning, and coercing them to dig deeper.

Teaching assistants Jamil Halaby (left) and Amy Whited (right)

“The whole process really elicits a ‘think on your toes’ methodology and adaptability,” states Jamil Halaby, a senior who serves as one of seven undergraduate teaching assistants for the course. “But they need to provide the research to support their approach.”

“Every facet of their program has to be justified,” adds Whited.

As the semester draws to a close, it’s time for The Big Reveal – the moment when the students unveil their projects to their peers, department faculty, and professionals in the field who have come to this class for just this moment. Though the final student presentations are exercises in program planning, their final products have to look and feel like real world business proposals. They must create brochures and pitch their ideas to the “board,” which is comprised of a panel of faculty members.

“Everyone enjoys the Big Reveal,” says Jamil. “We all have a lot of fun with it.”

The end results have been eye-opening. Mock program brochures for centers and programs with names like “Osteoaquatics,” “DiaBEAT-IT” and the “Healthy Beginnings Wellness Center” have the look and feel of promotional materials that could be found at the Y or in your doctor’s office. One recent alumna took her work to a medical school interview; she left the interview with an invitation to pitch her idea to a roomful of doctors.

In the end, the Integrative Experience class forms a “big picture” approach to education, and provides a bi-directional teaching paradigm for students, teaching assistants, and instructors alike: the students learn from the instructors, and the instructors learn from the students.

“I’m surprised every semester,” adds Whited. “It’s amazing what our students can do when given an opportunity.”