Piloting Exercise Physiology In the Web-Based Environment

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In the summer of 1998, theDepartment of Kinesiology and Health at Texas A&MUniversity-Corpus Christi (TAMUCC) offered an Exercise Physiologycourse over the Internet as the first step in developing a distancelearning track with their exercise science curriculum. This class waspartially supported with a grant from the University Outreach programand administered through the Center of Teaching Excellence at TAMUCC.The primary feature to this online course was to present lectures andpractice quizzes complete with QuickTime movies and graphicillustrations. Additionally, the use of electronic mail and exercisephysiology lab experiences was required as a means of maintainingcommunication with students and providing them with application towhat was being discussed in lectures respectively. In this article,we discuss the details and results of this pilot project.

Since TAMUCC opened itsdoors to a four year curriculum in 1994, the natural constituency ofpotential students who desire non-traditional courses from theUniversity has increased dramatically. Because a high percentage ofour students are working part-time or full-time while attendingcollege, it has become apparent that attending actual classes duringregular working hours is difficult (if not impossible). Additionally,many of the adult students live in neighboring towns along theCoastal Bend, far away from the campus. As a state institution ofhigher education, we felt that we had a responsibility to try tooffer some alternatives to the members of our regional community whowere attempting to obtain their undergraduate degrees inKinesiology.

A secondary interest wasto find out if students effectively learn in a science-orientedenvironment when using the technologies that are available throughthe Internet. To this date, there is no other course being taught inthe area of exercise physiology via the Internet. So there arevarious questions that need to be answered as to whether or not sucha field of science can be taught well enough to accommodate studentsneeding distance learning. There are few, if any, courses beingdistributed over the Internet that offer combinations of learningenvironments similar to the traditional classroom, wheresocialization, interaction and laboratory assignments areprevalent.

Lastly, in the interest ofeducation, it was our aim to investigate the pedagogical issues thatinvolve learning in a Web-based environment. What are the positiveand negative aspects? What strategies work best in the delivery ofsubject matter? What differences can be found between students in atraditional and Web-based exercise physiology class? As we look tothe future prospects of distance learning in the field ofKinesiology, this pilot study could provide us with first-handknowledge and experience from which to draw on for future endeavors.This project has supplied a wealth of information and then some. Inthe final analysis, the pilot has been very successful. However, aswith any new development in education, one should always proceed withsome caution.

Early Stages

In the early stages ofdeveloping a Web-based class in exercise physiology, it becameapparent that the instructor had to have abilities not only todevelop interactive Web sites, but to assure that the course contentwas being designed and delivered. As we soon discovered, teaching ata distance effectively was very different from the traditionallecture-based format, even for the most experienced. It isrecommended that future distance learning instructors attend formaltraining workshops and/or clinics in order to properly prepare forthe multifaceted aspects of putting together a Web-basedprogram.

Of greater importance isthe need to have the proper hardware and technological support inplace prior to designing the program. In our case, we were able toutilize two computer laboratories, a fully equipped human performancelab and an audio/visual lab to assist in the delivery of coursecontent. Because our lectures were Web-based, students with homecomputers having Internet capabilities were able to log on from theirresidence. Additionally, it was necessary to have media and computerexperts to assist with troubleshooting and advise us when problemsarose either with the design or configuration of our Web sites on theInternet.

The foundation to ourWeb-based class in exercise physiology centered on the development ofInternet oriented lectures and practice quizzes. Students wereinstructed to view video-based presentations and perform outsidelaboratory assignments in exercise physiology on their own. Thesoftware we used in developing our lectures was Adobe PageMill. Thissoftware was found to be the most user friendly. Most graphics,illustrations, digital movies and other images can be dragged intoPageMill Web pages without having a vast knowledge of HTML language.This saved us all a significant amount of time and energy. MicrosoftPowerPoint 98 was used in creating outlined lectures in HTML format.The advantage to PowerPoint 98 is that the HTML saving feature allowsWeb site designers to convert PowerPoint presentations to HTMLpresentations with the click of a button. Due to the complexities ofintegrating digital movies, audio advanced images and e-mail links,some HTML language changes were made after the presentations werecreated.

CognitiveEvaluations

Students' cognitiveabilities were evaluated through two written examinations and fiveWeb-based practice quizzes. Due to the nature of the exercisephysiology course materials, the instructor required that thestudents return to campus and take their mid-term and finalexaminations. One hundred True/False and multiple choice questionswere given to students and compared to the results from the sametests given in the Fall of 1998 when the course was offered in alecture-based format. The summary of these findings is presentedlater in this article.

Practice quizzes (n=5)utilized during the semester were intended for students to test theirknowledge of the content and review those areas in which they hadidentified weaknesses. The practice quizzes were developed withPageMill and linked to a database made with Claris FileMaker Pro. Thecomputer professionals involved with overseeing the server where theexercise physiology program was located helped us with the UNIXlanguage needed to grade and provide feedback to students taking thequizzes. The advantage of having quiz results placed onto a FileMakerPro database was that the results could be observed and monitored bythe exercise physiology instructor who had access to these files. Inorder to assure that students were taking the practice quizzes, apercentage of their grade (10%) was based on their performance on thepractice quizzes. The instructor allowed students to take thepractice quizzes as many times as possible, until they had scoredwell enough to feel they had mastered the content.

Seventeen laboratoryexperiences were required to ensure that students would be able tomake practical applications from lecture material. Students were ableto download their lab forms off the Internet then perform theirlaboratory assignments either in their home locations or on campus inthe Human Performance Laboratory. Such assignments as learning totake resting or active blood pressures and sub-VO2 Max tests couldeasily be accomplished in a clinic or at home. When laboratoryassignments were completed, students were instructed to attach theirlab forms (Word or WordPerfect format) to their e-mail and forwardthem to the instructor. At the end of each lab assignment werequestions pertaining to their results and how the results applied towhat they had learned through the lectures.

StudentInteractions

At any time whileobserving Web-based lectures and practice quizzes, the students wereencouraged to ask questions through e-mail. E-mail links are providedon each presentation slide as well as on the daily agendas. Theinstructor was available during the morning and afternoon hours ofthe semester to answer student questions, provide advice and furtherdirection. This method of delivering course content is commonly knownas "Asynchronous Distance Learning." Asynchronous refers to a methodof communication where the learner and instructor do not interact inreal time. In this case interaction took place on the Internet at atime that was convenient for each person.

Students were alsoencouraged to interact among themselves, their laboratory partnersand the laboratory assistants who where monitoring the humanperformance lab. Student interactions were encouraged through e-mailand during group activity in the laboratory setting. There were somelab assignments that required students to return to the HumanPerformance Lab. The instructor and lab assistants were on hand inthe laboratory to answer questions and encourage group discussionsconcerning the accuracy of the tests and how they applied to what waspresented in lecture.

Because little is knownabout how students may perform in a distance learning (Web-based)exercise physiology class compared to a lecture-based exercisephysiology environment, a comparison of examination scores fromstudents taking the same test was performed to determine if learningdiffered between the type of class formats. The investigatorshypothesized that a more effective way of teaching the science ofexercise physiology would be from a lecture-based class format.Lecture-based formats allow for the possibility of immediate andconcurrent feedback between student and instructor via non-verbal andverbal communicative channels while Web-based instruction d'es not.Therefore, it was expected that students in lecture format wouldoutperform students in a Web-based format on midterm and finalexaminations. A focused comparison of performance on theseexaminations confirmed the hypothesis that students in lecture-basedinstruction generally outperformed students in Web-basedinstruction.

On the midterm examinationthere was a significant difference between student scores in thelecture-based and Web-based classes. Students in the lecture-basedformat scored 74.11 (SD=10.32) while students in the Web-based formataveraged 69.65 (SD=8.28, T=1.927, p<.05). On the finalexamination, there was no significant difference between studentscores in the Web-based and lecture-based classes. Students in thelecture-based format scored 80.27 (SD=6.75) while students in theWeb-based format averaged 78.76, (SD=7.1, T=.917, p>.05). Theinvestigators suggest that the pattern of performance on examinationscores will be useful in the future for exploring the extent to whichparticular curriculum items are more or less suited for Web-based orlecture-based instructional formats.

From the data analyzed inthis pilot study, it appears that the Web-based class in exercisephysiology was able to deliver content at a level comparable to thatof the traditional class lecture-based format. However, an analysisof midterm and final examination test scores between lecture-basedand Web-based class examinations suggested that additional strategiesmay need to be developed to improve retention levels on content inthe Web-based format. The fact that no significant difference wasfound in test scores on the final examination may imply that studentsbecame more comfortable with working through lectures and practicequizzes in the Web-based format as the semester progressed.Additionally, the results from the final examination may indicatethat higher levels of retention and learning had taken place withstudents in the Web-based class when compared to their midtermexaminations.

Post-ClassSurveys

At the end of thesemester, the instructor conducted a survey and collected commentsand suggestions pertaining to student perceptions of the Web-basedclass. The results of the Web-based course survey were veryencouraging. For example, 88% of the students (n=26) felt that theclass was worthwhile and said they would take another Internet-basedclass if given the opportunity. A summary of the findings from thestudent survey is shown in Table One.

Table One

88%

Would take another Internet-based course given the opportunity.

88%

Did feel that this class in Exercise Physiology was worthwhile.

40%

Thought the lectures were excellent, while 40% felt they were good.

60%

Felt that the graphics and illustrations were excellent, while 28% indicated they were good.

68%

Believed the content of the Exercise Physiology class was excellent, while 20% felt that the content was good.

52%

Strongly agreed that, on the whole, this course was a good course, while 36% simply agreed.

84%

Strongly agreed that, on the whole, the instructor was good, while 8% simply agreed that the instructor was good.

12%

Felt that the lectures were either difficult to comprehend or totally unclear.

12%

Indicated they were either undecided or unclear about some of the graphics and illustrations.

12%

Felt undecided or sometimes unclear about the content of the Exercise Physiology class.

12%

Disagreed or strongly disagreed that the course was, on the whole, a good course.

Thereis good evidence that the Internet has changed the way educatorsteach and students learn in our society. Furthermore, research isrevealing that the delivery of information through technology can bean effective tool in student motivation and the learning process. Inthis pilot study, it was found that students enjoyed the process oflearning exercise physiology via the Internet and, given theopportunity, would take additional Web-based courses. With ourstudent populations demanding higher access to Internet-basedcourses, colleges are shifting their focus on learning rather thanteaching. Because of this demand, there is a need for additionalsupport in training educators in technology and providing thefinancial support for hardware and software needed in the developmentof distance learning courses. As we enter the 21st century, we mustbegin to accept the idea that the Internet is a tool that can beeffectively used to augment the learning process.


Dr. Robert B. Pankey is the Chair of Kinesiology and HealthDepartment at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. E-mail:rpankey@falcon.tamucc.edu

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.

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