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Monday March 29, 2010 | Physical Education 109

Technology in the Gym?

Technology in the Gym? Laura Morrison Teacher, Cégep John Abbott College

The Physical Education Department at John Abbott College is doing its best to keep up-to-date and keep up with technology to help motivate students to stay fit. Recently, an initiative was made at JAC to standardize all fitness tests within the school and make them available to students on line. This will help provide consistent results so that teachers as well as students can track progress made in their physical education classes at JAC.

This initiative also gives students access to an online Activity Log which helps them to track all the activities that they do. As a result, students are able to clearly see how much physical activity they are actually doing - outside of the classroom Many students are surprised at how sedentary their lifestyles are and hopefully this will give them the incentive to get moving!

The Fitstats Site - Click to enlarge!

The software we use is called Fitstats Web commercially available from Advanced Fitness Designs Inc, and customizable. We customized our installation at JAC based on the Canadian Fitness Standards. Students take an initial fitness test at the beginning of their course to have a baseline fitness level and can enter workout and activity results into their accounts on their personal computer, a computer at school or on an i-Phone. Every student in the school will take these basic tests at least twice in their JAC career, and teachers have access to this standardized information.

This is the first semester that Fitstats is being used at JAC. The break-in period has not been without its problems, which ranged from students forgetting to save the information that they entered to omissions of personal information such as the date of birth which establishes the target heart rate zone. Notwithstanding these problems, over 600 JAC students now have accurate fitness profiles, and the system is set up for the next 5000 students to give it a try in the fall of 2010.

Laura working with her students on their exercise programs.

Student reactions have been positive. Each student receives a Fitness Profile which lists their test scores, highlights their strengths and weaknesses and provides feedback on how to improve. Putting results in black and white helps students to understand the relationship between their everyday day lifestyle choices and how these choices impact their overall health and well being. Teachers find that it's a positive addition to the curriculum and fosters more consistency between teachers as the test procedure and results are standardized.

The JAC Physical Education Department's foray into information technology this year is completed by another software, Resistance Training, which helps each student design a personalized fitness program in order to reach their goals and improve overall fitness levels. It features drag and drop exercises allowing the user to customize an exercise program or to select pre-determined programs of which 17 are sport-specific and 24 are for either muscular endurance or muscular strength. There are more than 350 individual illustrated explanations of exercises which allow the students to not only customize their workout, but to receive a detailed explanation of how to perform each of the exercises that they have selected.

This new software was originally developed in French by the CCDMD under the title of Musculation and was recently translated. The final version actually arrived on-campus in March. As with many CCDMD products, a student version is available at a cost of six dollars per student through the College bookstore to promote its adoption. The software will also be installed in a multipurpose computer lab and in the library for easy access on campus.

The CCDMD Webpage for 'Resistance Training' (above) and a Page from the Program (below) - Click to enlarge!

Is all this Information Technology changing the dynamic between teacher and student in Physical Education? So far, a new paradigm seems to be slowly emerging, but gym courses are not likely to morph into heavily student-centered explorations in the place of physical activity in daily life for a number of reasons.

  • In terms of fitness testing and exercise logs, the teacher remains a leader, testing students' fitness levels and actively instructing and encouraging students to become more aware of their daily physical exercise through the entry of data into their files. Although the computer application is certainly a student motivation, the teacher is following student progress and constantly dispensing information to help students make the link between their overall activities and their overall level of fitness.
  • In terms of the design of individualized workouts using the new Resistance Training software, the teacher remains the expert in the execution of each individual exercise. Although each student can gain a reasonably good idea of the nature of the exercise to be performed, the teacher needs to observe the student on a regular basis to make sure that the exercise is being executed correctly and continues to be executed correctly. The wide variety of physical characteristics among students makes individual instruction a necessity.

There are changes happening. The software does make it much easier for students to work independently and it enables the teacher to circulate more and help them out during class time. Before using the software, it was difficult to provide each student with a personalized program in a class with 34 students. Now with the customized programmes, we can help students adapt a programme that meets their fitness needs. As the fitness industry becomes more popular, and students arrive with more firsthand fitness experience, these students are increasingly able to help the beginners out promoting limited yet valuable opportunities for peer instruction.

Information Technology is allowing us to meet our students' needs in a way that is more personal and concentrate our energies on helping our students realize their individual potential. Physical activity is not always in the framework of a team sport, and the addition of these software programs into our curriculum helps us to show even the most unmotivated student that they can have the satisfaction of succeeding in a physical activity in a way that is meaningful to them.

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