Active Voice: Extending the Undergraduate Classroom to Embrace Learning at the ACSM Annual Meeting

By Kimberly Reich, Ph.D.

Viewpoints presented in SMB commentaries reflect opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of ACSM.

Viewpoints presented in SMB commentaries reflect opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of ACSM.

Kimberly Sewright Reich, Ph.D., ACSM-HFS, is an assistant professor of exercise science at High Point University in High Point, NC. She is an ACSM member and her emerging research focus is on innovative teaching practices in exercise science.

This commentary, along with two others scheduled to appear in SMB this summer, relate to a special symposium on the topic of teaching innovations in exercise science that Dr. Reich and two of her ACSM colleagues presented as part of the 2013 program at the Annual Meeting of the Southeast Regional Chapter.

In undergraduate education, we seek to provide experiences for students that will develop a strong understanding of core concepts, an ability to apply such concepts, and the tools to extend application to new situations. Within the context of classroom-based coursework, well-designed out-of-classroom experiences (e.g., laboratory, service learning) not only deepen understanding of course concepts, but provide priceless “aha” moments that motivate and inspire. Furthermore, these experiences prepare students for success in internships and undergraduate research. For these reasons, students will benefit if we expand our quest to identify experiential opportunities that we can tie into classroom-based courses at all stages of a student’s academic career.

In our efforts to develop such opportunities at High Point University (HPU), we have created an exercise physiology course that incorporates faculty-guided attendance at the ACSM Annual Meeting and World Congress on Exercise is Medicine. Offered during our May Term, this course comprises three weeks of intensive on-campus instruction (including exams and projects) followed by travel to the Annual Meeting. To integrate the students’ conference experience into the course, we map conference activities to course learning objectives, prepare students to engage thoughtfully during the conference sessions, and choose appropriate ways to evaluate learning. We first review the advance program to construct a list of sessions related to course material. Students then individually choose a specified number of sessions from the list to attend. They also attend the Wolfe and Dill lectures, as well as the student colloquium. For the balance of their conference experience, students are encouraged to follow their own interests including those outside of exercise physiology such as biomechanics or clinical case studies. Furthermore, fun activities are planned including dinner with HPU faculty and alumni and a shared physical activity, such as whitewater rafting in Colorado (2011), or stand-up paddleboarding on the San Francisco Bay (2012).

We evaluate learning through reflective writing by using a “What? So What? Now What?” model. Students are instructed to respond to course-related conference sessions by describing key points and drawing connections with course content. For example: Did the session expand their existing knowledge? Challenge conventional thought? Redefine their understanding? Can they propose “real-world” applications? Students also reflect on the shared physical activity by addressing their physiological response and predicting adaptations that might occur if they were to engage regularly in that activity. They take notes during their trip in order to prepare to complete this assignment, which they submit a few weeks after they return to campus.

I have been astounded as I’ve witnessed the “inner scholar” emerge in students through this experience. Furthermore, they have reported improved confidence, reinforced commitment to their academic major and/or career path, and an interest in research and graduate school as a result of their participation in this conference-integrated course.

Undergraduate participation from colleges and universities is strong and growing at ACSM regional and national meetings because of supportive faculty and student-friendly programming. It is my belief that, in addition to improving student learning outcomes, course integration can further enhance the conference experience for undergraduate students by incorporating guidance and structure, a potentially meaningful difference, especially for first-time attendees.