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Online Course Targets Achilles Heel in P.E. Teacher Training

Online Course Targets Achilles Heel in P.E. Teacher Training


Just because a college physical education major can execute a championship long jump doesn’t mean he or she won’t fall short evaluating that skill in others.

In fact, many future P.E. schoolteachers swing and miss on the sections of their state certification test related to assessing a child’s motor development, according to two SUNY Cortland physical education assistant professors who are developing a possible solution.

“It’s kind of like the elephant in the room,” assistant professor Matthew Madden said. “We know that many of our students do not have the skill set of movement analysis.”

Learning to quickly evaluate the quality of a child’s jump or softball pitch or balance is a difficult but essential task, said Madden and assistant professor Helena Baert. Before young teachers try to figure it out in the field, Baert and Madden want them to be able to practice online.

So does the 64-campus SUNY system.

The SUNY Provost’s Office and the Innovative Instruction Research Council recently awarded Baert and Madden $10,000 in Innovative Instruction in Technology Grant funding to develop an open online course on motor development analysis that can be shared system-wide through the Open SUNY network.

The mastery-learning open online course in motor development analysis will be developed this fall and piloted in the spring.

Baert and Madden
Helena Baert and Matthew Madden hope to develop the pilot course by next spring. In the above left photo, the educators showed some of the teaching aids Baert currently has her classes use with very young children to try out various classic forms of movement.

The pair will create videos that allow future physical education teachers to view and analyze body movement through the Internet at their own pace. It will be a supplement to regular class work, intended to help students thoroughly learn and review the basics of successful human motion.

What sets Baert’s and Madden’s project apart from others is that the computer platform will be used to ensure that each participant understands the optimal approach to a given activity — say, hopping; tossing a basketball; or edging along a balance beam — before letting them tackle the next type of classic human movement.

“A lot of people across the world have attempted to do this, made videos and had people analyze them,” Baert said. “We’re attempting to create something that can be spread around the world so other people can use it.”

The project builds on a movement education elective course developed by Baert called PED-321, which teaches students how to analyze and prescribe movement to preschool children.

“Students need to have the knowledge, understanding and recognition of movement,” Baert said. “Then they have to understand children from the perspective of their motor development and be able to place the children at a certain level. And then they have to prescribe movement and to know how to scaffold different levels of movement activities.”

Baert and Madden don’t anticipate offering the supplemental resource for course credit but may allow students to earn a certificate of completion for a small fee. This could offset the cost of using a commercial online program platform instead of a free one.

The professors will use the grant funds to cover their salaries while they are on release time from teaching this fall; to pay for support staff and student interns through next spring; to buy program platform software; and to offset conference fees next May when they report their results to colleagues at the SUNY Conference on Instructional Technologies.

Baert and Madden have hired a full-year undergraduate research assistant, sophomore physical education major Kayla Hampton of DeRuyter, N.Y., whose paid participation also is supported through a grant from the College’s Undergraduate Research Award Program.

“We purposely attempted to recruit someone who was early in their student career so we will have them at least a year before their student teaching,” Madden said.

Next spring, three paid physical education student interns will create videos in some of the 14 different movement categories, including some of people who are proficient in the skills and others of children just learning to manage their own bodies. The interns are sophomores Nicholas Vachon of Johnson City, N.Y., and Renee Walker of Coram, N.Y., a dual major in fitness development; and junior Bryan Nardo of Mahwah, N.J.

The Physical Education Department already arranges for classes to videotape the movement of children in the SUNY Cortland Child Care Center, which is housed in its Education Building on campus, as well as in many local schools. First the interns will record the children’s movement on camera. Then the professors and Hampton will incorporate video clips into the online training module. Then the students enrolled in all of Baert’s and Madden’s classes will trial run the pilot program to ensure that it works smoothly.

“For most of our students, it will be their first online experience,” Madden said. “So we want to make sure the technology does not hinder the learning process. We want them to focus on the content, not the technology. We want it to be as streamlined and easy as possible for them.”

Baert and Madden have chosen Blackboard, a popular virtual learning environment that currently is used at SUNY Cortland, to host the program and will consider formatting the material to a second, free Internet service.

“I remember learning motor analysis as a student as well and it took me quite a while to get that,” Baert said. “But, once they do understand movement and they can help kids, they’re a P.E. teacher. That’s what we do. That’s really our purpose.”