Volume 8, Number 8: May 31, 2002
by Tammy Kempfert,
Developing a class may be a bit like training for a marathon. Like marathon runners, instructors need to establish goals and then construct plans to achieve those goals. Once the course is underway, good instructors take note of setbacks and reassess the original plan as necessary. They make adaptations, based on these lessons, before running the course again.
Ron Carda, Coordinator of UW-Madison's Physical Education Elective Program, understands the challenge of both these ventures. An experienced runner himself, he teaches marathon and distance training on campus. He recently adapted his on-campus training course, offering for the first time an online, non-credit class through Wisconsin Alumni Association's Lifelong Learning Program.
Sitting at a home computer might seem the antithesis of training for a long-distance running event, but Carda believes the online format is conducive to developing a personal marathon training plan. Students came to the course with varying levels of experience, so early on, Carda assigned them the task of designing individualized programs. "They are their own lab projects, so to speak ... I ask them, 'Who are you? How long have you been running? What are your running goals? What running-related injuries have you experienced?" he said. After completing these running histories, students submitted training programs of their own design. Carda emailed his responses to their programs and remained available online to answer their training questions.
For the most part, he let his students initiate conversations with him; however, he typically followed his weekly "cyberlecture" with a brief email to spark student interaction. The class culminated with the option of running in the Mad City Marathon held in Madison on Memorial Day Weekend. For those who chose to run the marathon, Carda offered live lectures the Saturday before the race, focusing on day-before and race day strategies.
As with long distance training programs, online courses do not always go as planned. For instance, Carda had hoped students would create charts to map their progress week by week, comparing their projections to their actual mileage. When the response rate to this activity was disappointing, he realized that some students may not have possessed the computer skills to create graphs. Next time, Carda will likely develop a template into which students can simply insert their information.
Carda also plans to explore ways to promote interaction among students. The course message board, he says, was underutilized considering the number of people in the class. Occasionally, he encouraged students to post their concerns on the message board--injury-related questions, problems with pacing, or their own anecdotal information--but all in all, Carda says, student interaction "needed a little more nurturing."
Nonetheless, the class remains popular, with more than 45 students completing the course this spring and people already signing on for the next session. Carda plans to continue to teach both online and on-campus versions of the course.
Whatever the mode of delivery, he's committed to helping his students cross the finish line.