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Department of Kinesiology revamps curriculum to increase health, wellness content

For decades, UW–Madison’s Department of Kinesiology was home to an array of one-credit physical education classes.

These courses ranged from fencing and wind surfing, to more conventional offerings like bowling, tennis and much more. But ongoing cuts to public higher education in recent years forced the department to rethink how it was operating and examine if there were ways it could better serve today’s students.

Students exercise at the UW-Madison NatatoriumAfter an in-depth and lengthy review process, a deciĀ­sion was made to cut back on the PE classes and instead emphasize a curriculum that teaches students about a more holistic approach to better health and well-being.

“We used to have this large group of courses that basically taught students how to do a sports activity,” says Dorothy Farrar-Edwards, who chairs the Department of Kinesiology. “But the students who tended to take these courses were already physically active. With the budget cuts we were facing, we just couldn’t keep most of those PE courses going anymore, and we felt we could find better ways to increase the health-related content we offer and deliver it to those students who need it the most.”

Such efforts also align with UWell, which is UW– Madison’s comprehensive wellness initiative that aims to advance the health and well-being of the entire campus community by tapping a range of resources from various corners of the university. (For more details, visit the UWell website.)

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Drive past the UW–Madison Natatorium on any given day, and one is likely to see as many mopeds as bicycles parked in front of the recreational sports facility. Or check out the Madison Metro buses that crawl up Bascom Hill along Observatory Drive between classes, and it’s not uncommon to see a standing-room-only crowd.

This isn’t to suggest that most college students are lazy slugs, but to point out that many on campus aren’t always as active as they could be.

“I think many people tend to think of college students as generally being quite healthy and active,” says Kelli Koltyn, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology. “College students may be more active than the general population as a whole, but one of my graduate students did a master’s thesis looking at the physical activity of students on this campus, and there is a large percentage of the college population that is not physically active on a level for health benefits. I do think there is a need to teach students how to live a healthier lifestyle.”

And that’s part of the reason why the Department of Kinesiology is designing and implementing more courses that examine some of these very issues. Consider:

During the 2011-12 school year, the department launched a class called, “Living Well: Lifestyle Redesign and Health Promotion for College Students.”

The college lifestyle can sometimes include overeating or eating unhealthy foods, binge drinking and sporadic, if any, exercise. Add in the stress that some feel when adjusting to a new environment away from home, and a range of factors can start taking a toll on one’s physical and mental health.

This course, which was designed and taught by Associate Professor Beth Larson, teaches students about the applied biological, cultural and social theory, and the research behind strategies for lifestyle changes that bolster health and well-being. The course continued during the 2012–13 academic year and will expand its section offerings in 2013–14.

Starting with the 2013 fall semester, Koltyn will be leading a course through the Department of Kinesiology titled, “Choosing to Move.” What’s unique about this offering is it’s being targeted at incoming UW–Madison freshmen and sophomores “who are insufficiently active.”

Koltyn hopes to make incoming students and their parents aware of the course during the university’s summer SOAR (Student Orientation, Advising and Registration) program and by connecting with those living in the dorms. Koltyn says that this course will focus on how to construct a physically active lifestyle in order to achieve health benefits, with the idea that students will learn the necessary skills to be able to sustain a physical activity program long after the course has ended.

And again this past summer, Farrar-Edwards is taught a course called, “Theory and Strategies of Health Behavior Change,” which is designed to give students a better understanding of the theoretical framework used for creating health and wellness interventions.

Farrar-Edwards explains that one of the fun but challenging aspects of this course is that she asks students to alter one health-related behavior of their own that they’d like to change.

Pull quote from Koltyn“And many of them look like fairly simple projects,” she says. “I had one young man who decided he wanted to eat more vegetables. But he actually had no idea how to shop for good vegetables, so he had to acquire the shopping skills. And then he had no idea how to cook them, so that was another set of skills he had to learn. In fact, he didn’t even have the right pots and pans to cook with. It was very interesting to hear him talk about all he had to go through just to add one vegetable per day to his diet.”

Offering more of these types of courses, as opposed to the general PE classes, also gives undergraduates in the Department of Kinesiology — who can major in Athletic Training, Exercise and Movement Science, or Physical Education — a more well-rounded education that can make them more competitive in the job market.

“Our students are going to go out and be the professionals in these fields,” says Farrar-Edwards. “So it’s one thing to be able to say, ‘Hey, you need to exercise some more.’ But it’s invaluable if you have done some of this yourself or have learned about a range of healthy living skills.”

Farrar-Edwards notes that the department also offers other classes to the general student population that focus on wellness, being active and kinesiology in general. These include: Exercise, Nutrition and Health; Introduction to Kinesiology; Adapted Fitness and Personal Training; Introduction to Yoga; Relaxation; Introduction to Martial Arts, and more. It also should be pointed out that despite the cutback in the PE classes, there remain numerous opportunities available for students to remain physically active on campus, especially through UW–Madison’s Division of Recreational Sports.

But the Department of Kinesiology is altering its approach to how it teaches students the finer points of living a healthy lifestyle.

“Like all departments, we’re always looking at our curriculum and trying to figure out if there are better ways to serve students,” says Farrar-Edwards. “And we made the decision that it was time to step away from the PE classes and instead increase our content that’s focused on the overall physical and emotional health, and well-being of students.”
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