An Integrated Approach to the Introductory Biomechanics Course

Article excerpt


Biomechanics instruction in American physical education programs has undergone dramatic changes in the last 40 years. The field grew out of the anatomical, physical medicine and rehabilitation roots of physical education, but since the 1970's biomechanics has developed a strong emphasis in the mechanical bases of human movement. This dual heritage and other factors have prevented the adoption of a consistent approach to the introductory biomechanics course. The history of introductory biomechanics instruction is reviewed with regard to the balance between functional anatomy and mechanics and the emphasis of qualitative and quantitative analysis. Analysis of this history and the biomechanics research suggests that an unbalanced approach to biomechanics instruction tends to lead to inaccurate understanding of human movement and poor application of biomechanics in solving human movement problems. The introductory biomechanics course must strike a careful balance of biological, mechanical, and application content. Interdisciplinary cooperation of physical education scholars is needed in the development of a few principles of biomechanics that can be used as a structure for the application of biomechanics and can be integrated with the other subdisciplines of kinesiology/physical education,

Physical Education/kinesiology programs in American higher education have undergone dramatic changes since the 1960's. This latter half of the 20th century is also when biomechanics became a recognized term and specialization within kinesiology and academe (Atwater, 1980; Wilkerson, 1996). Like most immature sciences, biomechanics has struggled to clarify a coherent body of knowledge and has been criticized for its lack of theoretical development (Hamill, 1991). The rapidly growing body of knowledge and lack of theoretical development have also contributed to inconsistencies in undergraduate biomechanics instruction (Luttgens 1977; Milburn 1996). All the evidence on the content of introductory biomechanics courses in North American higher education suggests only limited content is routinely emphasized by the majority of instructors (Dillman & Sears, 1977; Marett, Pavlacka, Siler, & Shapiro, 1984; Satern, 1999).

Although academic freedom of course content is important, there should be many areas of agreement on the concepts and principles essential for the introductory biomechanics course. The NASPE Biomechanics Academy and its forerunner, the Kinesiology Academy, has invested many years of effort to develop guidelines and standards for the introductory course. The guidelines recommended two main objectives for the introductory course: "(1) the knowledge necessary to undertake a systematic approach to the analysis of motor skill activities and exercise programs and (2) the experience in applying that knowledge to the execution and evaluation of both the performer and the performance in the clinical and educational milieu" (Kinesiology Academy, 1980: p. 19). These two objectives remain in the most recent guidelines and standards for teaching the introductory biomechanics course (Kinesiology Academy, 1992). So the vision for the introductory biomechanics class is to provide fundamentals of biomechanics and examples of how they can be applied in solving human movement problems. The implementation of this vision, however, remains elusive.

Unfortunately, the complexity of biomechanics and the breadth of the field has limited theoretical developments and provided for many potential areas of instructional emphasis. The vision of a consistent pedagogical kinesiology (i.e. introductory biomechanics) called for by Hoffman (1977) remains unfulfilled. This lack of consensus concerning what constitutes the ideal introductory biomechanics course has several historical roots. This paper reviews the flux in the emphasis of introductory biomechanics and argues that the best instructional strategy for future physical educators is a holistic and balanced approach. …


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