Academic journal article Education

Distance Learning: A Matter of History at the United States Sports Academy

Academic journal article Education

Distance Learning: A Matter of History at the United States Sports Academy

Article excerpt

A founding concept of the United States Sports Academy in 1972 was that it would be a "university without walls" that could meet the needs of its students by teaching sport in any location in the globe. The Academy has met this challenge, offering a great deal of flexibility to its students through innovative teaching practices such as distance learning, the mentorship, independent and individualized study. Given that distance education is philosophically fundamental to the institution, as it presently exists, a review of the evolution of distance education at the Academy serves as a guide in understanding and appreciating the commitment the Academy has made to remaining vitally contemporary in its delivery of sport education.

Throughout this article references to the Academy's National Faculty, also known as NAFAC, will be made. Indeed, the NAFAC recruited during the formative years of the institution was located throughout the United States and abroad. The NAFAC, a prestigious body of sport educators and professionals with comprehensive expertise in the field, serves the institution to this day. By definition and implication, the NAFAC has largely been both a non-resident and non-local faculty, with some exceptions. Presently, there are roughly 400 members of the Academy's NAFAC whose expertise covers a wide variety of disciplines within the sport-related field. They are respected members in their fields even though they may not possess a terminal degree. What the Academy has recognized in those not having a terminal degree, nevertheless, is the vast experience and notoriety they have earned through that experience. This offers the Academy's students to study "at the side of the master" in many instances.

As an extension of this concept, a key component of the Academy's program has been the experiential training gained through the "mentorship." A mentorship is conceptually a structured and greatly expanded internship. In developing this opportunity for experiential, hands-on training, the Academy's students have typically gone to where the mentor is, rather than seeking to bring that NAFAC member or mentorship supervisor to the Academy campus.

The Academy's graduate curriculum with its sport-specific focus requiring only eight or nine courses plus a thesis or experiential training through the mentorship, is particularly well suited for distance learning delivery. The narrow focus of a graduate program obviates the need to cover a broad base of topics typical of undergraduate study.

Just as important to the efficacy of distance learning is the composition of the Academy's student body. The average age of the Academy student has fluctuated, over the years, in a narrow band between 27 and 32 years old, and currently it is 31.2 years. These students with bachelor degrees already in hand, are usually working professionals. They have embarked upon careers, purchased homes, and started families. Thus, the ability to pursue a needed graduate degree without suspending a career or dislocating a family makes non-traditional educational program delivery particularly attractive to these individuals. Academy academic programs have always been designed to meet the needs of the working professional both in content and through delivery.

The relocation of the Academy to the Mobile area in 1976 brought it under the accrediting authority of the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (COC/SACS). The COC/SACS accreditation criteria at that time placed limits on the amount of individualized or correspondence study that could be incorporated into a graduate student's program of study. Thus, the Academy's graduate degree program evolved to a traditional residential model of instruction to meet these accreditation criteria. In so doing, the number of credits that a student could apply toward a degree through individualized study was substantially limited. …

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