'Virtual' Gym Class Appeals to Many, OK with State

By Kurutz, Daveen Rae | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 6, 2008 | Go to article overview

'Virtual' Gym Class Appeals to Many, OK with State


Kurutz, Daveen Rae, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Gym class has always been a yawn for George Hunt III. A star athlete, he is not.

But after one semester of an online gym class, Hunt has found a new passion -- Frisbee throwing.

"It was the same stuff over and over again each year," said Hunt, 19, of North Union. "I learned more in one semester than I would have in four years of high school."

Teaching physical education over the Internet may sound counterintuative, but hundreds of teens in the region are enrolled in cyber gym classes, either through e-Cademy, a program offered by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, or through cyber charter schools.

Students study sports and fitness, but are expected to put what they learn into practice. Physical activity is completed on an honor system, said Rich Campsie, who teaches physical education at e- Cademy and at Pennsylvania Learners Online, also called PALO, a cyber charter school operated by the intermediate unit.

This year, about 600 students are enrolled at PALO, where online gym is a requirement, and 12 others are enrolled at e-Cademy to make up a failed credit.

Some critics say there is no replacement for the activity of gym class.

"In certain situations (online physical education) can be beneficial, but nothing can replace the face-to-face interaction with a role model," said Mark Gartner, a middle school health and physical education teacher in the Hampton Township School District. "It's important for phys ed teachers to be that role model and practice what they are asking the kids to do."

The state Department of Education requires high school students complete a physical education program and accepts an online physical education credit to fulfill that mandate.

The online course focuses on promoting fitness and leisure activities rather than competitive sports.

"Obviously from a cyber school viewpoint, we can't play dodgeball, we can't play team sports," said Campsie, 41, of Franklin Park. "We talk about how they felt about the assignment and why they chose particular activities."

Students work one-on-one with Campsie through an online interface to learn about concepts ranging from life-long physical activities and exercise to team mascots and game strategies. They report back to Campsie via worksheets and written reports. …

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