Remote physical education (PE) classes began this week, in an effort to allow seniors still in need of PE credit to fulfill their requirements and to provide other students with a healthy option for exercise amidst social distancing. The athletics department announced in March in an all-student email that it will continue to offer five PE classes in digital form.
With the closure of most athletic facilities, both at the College and in communities around the world, the athletics department faced the task of creating a variety of courses which students could follow at home. The five options offered are Express at Home Fitness, Williams Wellness Online, Walk/Run, Open Level Yoga and an independent course.
“[The choice of class options] was based on what our PE faculty felt they could teach in a remote model,” Assistant Professor of Physical Education Carolyn Miles said. The courses were designed to “encourage people to move how they can, where they are,” according to Miles.
Over 300 students have already signed up to take at least one of the classes, with enrollment preference given to those who have yet to fulfill their PE requirement. Like academic lectures and seminars, the classes will deliver instruction online, taking advantage of asynchronous meeting options and the removal of space limits.
As a result, over 90 students have enrolled in Yoga, among the most popular offerings. “Normally, enrollment is limited to 24 students per class,” said Mary Edgerton, the course’s instructor. “But given that mat space in the studio is no longer a factor, that the practice is so accessible at home and that yoga is beneficial to reducing stress and anxiety, we opened up enrollment.”
Edgerton said that a challenge for her will be balancing the needs of her returning students with those of students who may have never done yoga before at all, let alone remotely. “Many of the students who have signed up for my class are returning from another quarter, so I know their practice and they know me,” she said. “It will undoubtedly be a challenge to connect with and inspire students who are new to yoga, and I hope to be able to schedule some private sessions for this group only.”
Students can also have the increased ability to customize their personal PE experience. In the independent course, for example, students create their own workout routine that can “consist of any type of movement such as runs, hikes, walks, yoga, push-ups, Pilates and/or any workout that you can create for yourself under the current ‘safer at home’ constraints,” according to the course’s introductory email.
Despite the additional freedom, students must still fulfill certain requirements from their instructors to earn the credit. Exact details vary from class to class. In the independent course, students are required to exercise for a fixed number of minutes and report back to their instructor every week. Faculty will also be able to monitor student participation remotely.
“I will be able to monitor how many hours students have watched/participated each week, and the goal is for them to practice about 2 or 2.5 hours per week,” Edgerton said, though she emphasized that the purpose of her class is to “[facilitate] a place and time where students can let go of stress and feel a sense of balance and peacefulness in their lives.”
“The honor code has always been used as people self-report,” said Michelyn Pinard, instructorof the independent course. “I am not invested in how intense the workouts are, but rather that people are moving their body in a way that helps keep them mentally and physically well.”
Pinard added that the course “has always given people a lot of flexibility in how they design their workouts and will provide an opportunity for people to get their PE credit done this quarter while encouraging students to move.”
Prior to the outbreak, official College policy required students to complete a minimum of four PE credits to graduate, with all four credits completed before the end of sophomore year for students studying abroad. According to Miles, that requirement will remain in place despite the circumstances.
“There are very few seniors who need to complete this milestone,” Miles said. “The College will work with students who are in difficult situations that we are made aware of.”
In addition to the PE requirement, all students must complete a swim test before they graduate, which most students complete early in their first year. For students who had not learned to swim prior to their time at the College however, the athletics department offers a beginner’s swim class and, upon completion, later opportunities to take the swim test.
Miles said that the College is still working on solutions for seniors who have not taken the swim test. “For those students who are not seniors, we will work with them once we are back on campus,” she said.
The College also seeks to encourage healthy living habits for students who decided not to enroll in PE classes next semester. A student engagement team, headed by Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom, will seek to help students stay healthy remotely. “This group will talk about ways to promote both physical and emotional wellbeing while most of our students are in other locations as one of our topics,” said Miles, who represents the athletic department on the team.