As an adjunct faculty at a community college in the Exercise Science / P.E. department, I often wonder why students decide to enroll in a basic-level, 101 health class (of all things) at the college level. I understand its significance in elementary school (I still remember the day the nurse came to my 5th-grade class for the big ’sex talk’). Even in junior high and high school, health education is justified. (How many remember attending a multi-media production of a ‘Don’t Do Drugs’ campaign in their school auditorium?). But a basic health class in college? I’m not suggesting that a refresher course is unnecessary (we can always learn a few more facts & details). But aren’t there other interesting classes on campus that students can take from our department – like exercise science, strength & conditioning, nutrition, stress management, sports psychology – or better yet, a more active classes like yoga, dance or indoor cycling? (Last year we offered Dance Dance Revolution for college credit!)
At the beginning of every semester, I always ask my students why they’ve signed up for my class. This is not an ego thing nor a first-day ditch effort to break the ice. I ask because I truly want to know, “Why are you taking this class?”
Some students tell me they need an easy credit (these are the ones who usually drop my class when they find out I actually require participation). Most of them tell me they want to learn to be healthier, for instance, they wish to eat better. To that, I say, “Drink a lot of water, eat 5 fruits and veggies a day, and stay away from McDonald’s.” There you have it. Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t most college students know the differences between healthy behaviors and unhealthy ones. Sure, they may not spew out current stats and facts on every issue. But most know good from bad. Smoking = bad. Unprotected sex = bad. Fast food = bad. So why are they taking this entry-level class? They already know the basics.
Every semester I try and choose topics that seem relevant to the students to promote discussion about those issues. But often times I find myself learning more from (and about) my students than they seem to be learning from me. For instance, I’m surprised at the number of students who are dealing with a close relative who has had surgery for heart disease, or those who’ve lost parents and siblings to cancer. One student last semester lost her dad to cancer and was also taking her mother to chemo appointments. Another one this semester is preparing for gastric bypass. What can these students take away from my class they don’t already know?
Some students openly allude to having done drugs or drinking. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of those who directly lost a friend to drunk driving. Yet some still come hungover to class even after I’ve lectured on the unit about the effects of alcohol use. These are the students who have lived through Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings. And, those who are sexually active, risk 1 in 4 chance of contracting an STD. Times have changed. These kids know their risks. This isn’t high school anymore. So what do these students want to learn that they don’t already know?
Apparently, spewing facts and statistics about health-related topics is no longer effective anymore. If I tell them 3 out of 4 report insufficient physical activity, will they begin to be more active? If I tell them that 80% of all lung cancers are due to tobacco use – would they stop smoking? These students either come with knowledge (or know where to get it) or first-hand experiences with these health-related topics. If you were an 18 to 22 year-old student, why would you take a health class in college?
So, here I am again – first week of classes. Wondering. What is the purpose of my classes? And what can I do to make it more meaningful for those in attendance?