'Drama factor' makes for an engaging class environment

January 12, 2010

University Park, Pa. -- Each group of students was given a bag containing a tape measure, stop watch, pencil and other tools. Tasked with the project of completing a research experiment in one class period, the students had to rely on their wits, what they’d learned in class and possibly what they remembered of MacGyver's ingenuity. The winner of the challenge would receive a guaranteed 100 percent "group challenge" grade. The twist: only those students who had not been "voted off" by their classmates in previous in-class group challenges, "Survivor"-style, were eligible for a perfect participation grade.

This series of team challenges was put together by Jinger Gottschall, assistant professor of kinesiology at Penn State, to integrate what she calls the "drama factor" into two classes she teaches, the Mechanics of Locomotion (KINES 488) and Marathon (KINES 497J). Using reality TV shows like "Survivor" as a model, Gottschall taps into students’ competitive drives, pitting teams against each other for several weeks.

Although she doesn’t watch much TV, Gottschall has found that it can be a valuable resource for increasing students’ motivation and their learning, and it’s proving to be a big hit.

"I've definitely been learning more in Dr. Gottschall's classes because they're so hands-on," said Liz Mitchell, a kinesiology major taking both of Gottschall's courses this semester.

The "conduct your own experiment" challenge was the culmination to the series of challenges and was a true test to see how well students could implement what they’d learned in class.

"Throughout the semester," Gottschall said, "students have built up skills with asking specific scientific questions and following them through to answer the question in a controlled way, getting a true evaluation of their original inquiry."

When asked about the challenge, Jesse Lobodinsky, another kinesiology major in both classes, said that it "really opens your eyes to what goes into research."While "Survivor" takes center stage of Gottschall's inspiration for her locomotion course, board games and game shows such as "Jeopardy," "Cranium" and "Trivial Pursuit" have a large presence in her marathon course. Rather than playing the games as you'd buy them in stores or see them on TV, students have to complete custom-made challenges centered on materials they learn in class.

Gottschall also implements team challenges in the marathon course, similar to the series of challenges she implemented in her locomotion class.

In one of these team challenges, students had to design all 26.2 miles of a marathon using the Web site MapMyRun.com, which allows people to create running routes using elevation, topographical and street-level maps. Students had to take into account whether or not there were hills on the course, whether or not the course was circular or a straight line (and how that would impact runners), if it was a fast course and whether or not it would bring both runners and a supporting crowd to the race. In judging each others' courses, students were forced to look at how much of their class material was integrated into each marathon they designed.

Interactive challenges supplemented by Gottschall’s "drama factor" makes her classes "the most fun classes" some students, including Mitchell and Lobodinsky, have taken.

"The classes are a blast; everyone has fun in that environment," Lobodinsky said.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated February 22, 2010