Lifetime Fitness for Health (HHS 231) directors are taking a new approach to the course and are redesigning it to better meet students’ needs.
After reevaluating the course’s objectives and listening to students’ suggestions, co-directors Erin Driver and Stasi Kasianchuk decided it was time to shift from simply distributing knowledge about fitness and nutrition to facilitating behavior change in students’ lives.
“Historically, these types of health classes have been just the transference of knowledge,” Erin says. “You know how many minutes of exercise you should get in a week and you’ve memorized the vitamins and minerals that are in a food item, but we’ve never introduced how you actually incorporate a dietary change in your life so that it’s sustainable. Now we are.”
And they’re doing so in many ways. They’ve changed the curriculum to introduce behavioral theories and models around how to actually change one’s behavior, and then students have the opportunity to apply it to their lives.
“From a behavioral perspective, one step is recognizing there’s an area that needs improvement,” Erin says. “It’s big for first-year students to recognize no one’s perfect from a health perspective and that they probably do need improvement.”
Toward that end, every student is required to assess their current behaviors around health and wellness and then determine what their strategies will be to modify behaviors that need improvement.
“Someone might want to increase fruits and vegetables, begin a resistance training program or manage their stress better, but all of the applications to the behavioral process are applicable to any of those health-related behaviors,” Erin says. “Periodically throughout the term, we discuss strategies in the change process and by the end of the term they should be able to write their own plan of how to incorporate that sustainable change.”
One strategy instructors and graduate teaching assistants use to promote change is requiring students to log behaviors in a journal.
“It helps generate awareness around their behavior,” Stasi says. “Once they analyze and compare the journal with a professional source, students are better able to assess where they are currently at and decide what may be a priority for them to work on changing.”
“From a behavioral perspective, one step is recognizing there’s an area that needs improvement.”
Directors have also incorporated guest presentations that provide students with a greater understanding of the resources and tools available on campus to help facilitate change. Each guest from the Oregon State Healthy Campus Initiative presents their resource as it relates to the topic being discussed in class.
Beaver Strides introduces the pedometer program and journaling; Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) talks about stress management and workshops available to students; Memorial Union Retail Services and the University Housing and Dining dietitian speak about quick, healthy eating options on campus; a registered dietitian from Student Health Services discusses healthy body image and weight management; representatives from Dixon Recreation Center explain muscle fitness and all that the facility provides; and the Associate Director of Student Health Services reviews health coaching and sustaining lifelong wellness.
“It’s not just about telling them what their resources are, but rather discussing how they will help the behavioral change process,” Stasi says. “We’ve gotten great feedback. Students now know they have support here to help them succeed in their goals.”
“I personally did not know about a lot of these resources, and it was nice to know that they exist and can help in the behavior change plans everyone is trying to make during this course,” says freshman Jeannie Klein. “The course made me more aware of my own behaviors and health and caused me to change things such as working on my posture, joining Beaver Strides to monitor my step count, increasing my overall physical activity and implementing a plan to work out.”
To extend their efforts, Lifetime Fitness and Health directors partnered with Nutrition associate professors Siew Sun Wong and Mary Cluskey to measure the impact of the course through the B.E.S.T. (Better Eating Starts Today) Project. The two researchers introduced a pedometer and a divided plate to an experimental group and are comparing those results to classes without the tools. Pre- and post surveys are used to evaluate the behavior change process of all students.
“Preliminary results show the course itself is really successful at making change,” Erin says. “But it really is about assessing what’s happening before and after. We’re looking at the class as an intervention.”
Like many courses, HHS 231 concludes with a final exam. The exam format presents questions based on real-life scenarios to keep students thinking about strategies to improve different behaviors.
And to ensure continued improvement is student-focused, directors have added a focus group element to the end of each term where they ask students what they want to learn, where improvement can be made and whether or not the course played a role in helping them make positive behavior changes.
“I think the students were focusing on failed New Year’s resolutions or family history, and they didn’t realize their capabilities of changing a behavior before they came to this class,” Erin says. “These focus groups have been great so far. It’s really exciting when even one student says, ‘I realize I can be a different person and I can go from being someone who isn’t that healthy to being an individual who is.’”
Watch HHS 231 student testimonials in this video.
HHS 231 Winter 2013 term instructors include Erin Driver, Stasi Kasianchuk and Andrew Lafrenz. Graduate teaching assistants include Kim Rogers, Raeanne Quaresma, Meng Yu, Jenna Schuder, Nicole Cook, Megan Irwin, Jen Morgan, Mary Anne Gerzanich-Liebowitz, Julie Brier and Moosong Kim.