Faculty Stories: Christine Petrich

Teaching Practice

Describe what you are trying to accomplish with the specific project or teaching practice featured here.

I created an open educational resource for HLTH 1154, a new course that I was developing and teaching for the first time in fall 2020. It was perfect timing in that I didn’t have a preset notion of what the class would look like, how it would be delivered, or what materials would be used. This allowed me to think openly about the entire course design and development process.

For me, one of the motivators was that there very few textbooks and resources on the three topics of the course. There are certainly books that look at mindfulness or meditation or activity, but none that combine them into to a single text.

I also wanted to create something different, which I think is an important factor in using an OER, at least for me. A lot of the current materials in health and fitness have good scientific information, but also have a shaming and judgmental tone, full of prescriptive language and examples that don’t match my students’ lives. It made sense to create something that better fit the needs of my students. All these factors helped make the idea of using an OER an easy choice.

One of the challenges and opportunities of not having good existing resources was that I had to think creatively. That’s why I worked with the Center for Teaching and Learning and Martin to think about how else I could create materials for the course in a way that that would be useful and wasn’t just me writing everything – that I could use existing material that involved using mindfulness websites or other existing online resources, getting permission to use their materials in a course setting. I was able to, in those cases, copy and paste the text with proper citation so that I could make bite size readings for my students.

One of the goals of this course is really about the practice of mindfulness, meditation and movement, so I wanted the readings and educational materials to be useful, concise, and give students a taste of what and why they were doing the activities they are assigned. A lot of the work in the course is doing the activities and reflecting what students learned from them, rather than just acquiring knowledge through reading. These practices are best learned through experience. Because of this, my focus was on the process, with supplemental materials to help students learn more about what they were doing in class.

How were you able to find materials that are more appropriate to your course, in contrast to available textbooks?
A lot of sorting through existing materials both in the OER world and other sources that could be shared with students without cost. It was a lot of reading and looking for authors and sources I could trust to provide health information in a positive way.
What I learned this semester was that in the effort to reduce how much students were reading, I left some things out. That is part of the beauty of an OER: you can recognize that mistake and remedy it quickly. I was able to make these changes during the course, which was great.

Learning Goals

How does this project or practice influence student learning?

For me, it started with not having existing materials available, and for a course like this I had to think creatively about how the entire class would be designed – how I would assess my students, what information to provide, and really the whole student experience. In some ways, mindfulness is a broad, open concept but there are foundational elements as well. There are principles of mindfulness and practices of mindfulness. So there really is a ton of possible content, but there’s a lot of flexibility in that as well.
One of the things I expect will be an ongoing opportunity and challenge in this course is that that’s going to be a constantly evolving practice of what is important to students right now: what information they need, how I can assess that they are learning and applying that information. And I think that’s going to be what’s exciting about it. Using an OER easily allows for that flexibility.
So far, the class is going well. Students had to complete a lot of work on their own, but also interacted with one another a lot. It was important to have students interact a lot because everything was online and at times could feel a little impersonal.
I worked with an equity consultant in revising my course and OER and one of the things I learned from that experience was how important community is to our individual wellness. The idea that we do these things alone is a myth that I had believed before: that we make our overall health is more about individual choices. The reality is when you look at a lot of choices we make, it has so much to do with your environment and other people. I knew this on an intellectual level, this is what research indicates, but too often health advice makes it sound like it’s all individual choices. The reality is we make choices in the context of relationships and community. So I have students participate in discussions to provide that support to one another. That’s what I’m assessing and I’m going to continue with that. Their reflections are just stunning to read. Even when students are struggling, you can see the work that’s being done. I see so much high quality work coming from the students. They provide good support and feedback to one another in the discussions, both on Zoom and on the discussion board.

Can you go back to something about your work with the equity consultant? Because I imagine that had a lot of impact on the materials that you were curating for this course. It seems to have had a pretty big impact on student learning in your course the semester.

Absolutely. I’m still integrating these changes we discussed as we worked together while the class was running. I’m very grateful for how it all turned out because it gave me a chance to try things and get immediate student feedback during the class. That has been great. Working with a consultant was immensely helpful because a lot of health and wellness information is researched and presented by middle- and upper-class white people who have a certain perspective on health and wellness that doesn’t reflect the lives of my students. She helped me think differently about health in ways that have and will help me better meet the needs of all my students.

Target Skills

What specific student skills are developed through this project or practice?

Normally I present information and then ask students to experiment through experience. For this class, I decided to focus on experience first, then provided the knowledge after students “bought into” the experience. For example, I started by assigning walking five days a week as their main way to get exercise. At first, I didn’t provide much information. They did that for two weeks and then I added five minutes a week until they got to 30 minutes of walking. Then they were given the option of walking five days a week, or running and walking three days a week. I didn’t explain why; I just said these are your choices. Then at about week eight, we started to talk about cardiorespiratory endurance and discussed the relationship between time, frequency and intensity. Unlike my previous experiences teaching this information, this time around it seemed like they had a big “AHA” moment when students read that information. They were excited about learning this information! Whereas normally, when I present the same information early on in a course, many of my students seem disinterested. Their response this semester was so interesting and inspiring, I’m going to continue to experiment with this concept.
Many of my previously inactive students said they planned to continue walking because they enjoyed it and found it so helpful to their mental and physical health. I saw my students strengthen their curiosity muscle. They were willing to ask any question, which are important skills I want my students to have: to be curious and ask questions and try to figure it out.

Like developing the skill to become lifelong learners. Learning how to learn.

Yeah, exactly. So, we’ll see how this goes. This was one class, but I really saw the value in having people try something simple.

Students’ Perspective

What comments have you received from students about this project or practice relative to their learning? Do you have a direct quote from a student or students that addresses this?

So much of the class was about reflecting on students’ own experiences, and they really enjoyed this as it was directly related to their lives. They were able to make connections between the scientific knowledge and their own lives. It helped them make sense of their own experiences.

Your Perspective

How has this project or practice changed the way you teach, or made your teaching better?
It really opened my eyes to the possibility of using OER for more of the classes I teach. This experience gave me confidence to use an OER this summer. I’m teaching nutrition again after not teaching it for a couple of years, so I am planning to use an OER rather than a traditional textbook.

This process has encouraged me to think creatively about materials. In courses like Stress Management, I am going to have far less expensive materials for the course. Even though the previous textbook I used was enjoyed by students, it was close to $200. That’s too expensive.

For my Lifetime Fitness and Wellness course, this process helped me realize that instead of apologizing for the terrible textbook I have to use when I teach in prison, I can write my own. Now I’m writing an OER textbook that will better meet the needs of my students who are in prison. I’m writing a text for people who are in a confined setting because a lot of the examples are not relevant to their lives, and it adds unnecessary complications to the course. That got me thinking: why don’t I just write this text for my students regardless of the setting, and just have different examples for different environments? This inspired me to write an new OER, which I am going to be working on for next year.