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Effectiveness of Blended Instruction utilizing On-Line Lectures and Split Classes in delivering in an Applied Exercise Physiology Course

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Teaching and Learning Medical Physiology

Effectiveness of Blended Instruction utilizing On-Line Lectures and Split Classes in delivering an Applied Exercise Physiology Course

James W. Navalta1, T. Scott Lyons1, Guilherme B. Pereira2, Scott W. Arnett1, Mark A. Schafer1, F. Travis Esslinger1 and Gina L. Sobrero1

1Exercise Science Program, Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky, USA; 2Physiological Sciences Department, Exercise Physiology Laboratory, Federal University of São Carlos, São Paulo, Brazil

Correspondence to Dr James W. Navalta, Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport, Western Kentucky University, 1906 College Hts Blvd #11089, Bowling Green, KY, 42101-1089.  E-mail: james dot navalta at wku dot edu  [replace dot with . and at with @]

Submitted 18 Nov 2011; first decision 25 Dec 2011; revision received 12 Jan 2012; accepted 13 Jan 2012

Download Full Text (with Table & Figure) as PDF


Background: To align with shifting institutional priorities, and to establish more time in the laboratory pursuing scholarly research, numbers of students in classes were doubled but courses were taught less frequently. While having less impact on lecture-based courses, this affected laboratory-based classes to a significant extent from a logistical standpoint. Therefore, the purpose of this investigation was to assess a large blended learning environment course compared to a smaller face-to-face class.

Hypothesis: It was hypothesized that a large blended learning class in Applied Exercise Physiology would be just as effective as a smaller traditional face-to-face course.

Methods: Data was collected from two Applied Exercise Physiology courses, one employing traditional face-to-face instruction, and the other blending on-line lectures with split laboratory experiences. Laboratory write-ups, examinations, and a group project were converted to standard z-scores and compared between classes. Significance was accepted at the P ≤ 0.05 alpha level.

Results: Classes were statistically similar in terms of write-up assignments (P = 0.60), examinations (P = 0.72), and final group projects (P = 0.99).

Conclusions: Despite students not attending roughly half of the face-to-face classes compared to the traditional instructional method, the students in the blended learning environment performed just as well on laboratory write-ups, examinations, and the Applied Exercise Physiology final project. Based on these findings, blended instruction can be an effective mode for disseminating course information in a large laboratory-based class.

Abbreviations used: EXS – Exercise Science; N – number of students

The Exercise Science program in the Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Department at Western Kentucky University recently underwent a paradigm shift regarding course loads and teaching equivalencies. Previous to 2009, class sizes were capped at 30 students and courses within the major were taught frequently (usually each semester, and during winter or summer sessions at times). As the university wishes to shift from a regional comprehensive institution to one with a national / international presence, the role of scholarly research has been emphasized. Therefore, to align itself with the direction of the university, and to carve out more time in the laboratory pursuing scholarly research, the Exercise Science faculty opted to teach courses with double the student number (60) but less frequently (only once per year, in a set Fall / Spring rotation).

The Applied Exercise Physiology class is by nature a laboratory-intensive course. Students complete six specific laboratory experiences [1] during the beginning two-thirds of the semester including:

  • anaerobic exercise (Wingate anaerobic cycle test, maximal vertical displacement, maximal horizontal displacement)
  • submaximal aerobic activity (Åstrand cycle test, Forestry step test, aerobic run/walk test)
  • maximal oxygen consumption (Bruce treadmill protocol and open spirometry)
  • lung volume and ventilation (determination of Ventilatory Threshold via modified V-slope, ventilatory equivalent, and excess carbon dioxide methods)
  • range of motion (lower body flexibility via traditional sit-and-reach box, YMCA sit-and-reach test, V-sit sit-and-reach test, and wall sit-and-reach tests)
  • body composition (skinfolds, girth measurements, and Body Mass Index)

Throughout the semester, laboratories are incorporated to teach components of an effective scientific write-up (i.e. Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion sections). During the last third of the semester, students complete a mini-study using the laboratory techniques gained through the course, and culminate with a simulated research conference in which their work is presented to their peers in both poster and oral format.

To overcome the logistical complications of having approximately sixty students in the laboratory all trying to complete experiences, this past year we utilized on-line video lectures to relay information such as laboratory protocols, computations, and to demonstrate procedures. Because this instruction was delivered through a web-based format, it allowed us to effectively split the class, where half of the students attended lab on the first day and the remaining students completed the laboratory experience on the second day. Thus, we utilized a “blended learning” model with in-class and on-line components [2]. The purpose of this investigation was to assess a large blended learning environment course with both on-line and in-class components compared to a smaller face-to-face class in which students received all instruction in class and attended laboratory experiences each day.

Methods: Data was collected from two Applied Exercise Physiology courses (EXS 325) taught at Western Kentucky University and approved by the Institutional Review board (IRB 12-130). The first class (N=31 students) was offered during 2009 and the traditional method of face-to-face instruction was provided, with students responsible for attending class each day. This class met twice per week throughout a 14 week semester, for a total of 2240 contact minutes (see Table 1, page 4 in the PDF version). For the laboratory experiences, these students had 560 minutes of hands-on learning (Table 1). The second class (N=58 students) was offered during 2010 utilizing on-line Tegrity lectures for delivering instruction and split laboratory experiences  (i.e. 29 students attended lab on Tuesday, and the remaining 29 students completed the same laboratory experience on Thursday). Tegrity (Mc-Graw-Hill Higher Education, Santa Clara, CA, USA) is a lecture-capture software system that can be integrated into and delivered via the Blackboard course management system (Blackboard Inc., Washington, D.C., USA). Given this, students met face-to-face with the instructor once a week through the 14 week semester for 1360 contact minutes, and had 560 minutes of hands-on learning dedicated to laboratory experiences (refer to Table 1). Students were expected to have watched the on-line video lectures and completed assigned homework available through the Blackboard delivery portal prior to their scheduled laboratory day (i.e. on the day in which they were not in class). Each individual was assigned into a laboratory group (with 5-6 students per group), and six groups attended on their assigned lab day. To further alleviate logistical concerns, two graduate assistants were responsible for the facilitation of three laboratory groups each and assisted students through a rotation of laboratory experiences. For example, a student completing the anaerobic capacity laboratory would collect data for the 40-yard dash, then rotate to the vertical jump, and finish the rotation with the Wingate anaerobic cycle test (while being instructed to utilize downtime between stations to complete power output calculations).

For comparison, similar assessment elements from each class were evaluated. Specifically, four laboratory write-ups (representing an Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion), two examinations, and the final group project were included in our data analysis. The actual course content was the same between both semesters, the grading rubrics for assessment were the same each semester, and the same instructor graded the laboratory write-ups, evaluated the group projects, and scored the exams. As points for exams differed between classes, we chose to convert raw scores for each student into a standardized z-score, similar to the investigation on blended learning by Ginns [3]. The z-score was calculated as follows: [the raw student score minus the mean score for the class] divided by the standard deviation. The combination of the four individual write-up z-scores was summed so that a single value represented the variable (i.e. a write-up standard score), the combination of two individual examination z-scores was added to denote the score for exams, and these were both added to the z-score representing the final project to give an overall class standardized score (write-up + exam + final project = overall).

Statistical analysis: Differences between classes in the four areas (write-up, exams, final project, and overall) were determined using independent samples t-tests assuming equal variance. Significance was accepted at the P ≤ 0.05 alpha level.

Results: No differences were observed in any of the areas assessed. Classes were statistically similar in terms of write-up assignments (F = 0.28, P = 0.60), examinations (F = 0.13, P = 0.72), final group projects (F = 0.00, P = 0.99), and an overall combination of these areas (F = 0.25, P = 0.62). Variations in standardized scores of individual students for each area are displayed in Figure 1. (see the PDF)


The purpose of this investigation was to evaluate the impact of a blended learning arrangement utilizing on-line lectures to replace in-class instruction, and splitting class laboratory sessions in a large laboratory-focused course. Our findings show that students performed similarly in terms of laboratory write-ups, examinations, and during the completion of group culminating projects. No differences were observed, despite students not attending roughly half of the face-to-face classes compared to the traditional instructional method. This finding is similar to an investigation performed at Central Florida University, where student success rate increased despite face-to-face meeting time being reduced by 66% [4].

While so-called “blended learning” has generated much research [2, 3, 5-9], the broadness of the term has naturally led to some confusion regarding how this type of instruction is to be carried out. In fact, one author has argued against the term [10], proposing that instructors in higher education already employ a blended style of content instruction. In the context of the current investigation, blended learning included a mixture of on-line lectures focused on instructional content, and face-to-face meetings in which hands-on laboratory experiences were completed. Given that the didactical design of blended classes must be tailored toward the focus of each specific discipline [7], it is difficult to compare results from the scientific literature in this area. Nevertheless, Boyle et al. [5] found that a blended learning arrangement increased the pass rates of computer programming undergraduate (by 15-23%) and graduate students (12%). In the present investigation, while no differences were observed between any of the dependent variables measured (laboratory write-ups, examinations, and group projects), the failure rate for the blended learning class was 3.4%, and 6.5% for the traditional course.

While more investigation is necessary, subjective comments from selected students indicated that use of on-line modules allowed them to proceed through the material at their own pace, as well as the option to view the instruction multiple times if desired. The on-line materials were particularly useful to students reviewing for examinations, and as a resource leading up to the final group project. In addition to the noted benefits to students, utilizing the blended format and split classes offered advantages for this instructor of the class. The primary benefit was that the larger class counted double toward teaching load, thus clearing time to spend in the laboratory and research endeavors. In addition, having the pre-recorded Tegrity lectures allowed the instructor to reduce class teaching preparation time. Based on the preliminary data provided in this study, we propose that web-based only instruction and splitting laboratory time between groups in a blended learning environment can be an equally effective mode for disseminating course information in a large laboratory-based class compared to traditional face-to-face classes with smaller numbers that meet each period.

Acknowledgment: James W. Navalta was primarily responsible for the research design, scientific execution, and report of this study. T. Scott Lyons, Guilherme B. Pereira, Scott W. Arnett, Mark A. Schafer, F. Travis Esslinger, and Gina L. Sobrero assisted in research design, data analysis, and preparation of the manuscript.

James W. Navalta will serve as the guarantor for the manuscript.

Sources of financial support: None

Conflict of interest: None


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Hyperlinks in this manuscript were last accessed Jan 13, 2012.

Reviewers: The original submitted version was reviewed by Dr Kimberly Henige, Department of Kinesiology, California State University, Northridge, CA, USA e-mail: Kimberly dot Henige at csun dot edu; and Dr K A Narayan, Department of Medical Education, AIMST University Faculty of Medicine, Bedong, Kedah, Malaysia  e-mail: narayan dot ka at gmail dot com.  The revised version was accepted by editor E.S.Prakash.  The reviewers and the editor have no conflict of interests related to this submission.

Prepublication Record: The Prepublication record containing the original version of the manuscript, reviewers comments, editor’s comments, the authors’ response can be accessed at

Please cite this article as: Navalta JW, Lyons TS, Pereira GB, Arnett SW, Schafer MA, Esslinger FT, and Sobrero GL. Effectiveness of blended instruction utilizing on-line lectures and split classes in delivering an applied exercise physiology course. Medical Physiology Online 2012; published Jan 14, 2012 available from

License: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, is properly cited.


Written by E.S. Prakash

January 14, 2012 at 4:12 PM

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