Students and instructors in Wellness classes adapt to new remote environment

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Outside Rush Gymnasium at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021. Dominic Massimino/The Occidental

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Occidental students had a variety of ways to remain active on campus. Almost a quarter of all students participate in varsity athletics, while others participate in club sports, utilize the Alumni Gymnasium, participate in the bike share program or sign up for one of Occidental’s Physical Activity or Wellness classes.

The Wellness curriculum features Zumba, yoga, karate and spin. Students can earn a single credit by participating in these courses, which have a $125 fee associated with them. While the college offers other one-credit courses, these yield the highest enrollment according to the college Course Counts website.

When taught in person, these courses are available to students, faculty, staff and NELA community members who pay to use the college’s athletic facilities. Courses typically meet twice per week.

Wellness courses have changed in the shift to virtual instruction, yet the enrollment fee has remained the same. According to William Morris, Occidental’s Wellness/Fitness Coordinator, the fees provide compensation for the instructors.

“The classes we offer are offered to the Oxy Community — students, faculty, staff, administrators. The fees help to fund the Wellness curriculum and pay the instructors,” Morris said.

Charlotte Harrington (sophomore) took two Wellness classes during her first year at Occidental. She enrolled in Zumba Fall 2019 and a spin class Spring 2020. Harrington said she enrolled to spend time with friends and alleviate stress.

Harrington said that while the credit was an additional benefit, it was not the initial reason she enrolled in the course.

“I was like, ‘Oh it’s a credit? Cool, added bonus,’ and that’s the same reason I did the spin class last spring,.” Harrington said.

Harrington said she appreciated the accommodating nature of the courses.

“The instructors were really nice and very communicative,” Harrington said. “After the first class, I felt comfortable. It was encouraged to go at your own pace, prioritize modifications, and do what you need to do. The Zumba class was really fun and I made a few friends through that.”

Once the class transitioned to a remote format, however, Harrington said she did not feel as though her experience was worth the fee.

No refunds on Wellness classes were offered once classes became remote and there were no spin classes offered for Fall 2020 due to the inaccessibility of the equipment.

Victor Chico, Occidental’s postal operations manager, is a karate instructor at the college. According to Chico, enrollment has been significantly lower this academic year compared to before the pandemic.

“Pre-COVID time, I usually had 5–15 students in the class, but because of virtual teaching, the enrollment number has declined to three students last fall and one this spring term,” Chico said.

Chico also said he relies on verbal instruction to guide his students more than he would in a live class setting.

“The optimal method in teaching karate is hands-on, no doubt. It allowed me to make certain that proper movements, stances, punches, blocks, kicks, and various techniques are executed properly,” Chico said via email.

According to Harrington, in order to receive credit remotely, students were required to submit proof of exercise to their instructor. Students could choose how they preferred to exercise.

“Twice a week we sent her a picture of us doing some form of physical activity, so taking the dog for a walk or doing yoga,” Harrington said.

While this maintained the physical activity aspect of the course, Harrington said she felt the social aspect had been lost.

Jewel Greenberg has been a yoga instructor at the college since before the pandemic began and has continued instruction online this year.

Greenberg said the biggest change between in-person and virtual instruction is the ability to see and interact with her students. Greenberg keeps her Zoom display in gallery mode, and while she said she does not believe in forcing students to be on camera, she tries to communicate the benefits of keeping their cameras on.

“I told my students that while I don’t require them to be on video, as a teacher of a physical practice, I’m best able to guide them if I can see what they are doing in their practice,” Greenberg said.

Despite the differences in instruction, Greenberg said she still finds value in her work.

“My intention as a teacher of yoga is to help people take better care of themselves,” Greenberg said. “It’s really, really nice to see people come back for another semester, knowing they do not have to redo the class, but they’ve chosen to build in this time for themselves and to work with the benefits of mindfulness.”