It’s hard to participate in Julita Haber’s Research in Management course without breaking a sweat.
The course, which focuses on developing professional relationships, is designated as fitness integrated learning (FIL). In the class, students “spin” or ride stationary bikes while Haber, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor in the leading people and organizations department at the Gabelli School of Business, teaches research concepts, theories, and methodological techniques in impression management.
According to Haber, this is the first FIL course to be offered on an American college campus.
“It’s an innovative way of teaching,” said Haber, who launched the course this fall at the McGinley Fitness Center. “There are health risks from a sedentary lifestyle. Through fitness, I found that students were naturally engaged.”
Over a seven-year span, Haber experimented with various versions of FIL at two other universities before piloting FIL courses at Fordham.
Based on an exploratory study with 700 students, she learned that incorporating physical education into an existing college-level business course curriculum can be beneficial to students. The study, which Haber co-authored with Gabelli School colleague Genevieve Elizabeth O’Connor, Ph.D., and Nina Sarkar, of Queensborough Community College, was published in 2016 in the Journal of Applied Business and Economics.
“Studies have shown that exercise has a tremendous impact on our well-being, but it also has an effect on cognitive thinking,” said Haber.
Donna Rapaccioli, Ph.D., dean of the Gabelli School, said the new course is enriching the academic experience for the school’s students.
“It means a great deal to me when faculty members go out of their way to come up with a fresh case study, an unconventional classroom activity, or a truly original lesson on a time-honored topic—and I believe our students appreciate it, too,” she said.
Drawing her research for the study from more than 16 different courses she taught over the years, Haber developed three modes of physical activities in FIL. The methods include: Simultaneous, which involves students doing a physical activity, like spinning, while learning the course material; Intervals, which involves doing a physical activity in between lectures; and embedded, which involves teaching new concepts via body movement.
No matter the approach, the curriculum is a top priority, Haber said.
“Students learn not just how to do research, but how to understand research studies from a very rigorous perspective, and be comfortable with consuming that type of literature so that they can open a research journal and continue to grow.”
Students were surprised to learn that some tactics for influencing perceptions were not only applicable in their personal lives, but also in their relationships in the workplace.
“The class is challenging me in ways that go beyond the classroom,” said Gabelli junior Christopher Dollesin. “I am not just learning about professional relationships or getting in a few hours to cycle. It has also encouraged me to integrate what I’m learning in my daily life.”
An Exchange of Ideas
Over the course of the class, students are assigned different leadership roles. During the first five minutes of class, a student “stretch leader” leads the classes through a series of stretches. Then, another team leader leads a warm-up on the bikes and reviews the previous class material.
Haber delivers her lecture content in between spinning intervals that are led by a student motivator/DJ, who also selects the music for the session.
“We get a chance to take charge of our experiences and participate in a really unique way,” said Dollesin, who was recently a student motivator/DJ. “I find that I’m way more attentive because I have an outlet for all my energy.”
The class has also helped Gabelli senior Meaghan Courtney, an accounting major, to build trust in the FIL classroom.
“I think that when you’re sitting in a lecture, information can go in one ear and out of the other,” she said. “But in this class, we learn from each other’s experiences. That’s very important in a class about management, where a lot focuses on your relationship with other people. Each week, I feel like we get closer and closer.”
Amanda Vopat, a member of Fordham’s Social Innovation Collaboratory, said the class’s structure and emphasis on teamwork are among its many strengths.
“So many classes in college are focused on passive learning, where the professor is talking at you and you take notes,” she said.
“But this class is collaborative and focused on engaging with the people around you. The class is not professor Haber’s class. It’s really an exchange of ideas among all of us.”