Distance No Barrier for Online Master’s in Physical Education

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January 25, 2024  |  by Heidi Wells, Global Campus

Emily Macione enjoys a visit from Jack Kern, U of A faculty member, when he came to her school in Connecticut.
Emily Macione enjoys a visit from Jack Kern, U of A faculty member, when he came to her school in Connecticut.

Waterford, Connecticut, is a town of fewer than 20,000 people on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. According to a popular mapping tool on the internet, Waterford is 1,461 miles away from Fayetteville, Arkansas. That’s 22 hours by car, two days by bus, 22 days on foot, six days on a bicycle, or if you put Fayetteville and Waterford in the search box for directions, it will tell you, “Flights not available.” That’s because you would have to fly into nearby Groton, Connecticut, to the Groton-New London Airport, a dozen miles away.

A Connecticut teacher did not find this distance a barrier when she began looking for an online master’s in physical education. She is planning a new career path since graduating last spring with a Master of Education in Physical Education delivered online by the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

Emily Macione has never actually been to Arkansas by car, bus, bicycle, plane or on foot, but she didn’t need to actually go there. She is one of multiple students and graduates of the U of A’s online master’s in physical education who hail from several states in the northeastern part of the nation, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey. The program has a record number of new students this spring, including a few from Connecticut and 10 from the Northeast.

Macione heard about the program from a friend who teaches at a nearby middle school and had earned his degree online from the U of A.
In order to apply for PE teaching positions in Connecticut, Macione also needs a health certification. She is taking courses for the certification offered online by nearby Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, about an hour away. However, she does not like the synchronous delivery of some of the courses, keeping her in a virtual classroom until 9:30 at night once a week. Synchronous instruction means the students in an online course must log in to the course on specific days and times. Asynchronous instruction allows students to log in whenever is convenient for them.

A 17-year teaching veteran, Macione wants to move from special education to physical education. She has taught at Lyme-Old Lyme High School in Old Lyme, Connecticut, for 16 of her 17 years, following her first year at a middle school.

The asynchronous delivery of the online master’s in physical education from the U of A was much more to her liking, Macione said, because she could set her own schedule as far as getting the work done.


Teacher Track

Becoming a physical education teacher fuses her natural interests in people, teaching, physical activity and fitness, Macione said. While teaching special education, she took on additional roles of coaching with 12 years as varsity head coach of girls’ lacrosse, for which she was named Shoreline Conference Girls Lacrosse Coach of the Year in 2015, 2016 and 2023. She also served as assistant coach of girls’ soccer.

When her friend suggested Macione contact Jack Kern, the U of A professor of physical education responded quickly. She started the online degree program in the summer of 2022, finishing the following spring.

“I wanted to get done as quickly as possible,” Macione said. “I want to stay at the high school level, but I am ready for something different.”

The U of A master’s in physical education was her first experience studying online, she said.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “Prior to starting, I was nervous. I had questions about navigating everything online, not having a teacher nearby.

“The program was awesome; the professors were awesome,” Macione continued. “I never waited more than 24 hours for an answer even though the program was asynchronous. That flexibility was a huge draw. I didn’t realize what a positive that would be.”

A course she took from Kern provided current and relevant information, Macione said, and she appreciated the video feedback he gave.

“It was clear he read my work and thought about it,” she said. “The personalized feedback was helpful and gave me something to think about. He made the program user-friendly and accessible right away. He helped me make contact with IT (services) when I had a question about Kaltura, and they fixed the problem in five minutes. An an online student, that made me feel like I was not some random person out in space.”


Value of Physical Education

Macione was athletic as a kid, but she believes physical education has improved since then by moving toward individual fitness and personal development over team sports.

“I played team sports growing up, youth soccer, and I’ve played adult soccer and softball,” she said. “I also play tennis, golf, surf and ride a Peloton. I really got into fitness during COVID and weight training. All of this can be covered in P.E. I didn’t have all of these experiences myself as a kid. I want to teach my students things they can use later in life.”

She wants to place emphasis on effort over performance, Macione said.

“I work with a lot of children who are socially and emotionally challenged now,” she said. “They are not always the most physically active. For me, physical activity has done great things. There are different ways of moving, walks, hikes, getting fit earlier in life, and options for students beyond team sports. As a special ed teacher, I mostly work with kids on an individual level, so this will be a new challenge for me to work with kids in a class setting.”

Macione believes consistent physical activity can improve mental health and overall quality of life.

“As I see it, in P.E., you don’t have to be the smartest, you don’t have to be the best athlete,” she said. “You need to give your best effort. I want the kids to know their effort is important. They can show a different side of themselves. P.E. can be hard for kids who have issues with their bodies, but I am already used to modifying activities. I can switch it up if something is not working and make the classes feel more accessible to all kids.”


Making a Recommendation

Macione said the prospect of earning a master’s degree felt like a mountain to climb before she started.

“I’m happy to recommend this program to anybody considering a PE master’s degree,” she said. “I am so happy with the way it panned out.”

She also felt like she was a part of the U of A community to an extent, despite being nearly 1,500 miles away.

“I definitely felt like a U of A student even though I have never been here. You do it really, really well,” she said of online degree delivery. “I get the need for seat time, face time, but asynchronous is the way to do it. I emphasize to people: Honestly, anybody could do the program and it could work for them if they are interested in a master’s degree.”

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Heidi Wells

Content Strategist

Heidi Wells is the content strategist for the Global Campus at the University of Arkansas and editor of The Online Learner. Her writing spans more than 30 years as a communicator at the U of A and a reporter and editor at Arkansas newspapers. Wells earned two degrees from the U of A: a master's in 2013 and a bachelor's in 1988.

Wells can be reached at heidiw@uark.edu or 479-575-7239.

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Master of Education in Physical Education

The M.Ed. in Physical Education program allows practicing physical education professionals an opportunity to receive advanced training in their field, along with a Master’s degree. Advanced degrees are factors that determine pay grades in many schools.

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