Star Turn: Gerald Zavorsky

December 21, 2001

Philip Fine watches a rookie professor turn game-show host to stimulate student interest in the science of physical fitness

The 25 exercise-science students were not expecting a soundtrack for their exam preparation class, but they all recognise the familiar music as they file in. It is the theme tune to the popular television quiz Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Gerald Zavorsky leans into the microphone: "Let's Play!" He has decided to take the game show into the educational arena.

One student at a time will play Who Wants to be a Certified Fitness Consultant? And the Montreal rookie professor, who just earned his doctorate in the spring, has suddenly become Concordia University's answer to Chris Tarrant.

Sporting fashionable glasses, gelled hair and a physique that took him to the 1996 Atlanta Olympic trials in the 800m, Zavorksy's aim is to make the science of physical fitness entertaining.

He downloaded the show's various sounds, set up a PowerPoint presentation to project the multiple-choice questions and asked the students to provide index cards with their name, age and something interesting about themselves.

"So you spent the summer in Dawson City, Yukon?" he asks the first contestant. Once into the game, she correctly tells her host that hypokinetic means diminished movement. She does not make it past the third multiple-choice question, but she gets a chocolate bar as consolation.

After each question, Zavorsky clicks on a speaker icon on the screen and the "thinking" music plays. To increase the tension, if a student takes too long, he can also call up the heartbeat sound. His enthusiasm is evident in the way he focuses on each student. "Feeling a bit nervous?" he jokingly asks them while they are thinking.

While rolling out the possible answers on the risk factors of cardiovascular disease, he chews on a chocolate bar. A student decides to take a lifeline and asks the audience for their advice. Most make the wrong choice.

No one falls asleep in this class. Students say the format adds a nervous adrenaline. However, the music does get tiresome after a while and the momentum begins to drag in the last 20 minutes. A lone desk under fluorescent lights could never pass for a game show set. Zavorsky is quickly discovering that playing witty host can actually be more difficult to sustain than lecturing professor, as details on the index card prove inadequate.

"So you're 22?", "Yes," the student answers.

"Fantastic," he says, reaching unsuccessfully for a witty rejoinder.

Students say afterwards they appreciated the format, but it did not come as a surprise. One woman said another class's teacher used Jeopardy as an educational tool.

Whether you believe that multiple-choice exam questions and game shows go well together and that this format makes learning more student-centred or that it panders to assumptions that students understand concepts only if they come in flashy, familiar vehicles, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The exam takes place one week from now, and there will be no music, chocolate bars or eager host on show then.

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