Parks and Recreation: SF State Edition

RPT 520 students playing a series of games to test their team work at San Francisco State University. Photo by Alejandrina Hernandez / Xpress

Words: Babak Haghighi
Photos: Alejandrina Hernandez

Bob Flasher’s RPT 520 class is not your typical lecture. Flasher, or “Flash” as students call him, is not your typical lecturer. And SFSU’s Recreation, Parks, and Tourism department is not your typical academic program.

If you enjoy a tedious workload, cramming facts, and an overly stressful finals week, then this department is not for you. In one of the final class meetings of the semester, Flasher’s RPT 520 (Parks and Outdoor Recreation Resources) students are scrambling across the massive GYM 118 classroom, participating in various cooperative challenges and activities. Some solve puzzles in the front while others play a difficult game of “Bomb Squad,” in which a team must cooperate to place a ball, which is held up by a web of strings, into a small bucket. They scream, they laugh, and they smile. But this is no end-of-the-semester party. This is a typical class meeting for a required core class in the department.

No PowerPoints. No textbooks. No note-taking. No boring lectures.

“We see value in interactive teaching methods,” says Patrick Tierney, chair of the Recreation, Parks, and Tourism department at SFSU. “All classes use learning games to bring theory to life. Some classes are half lecture and discussion and half activities.”

Flasher promises students to limit his lectures to no more than 20 minutes at a time.

“This ensures that I will bring other types of engaging and more interactive learning experiences to the three-hour classes,” he explains. “We do raps, engage in cooperative physical challenges, have small group projects, have students lead lively discussions, and watch exciting videos.”

By using unique, interactive teaching methods, Flasher has successfully turned a large classroom of more than 50 students into an intimate and light-hearted learning environment.

“I look at teaching as sharing what I’m excited about, and it shows,” he says. Flasher finds that this encourages students to share what they are excited about as well, leading to engaging class discussions and an interactive atmosphere. Flasher doesn’t use textbooks. “Face it—they’re boring,” he says. “I focus on teaching the most essential concepts, not on imparting loads of soon-forgotten information that is easy to test for. I would rather students learn fewer, more important things well through first hand experience.”

Rob “Flash” Flasher speaks to his RPT 520 class at San Francisco State University. Photo by Alejandrina Hernandez / Xpress

“This’ll be an interesting debrief,” says Flasher as he prepares to get the class to retire from their activities and return to their seats. He blows a wacky-sounding whistle, and the students know that playtime is over.

As they discuss the activities they just engaged in, Flasher asks the class about one of the games. “What made the ball fall off?”

“J.R.,” jokes one student. The rest of them laugh.

After the break, Flasher puts on his grey snapback hat in style and prepares for the weekly rap. He raps about health, education, and recreation in the verses until students join in on the chorus.

“Are you down widdit?” asks Flasher.
“I be down widdit!” the students respond.
“Ya’ll be down widdit?”
“We be down widdit!”

And this is just a core lecture course for the major. Other classes in the department take things to the next level.

“Many of the classes engage in activities that take students outside of their comfort zones,” says Flasher. These classes include Small Boat Sailing, Beginning Rock Climbing, Introduction to Back Country Skiing, and more. Even the classes that don’t focus on a specific activity take students on various field trips that involve challenging and exciting activities.

“We whitewater raft, snow camp, rock climb, camp out, sail, kayak, do ropes courses, and many other unique activities that help students realize that they are way more competent at many facets of life than they ever imagined,” says Flasher. “[Students] learn to take reasonable risks that greatly enhance their quality of life instead of just going home every night to go on Facebook or play video games.”

This semester, Flasher has taken his RPT 520 students on a handful of field trips, usually to local parks and playgrounds and meeting the people that keep those parks and playground existent.

Despite its unconventional academic characteristics, the Recreation, Parks, and Tourism department isn’t all fun and games.

“Our majors take away skills and knowledge that will help them get a professional career started or enhanced,” says Tierney. “For non-majors, RPT classes push students to expand their world view, question assumption, look at balance in their lives, and encourage them to become change agents.”

RPT majors are required to complete 800 hours of volunteer work in the fields of recreation, parks, or tourism. Their senior year is spent planning and working at a full-time internship. Flasher says that 60% of the students are usually hired permanently by the organizations they intern at.

“This department focuses on developing practical skills, based on research and real-world experience,” says Flasher. “That’s why so many of us are lecturers—people hired to teach who have other 9-5 jobs in the field. We can share personal real-world experiences, not just teach to the test.”

As with most departments at the university, funding has not been ideal.

“Funding is always a challenge,” says Tierney. “But we’ve got to move forward and make the best of what we have. We need to look at non-traditional funding sources.”

This semester alone, the department had to apply for special funding just to run seven of its regular classes.

“It would be great to regain the funding we had just three years ago,” says Flasher.

There’s no denying the sheer educational value of RPT classes at SFSU. They are among the most interactive academic options at the university. Whether for an easy elective or for a serious pursuit of academics, a leisurely taste of Recreation, Parks, and Tourism is worthwhile.