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Black Swan Yoga, a donation-based yoga studio, was recently acquired by Onnit, a local fitness company. The studio added Onnit fitness classes to its schedule and will begin to use Onnit’s equipment.

Photo Credit: Michael Baez | Daily Texan Staff

Black Swan Yoga’s donation-based model and community atmosphere have made it a favorite for UT students looking to relax. But the laid-back studio has just been acquired by Onnit, a local fitness company focused on exercise it calls “maximum human optimization,” which combines Black Swan’s yoga classes with other fitness routines.  

Yoga instructor Jaimee Hart said not much is going to change at Black Swan. Its classes will still be donation-based and customers will now also have the option of buying a membership. The studio is going to add a few Onnit fitness classes to its schedule of yoga sessions, and it will soon start selling Onnit dietary supplements and apparel.

“We want to start incorporating and using Onnit
fitness equipment, the stuff that they’re really famous for: their steel maces and their kettle bells and their big wall ball things,” Hart said. “We also have a couple of Onnit- certified trainers teaching our FIT classes, so, if anything, they’re a little more professional than what we had.”

Black Swan FIT classes offer a bootcamp-style workout followed by 15 minutes of yoga. J.J. Pepper, a trainer for these FIT classes, said they’ve already begun to add Onnit equipment to the curriculum. “They are a legitimate fitness company that cares about their products as much as their people, which is rare and refreshing and just plain genuine,” Pepper said.

Advertising sophomore Julia Waicberg said the last class she went to at Black Swan felt more like an ab workout than
a yoga session. 

“While it wasn’t a relaxing practice, I felt incredible afterwards,” Waicberg said. “Yoga can be a calming exercise, but it also can be a practice that tests your limits and shows you what you’re capable of.”

Former Black Swan instructor Megan Ridgeway said Black Swan’s recent emphasis on fitness is probably good for everyone in
the long run.

“I think it can be a beneficial partnership if it’s utilized in the right way,” Ridgeway said. “But I also think that it takes the Black Swan brand in an extremely different direction than it’s ever been. We’ll see if the more historical Black Swan community can support it.”

Hart said the goal of the acquisition isn’t to change Black Swan’s yoga practices. It will just start appropriating new methods to reach a
wider audience. 

“We’ll always be Black Swan Yoga,” Hart said.

A year after UT began rolling out nine Massive Online Open Courses, the results are in:

Completion rates for the classes, which offer anyone with Internet access free online courses from high-ranked UT professors, but no course credit, are very low — ranging from 1 to 13 percent, according to the Texas Tribune. 

The University hasn’t laid out long-term goals for the MOOCs, and the numbers don’t bode particularly well for the courses’ overall success. Still, the System says they will continue funding UT’s MOOCs to the tune of $150,000-$300,000 to produce each new online course. We’re confused as to why an unproven and unused educational experiment that isn’t even aimed at UT students is something the System feels they should continue funding. 

MOOC supporters suggest that the low completion rates are not a valid measure of success for a course anyone could sign up for and never return to. After all, students have little incentive to finish the courses other than an interest in the material. 

And the low rates were by no means unexpected. Similar results were seen at other universities’ MOOC programs as well. Inside Higher Ed reported that San Jose State paused its MOOC program in July — just before UT launched it’s own — after the first round of classes showed similarly disappointing completion results.

Understandably, these courses are a different animal, but, if we can’t gauge their success from completion rates — the classic measure of success in college courses for years — how can we? The problem with other measures, such as student engagement or course transformation, is that the MOOC structure isn’t quantifying that information into data that we can evaluate. 

And we can be certain that the measure of a MOOC’s success will not be profitability.

The MOOCs were, apparently, designed without revenue in mind, though the System invested $10 million to both develop the MOOCs and to host the courses on edX, an online platform created by Harvard and MIT.

Pharmacy professor and MOOC instructor Janet Walkow told The Daily Texan that there are ways to squeeze revenue out of the courses, including charging $50 for completion certificates, selling e-books created for the course and asking for donations from MOOC students. None of those revenue initiatives, however, were considered in the initial planning of the courses. 

Of course, the System has made large and unproven investments in online education platforms before — MyEdu rings a bell. The Tribune recently reported that the System will see no financial return on its $10 million investment in MyEdu, which was ultimately sold to Blackboard. Again, there was no long-term financial plan in mind, but there was a lot of money on the table. 

The System should stop investing millions of dollars on gambles like these, which lack financial exit strategies and viable forms of revenue. If the founding structure of a project doesn’t include a business model for growth and profitability for the University, who is expected to fund it? 

“Our initiative with MOOCs is evolving as we search for a sustainable business model, and this transition is part of that evolution,” UT System spokeswoman Karen Adler said. 

Math professor and MOOC instructor Michael Starbird said his course, which launches in February, required hundreds of hours of work to put together. 

“We are at a moment of experimentation,” Starbird said. “The expectation should be that many things go wrong. Is it a good idea for UT-Austin and the System to be involved in experimentation in new ways to deliver [education].” 

Germanic Studies professor and MOOC instructor John Hoberman said that more than 1,500 people completed his MOOC — one of the four launched in the fall — around the world, which is more than he has taught in person in the past 30 years. 

“Criticism of MOOCs for not providing instant revenue streams is naive,” Hobermand said. “The economic future of MOOCs, like the future profitability of Amazon, is unknown at this time.”

This semester, five more experimental MOOCs will be launching, despite the results seen by the last four. The UT System has rushed into investing in online innovation in an effort to be the first to find the “future” of higher education. But its strategy of throwing a few million dollars here and a few more there and hoping the investments pay off is irresponsible and short-sighted.

Dan Hamilton removes a fake knife from the hand of Brent Danninger during an Aikido practice in Belmont Hall on Thursday. The Japanese martial art focuses on immobilizing an attacker without injury.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

The attacker extends his arm, grabs his partner’s wrist and begins to circle at a quick pace while his partner remains centered. His partner receives the attacker’s energy and changes it into circular energy, creating a harmonious spiral downwards as his attacker falls to the ground completely unharmed.

Aikido is a form of martial art originating from Japan and developed by martial artist Morihei Ueshiba that focuses on self-defense based on relaxed coordination of mind and body, rather than physical strength. Aikido translates to “the way of unifying life with energy” and the practitioner’s goal is not to obliterate an opponent, but rather to resolve conflict by defending themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury.

“It’s difficult to describe in words; even when people see it, they don’t understand it,” said instructor Steve McAdam, a student from the first Aikido class in 1972. “One student came up to me and said, ‘I don’t believe it’s real; I think it’s choreographed,’ but it’s something you just have to feel.”

The Aikido club members agreed that Aikido could only be felt, but made attempts to show what their bodies were doing. Toward the end of the advanced class, a wooden sword was removed from its case and the attacker held it raised behind his head. He swiftly ran at the student as he lowered the sword, and in seconds, the attacker was on his stomach unharmed, while the student had remained centered and focused — now with the attacker’s sword tucked behind his back. They were safe and the new members understood the art more thoroughly.

The UT Aikido Club was established in 1972 and is the oldest Aikido training facility in the Austin area. The club is taught by six instructors, who have each practiced for more than 20 years, that rotate through the classes to give a balanced approach to Aikido.

“To me, it’s essentially experimental philosophy,” instructor Brent Danninger said.

“It’s a mirror. If you put in martial arts that’s what you get out, but if you put in even more than that, it reflects back what you seek out.”

Each instructor expresses their own idea of Aikido, changing up their teaching methods while still maintaining the core values of Aikido: finding the full potential of mind and body, getting off of the line of attack and staying within range of individual effectiveness.

“Aikido is a very individual art. You’re not going to learn a specific person’s Aikido, in the end, you’re doing your own,” McAdam said. “You have to sprinkle your own sauces on it; you have to find your own Aikido.”

This unique form of art differs from the other martial arts because the partners move as one, rather than two dueling enemies. Body placement is just as precise but requires an immense amount of focus to allow complete relaxation while being attacked.

“In Aikido, I’m not trying to eliminate, I’m trying to be one,” Danninger said. “If you want to turn left, we turn left; the purpose is not to defeat, just to protect.”

Anne Opalko, youth and communication studies senior, has a Karate background and joined the club two years ago, when she came seeking a place where she could utilize her body awareness, a non-competitive nature and the philosophy attached to Aikido.

“There’s quite a bit that’s mental, if a person takes their mind off of conflict they’ll be able to move,” Opalko said. “It’s a peaceful kind of art.”

Unlike Opalko, biology freshman Tanya Beketova had no previous experience in martial arts, but she knew she wanted to learn a form of non-violent instruction.

She was immediately surprised that her rhythmic gymnastics background was useful and the class was very small and personal.

“I expected to be lost,” Beketova said. “I was pleasantly surprised this wasn’t the case. The instructor used great analogies I understood and I’ll definitely be coming back.”

The students return each week with the desire to learn how to deal more easily with stressful situations in everyday life. They have found solace in knowing that if they can defend themselves against an attack, they can conquer anything on campus or hardships in life. Remaining calm in action is emphasized, so that even if the students learn nothing else, they will leave with the ability to fall down safely. Many of the instructors note that it’s unlikely any of the students will ever get into a fight once they leave their Aikido lessons. If they understand the class as it has been proposed, the one thing students know for sure is to expect to fall down.

“Good guys have to know how to lose without really losing, to fall to win,” McAdam said.

Although some skills are easier to pick up than others, the instructors agreed with their students that “mastering” a skill takes years. Aikido requires a balanced relationship between two partners and at the same time helps the student remain calm. It also requires a level of patience and consistency.

“The goal is to get them to feel it right once so they know it’s possible,” McAdam said. “After the first time, they say they feel this ‘magic’ but really, it’s the subtlety of the art.”

Printed Wednesday, September 7, 2011 as: UT Aikido practitioners 'unify life with energy.'

Max Wade, far right, and other students practice dance moves during the salsa clubÂ’s open house Sunday evening in the Union. The classes do not require previous dance experience and are open to both students and the community.

Photo Credit: Danielle Villasana | Daily Texan Staff

Waiting anxiously for his musical cue, dance instructor Dwip Banerjee clasps his salsa partner. In front of him stands a throng of people, all keen on learning the art of salsa. Banerjee exhales slowly, hoping his example will suffice for the many novices watching. The melody begins, and Banerjee quickly twists, following the groove. Several other couples behind him follow suit, creating a pattern for the audience to mimic.

Banerjee expects a good number of students today for the open house and welcome dance in the Union Ballroom.

“It’s not restrictive, [but is made up of] mostly students,” said Banerjee, a UT alumnus. “Engineering students, arts students, graduate students, we have all through the spectrum — thoroughly representative of the demographics of the university. We get all kinds of people. They come and enjoy this event.”

The Internet played a heavy role in recruiting members, as the group tries to use social media as frequently as possible. The Facebook group “Longhorn Salsa” contains all of the events, classes and other information. The organization is relatively new, having started only two years ago.

“I was one among the group of influential people that wanted to create a fun-loving, social salsa dance environment on campus and start classes to accomplish that,” Banerjee said. “Some students were talking about starting up a club and all wanted to do the same thing.”

The group was devised by Banerjee and other UT students.

“We created it from scratch,” Banerjee said. “There’s always a need for a good, fun, clean social event along with an exposure to diverse music and culture, going out places and meeting all kinds of other people. It’s an experience that everyone enjoys.”

Banerjee hopes to make Longhorn Salsa more active with a stronger performance component. His thoughts include interacting with other like-minded organizations and creating an elective UT dance course.

“We are looking to become an organization of excellence, to have fun while acquiring skills and learning new stuff,” Banerjee said.

Printed on Monday, August 29, 2011 as: Longhorn Salsa teaches students art of the dance.