Tagged in: Physical and Health Education, Teaching, Technology

Technology in PE: Yea or Nay?

There’s a time and a place; know the boundaries of both

I’ve been wanting to share this post for a long time, but I’ve been slammed and never think I have enough time to do the post justice. Alas, I am putting this out there (quickly) so that you have something to think about over the summer. The integration of technology in physical education is prominent on Twitter. I read way more exchanges about innovative ways to integrate technology in PE, than I read about building community among classmates, social justice issues in education, or how to really help students with low levels of physical competence gain confidence in their physical skills. I get it (most times). Technology changes so fast, that we (PE teachers) want to keep up. We want to hook our students, motivate them, and inspire them - and, perhaps impress our admin and colleagues, and increase our Twitter followers.

My issue isn’t with any of these amazing exchanges. I love technology and love learning what others are doing in order to grow. I also love listening to @PENathan and @JoeyFeith’s podcast to hear all the latest and greatest while making dinner. So great!

My issues are:

  1. We don’t always need technology in physical education.
  2. Physical education should also teach students the importance of unplugging and connecting with others, as well as nature.

My colleague, Dr. Ash Casey (@DrAshCasey) from Loughborough University as a great slideshare that you can view here. This presentation examines whether or not we should have a pedagogy of technology in physical education. My response? Yes. We must prepare pre-service teachers (and inservice current teachers) to integrate technology as a way to support students in meeting educational outcomes but only after incredible and supportive community is established.

Team building shouldn’t just exist in travel sports experiences. Classrooms establish community so all students feel safe and like a valuable member of the group. Physical education needs this even more given the fact that when pedagogy is not sound, students can observe others trying to master a skill - and this can be embarrassing or scary for many of our students. Social justice issues have never been more important as they are today. For example, immigration rates are high and research related to physical activity and newcomer youth is alarming - they are much less active than their peers (who are incredibly inactive). We need to talk about these things, too. We need to talk about these things more often.

I love technology. I’ve grown a full-time business thanks to technology. I enjoy integrating technology into my classes - sometimes. You see, sometimes, I much prefer not to integrate technology. Why? Well, through my own use of systematic observation I realized that sometimes technology actually hindered my students from achieving their goals.

While I could go on a huge narrative about my idea of technology in PE, I’m not going to. Rather, I’m going to use this space to give you a few examples of systematic observation so that you can develop a plan to gather data to determine if you are integrating technology in a way that truly increases your pedagogy.

What is Systematic Observation (SO)?

Systematic observation is a way to objectively gather data about your teaching environment, interactions with students, and students’ physical activity behaviors. I first learned of it while reading articles during my graduate school days written by a really wonderful colleague, Hans Van Der Mars. Dr. Van Der Mars was kind enough to answer my emails/questions back then, and I began to develop templates to gain feedback on my own teaching. I became more familiar with systematic observation when I was working toward my PhD at the University of Virginia. Here, pre-service teachers were systematically observed by me and my doctoral advisor, Dr. Ann Boyce.

What can you systematically observe?

Anything! You can individualize systematic observation for your own needs. You can develop your own templates based on areas that you are interested in investigating. Here are a few examples to get your creativity going and give you something to think about this summer.

1. Physical Activity Intensity

By now, we all know that Dr. Ratey’s research says students are most ready to learn when they have had moderate to vigorous bouts of physical activity. This is because it allows them to be more alert, and decreases behavior issues. So, one way you can use SO is to measure students’ physical activity intensity. This can be done with fancy tracking devices - or, not. You can simply record a class and then observe a student who might be lower levels of fitness, one who is more average in the class, and one who is very fit. Use a stopwatch and press start when the person you are observing begins moving at M-V intensities. Stop the watch when she/he stops. Continue for the class (or a 15-minute piece of the class). Repeat following another student., etc.

Clearly you wouldn’t do this all the time, but it allows you to get a snapshot if the technology is really encouraging PA at M-V intensities. For example, how long does it take students to get their heart rate monitors on? How much time is lost from that class? Are they necessary? (I saw this because I have observed them being used brilliantly and terribly). The answers will vary depending on the teacher and how he/she is using the technologies. The key is to have an objective response in your teaching situation. What works for one teacher, in one school, in one part of the world, with a certain class dynamic - may not work for you.

As well, use your common sense on when you choose to observe this.  I wouldn’t do it on a day where archery or yoga is the focus, nor would I choose the cardiovascular focused lesson. Pick a typical day where you are teaching skills in authentic settings.

2. Feedback
What kind of feedback are you giving to your students when you are teaching them about integrating technology? Is it on the physical skills? Social and personal responsibility topics? Communication, collaboration and risk taking? Or, is it about how to merge documents to share or how to search a hashtag?

Again, I love technology and believe it  belongs - I just want to remind all of us that for students to improve their skills in ways that increase confidence, they need to receive feedback.

Could the feedback be self-given based on video? Sure, but feedback should be immediate and we don’t want long lines at the iPad. Of course, you may know this and implement video analysis as best practice (this is great). But, if you aren’t so sure, observe a video of yourself teaching technology in PE and identify how much feedback is related to the technology and how much is related to the skill development or other important components of quality PE (social and personal responsibility, risk taking, creativity, etc.).

What can happen from this? Well, you may lower a screen in your gymnasium so that when you show a video clip, students watch it from a forearm plank position (one small example). The data will encourage you to problem solve and get creative on how to take the technology integration to a new level - one that really does support students’ meeting outcomes in an upbeat and positive way.

3. Student Success Rates
Systematic Observation can help you determine if students are practicing at an appropriate rate - one that allows them to experience enough success to be motivated to continue - yet, not so easy that they become bored. The magic number? 80% Record attempts of students (one student with low physical competence, one with average, one with high) and identify when they are successful. Do this while you are integrating technology to determine if the use of technology is increasing opportunity for success at appropriate rates (80%). Does it help to differentiate instruction? Does it take away from opportunity to practice? Are your students with disabilities at an advantage/disadvantage (and how do you define advantage/disadvantage) with the technology integration?

Technology is a no brainer when it comes to making my life as a teacher easier. I am able to use Google drive in ways that have literally saved me hours of time. I have made wonderful friendships through twitter by interacting with such inspiring people. I visited many schools during my years as a professor, and observed many teachers through those years. While I certainly saw some cool integration of technology in PE - what really sticks out most in my mind about the best teachers was how they had all students really feeling a part of the team. The purpose of this post is help you gather data to determine if you are integrating technology in a way that you intend (to increase students’ learning and positive experiences).

I believe we need to teach students the importance of how technology can be used to help us (e.g., motivating Apps for those who like to track their fitness) live healthy lives, but it can’t take away the opportunity to create a community of love, support, and togetherness. In my humble opinion, we have to help the students learn how good it feels to do good - not just to try to find ways to motivate them to do good.

The world is hurting these days. Media doesn’t help. We are becoming numb to school shootings and attacks on people who serve to protect us. While I hope to continue to learn from the technology exchanges on Twitter, I hope to see more about helping to develop character, kindness, and empathy through 21st century curriculum (curriculum that focuses on competence, critical thinking, collaboration, civic responsibility, creativity, risk-taking).

PS: If you want to get some wonderful ways to integrate technology in physical education, follow the PE Geek himself: @mrrobbo.

How about you?
Have you used systematic observation in your classes? What did it tell you?

How do you focus on personal and social responsibility, and relationships in your PE classes?

What is the best way you have ever increased student learning and experiences through technology integration?

Have you ever ditched technology to enhance learning? When and why?

  • Jennifer Krause

    Great post, Amanda!As you know, I am very interested in how PE teachers are trained to appropriately integrate technology into PE (in fact, I just received a grant to study this topic on a national scale this year). Before bringing technology into a PE environment, ask these questions (NASPE, 2009):1. Does it increase instructional effectiveness?2. Is it developmentally appropriate?3. Does it maintain equal or increase activity time?2. Does it provide opportunities for ALL students?3. Can it improve assessment collection/maintenance?

    If the answer is no to any of these questions, then it is not appropriate. As Helena Baert would say, its not about the tool! In order to be effective, the technology’s presence must provide means to improved pedagogy and/or content knowledge/skill.

    I should mention that, despite my strong interest in tech in PE, I am not a gamer (don’t even own a Wii), have a Twitter account but rarely tweet, and much prefer the great outdoors to screen time any day. Yet, I think that tech has a place in PE, when used for the appropriate time and purpose. :)

    • astanec

      Thanks so much, Jen!You are a KEY leader in how to properly integrate technology in PE. I really appreciate your commenting on the post! You should tweet more examples as I know you have a lot of them – you could help share all this amazing information people who are so keen to learn (and, who have such little access to professional development).

      The NASPE questions are great ones, and I think the point that in some situations we might answer YES in all instances, in other settings we might answer NO. Thanks so much for sharing them here!

      Your pre-service teachers at Northern Colorado are indeed lucky to have you!



  • Tom

    Great blog with lots for me to go over in detail.Think the key thing for me was your initial point on having pupils connect.

    I see technology as central to building a long term pupil profile that has meaning and colour for each young person.

    Using it in a practical lesson on the other hand i am not sold. At this2 stage i feel the game should be doing all the teaching with our facilitation supporting learning.

    Jennifer is spot on with her key questions.