Associate Professor Michael Gard from the School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences has begun a three-year research project on the digitisation of school health and physical education.

The project is a collaboration between the University of Queensland and academics from the University of Canberra (Professor Deborah Lupton) and Monash University (Dr Deana Leahy) in Australia, and Northern Illinois University (Dr Carolyn Pluim) in the United States. Associate Professor Gard and his collaborators have received an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant for $177,000 to support this research.

The inspiration for the project comes both from the exciting educational opportunities that digital technology presents but also an appreciation of the new philosophical, educational and ethical questions and dilemmas that these developments raise.

Talking about the research, Dr Gard emphasised that the research is paricularly interested in learning more about the interesting, innovative and creative ways that teachers are using digital technology in school health and physical education. However, as with any change, there is always a need to keep one eye on the risks.

“For example, will we leverage the power of digital technology to expand students’ minds and open up choices about how to live, or will we use it to monitor students’ behaviour and tell them how to live?” Dr Gard said.

“For example, much of the health-related technology that we are seeing involves asking children to count the calories they consume or expend when they are exercising. Is this this what we want students to be doing at school?

“There is a lot of money to be made from digitising school health and physical education and many companies are already vigorously marketing all kinds of health and fitness technologies to schools.

“We obviously also need to think about ‘big data" and its implications for the children and the health and physical education experiences they have in schools.”

One aspect of the research sure to raise interest is the potential impact on the career prospects of health and physical education teachers.

“You see gyms already that have replaced human staff with digital screens which either instruct the class or measure the output of the participants,” Dr Gard said.

“Similar things are happening in some school physical education programs in the United States.

“Do we need to send someone to university for three-to-four years if they are there merely to over-see children using technology?

“And if you could train a health and physical education teacher in a matter of months, what would that mean for their pay scale?

“Then think of a perfect storm, where performance pay for health and physical education teachers is linked to children losing weight, and you introduce some very tricky ethical situations. Once again, some American states are moving in this direction.”

The study will also investigate how schools use digital technology to measure students and what becomes of the data once it has been collected.

Dr Gard is interested in speaking with Australian teachers and schools that already identify as being innovative with the use of digital technology in health and physical education.

Media: Associate Professor Michael Gard +61 407 894 607,; UQ Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences Communications Kirsten O'Leary 07 3345 7436