Mobile takes on a new meaning in physical education

By Ryan Eash, Education Evangelist at Techsmith

To boost student motivation and engagement in lessons, teaching methods have to evolve and move away from traditional approaches within the classroom. One notable development in the education sector is the involvement of digital content as a vehicle for learning. 

With the introduction of coding as part of the UK national curriculum, digital literacy has moved to the forefront of education, helping students to understand the technology they use outside of the classroom.

The use of technology as a learning tool has moved its way into multiple aspects of teaching – from using iPads to help understand algorithms in maths to distributing homework via laptop to SMS on mobile phones – and now we see the uptake of digital technology in physical education (PE).

PE classes are incorporating mobile technology as a means of improving class involvement and enthusiasm. Technological innovation has long been fused with sports both on and off the field and, due to the explosive growth of mobile technology, sports analysis applications have now become more affordable and accessible to the everyday user. As a result, PE teachers are capitalising on this availability and looking to mobile technology solutions to enhance class time with pupils.

The 2012 Olympic Games and the 2014 Commonwealth Games, where technology was used by coaches and athletes for technique analysis and field notes, reinvigorated the nation’s love for sport. According to Atos, for the first time ever, commentators used touchscreen technology during each and every event at the Olympic Games which meant real-time results were being delivered at high speed.

These worldwide sporting events also provided teachers with an opportunity to fuel students’ engagement with sport. With similar high-quality technology analysis now within reach for all, what better way to encourage students than to give them the chance to imitate their favourite sporting stars by using similar software applications and devices?

Keeping fit using mobile

PE is a subject that provides a number of invaluable life lessons for children, helping to shape them as individuals; however it also has a dreaded reputation amongst those who are less athletic. Lessons are arguably far easier to learn when they’re fun and interactive, so bringing technology into the sports environment could provide a bridge between promoting health and fitness in schools and simultaneously connecting with the ‘YouTube’ generation. 

According to the Office for National Statistics, 94% of 16–24-year-olds in the UK are constantly connected to the internet while on the go through a mobile phone or smart device, making such technology the perfect way to increase educational engagement.

Simultaneously, the use of health applications has increased in 2014. According to Flurry, whilst the overall mobile app industry grew 115% in terms of average daily usage in 2013, the health and fitness category only grew 49%. This year there has been a change in the air. According to the company, of the 6,800 iPhone and iPad apps listed in the health and fitness category on their own platform, there has been an impressive 62% increase in usage over the past six months.

Whilst this increase has been driven by users of all ages, the popularity and benefit of fitness apps has begun to make an impact in the education industry. Mark Bulmer, a PE teacher at Rossett School, North Yorkshire, has been using digital technology tools to aid learning on the field.

As a digitally savvy educator who is incorporating web and mobile technology into his class regimen, Mark believes in reaching his students in ways that extend beyond their face-to-face interactions, making them active participants rather than passive receivers.

Rossett is a large school with approximately 1,500 students from ages 11–19 years old. Rossett prides itself on Assessment for Learning (AFL) and is using cutting-edge technology to engage and inspire students. Teaching staff are dedicated to the use of Twitter and Real Smart (visual learning environment) for teaching and homework in addition to other technological tools, with future developments in the pipeline for iPads in the classroom.

Mark uses a mobile instant video analysis tool, Coach’s Eye, that is both inexpensive and easy to use when making on-the-field video that can be immediately made available for analysis by all the students in his classroom. The video analysis tool is helping Mark to engage students and provide the opportunity for his students to peer assess, discuss strengths and areas for development in sporting performance. He began using the app during a rugby lesson where he taught the key concepts of outwitting his class’s opponents.

According to Mark: “All classes seem very keen to use the app and a lot of students have even downloaded it on their own phones. Students are keen to receive constructive feedback and understand their own performance through filming and watching.

This has helped me create a teaching environment where students can take constructive criticism and aim to improve their sporting performance in a positive setting. I feel students are more aware of how they can improve their skills through seeing what’s going well and what’s not.”

Coach’s Eye provided Mark with the ability to teach on the field using his iPhone 3GS and he then provided feedback to students on a larger computer screen or laptop at the end of the lesson through the use of Dropbox. This has proved a key teaching tool, which allows for an excellent plenary at the end of the lesson and assists with future lesson planning. In particular, his method of using the app has helped students with their theoretical course work from GSCE to A-Levels, where analysing performance is a key element.

Similarly, Jon Tait, Deputy Headteacher at Acklam Grange School in Middlesbrough, has written about Flipped Learning in the PE classroom extensively. Flipped learning invites students to learn the subject theory ahead of the lesson to then focus on the practical aspects during class hours. He states: ‘Historically the only real piece of equipment a PE teacher had to provide feedback on the field was a whistle and their voice.’ Now, with mobile tools available, it makes perfect sense to also have video feedback as part of the learning cycle for students.

Jon began by using Coach’s Eye on a school iPad to film practice and games, and then turning the film into instant-replay style videos for his athletes. As the project evolved, he encouraged the athletes to film one another during practice sessions to provide feedback. In essence, mobile technology allowed Jon to multiply himself and make each practice more productive. Jon is now looking at other ways to use instant-feedback methods in areas outside of sport.

The rise of mobile devices and the creation of fitness apps have spawned a new and interesting offering for instructors and educators to help reenergise students in health and fitness. As this kind of digital technology can be used anytime, anywhere, teachers can help students to both learn the theoretical, not necessarily in the classroom, and perfect their techniques and overall performance.

Techsmith’s Ryan Eash helps educators learn how to use products successfully; through video tutorials, webinars and in-person training. He loves getting to work with teachers and sharing how software can help make a difference in their classrooms.