Integrating into a research-informed community

Sample PE

For over 100 years PE at LJMU has been at the forefront of physical education in the UK. For example, in 1947 the IM Marsh Campus was the site for the first women’s physical training college in the UK. Later, PE at Marsh was among the first proponents of Swedish Gymnastics and Laban Dance in the UK. Today, the PE group (staff and postgraduate students at Marsh) is continuing to innovate through researched-informed physical education. To that end, the PE group recently invited some first and second year undergraduates to join them at one of their research days. For some of these students it was their first introduction to what and how research is done by the group. One of the students, Ben Short, has kindly documented his thoughts on the day below. Ben’s account may be of interest because ultimately students like Ben are the PE teachers and coaches of tomorrow. Thus, it is important that research is not done away from undergraduates but is a key part of the learning.

Physical Education Research Day: different from your average reading week

– Ben Short

What better way to spend your Tuesday than a PE research day talking about all the great things happening in and around the department. Additionally, the appearance of guest speaker, Dr Sam Robertson, was an opportunity I wasn’t about to pass up. Sam is the Head of Research and Innovation for the Western Bulldogs-Victoria University partnership in Melbourne, Australia. As such he is an experienced researcher in the field of machine learning and decision making. He also applies this knowledge in the world of elite Australian Rules Football on a daily basis.

Prior to Sam’s presentation however, the day began with a short welcome from Dr James Rudd, senior lecturer at LJMU. James introduced the itinerary for the day. It was clear that this was a brilliant chance for all involved to fully immerse themselves in intellectual discussion and to advance the research currently being undertaken and potential proposals to come.

PE research day

Following on from James’ introduction, the morning was spent listening to a very able and innovative group of PhD students working on the Sample PE Project. The Sample PE project is primarily concerned with investigating the impact that physical education can have on 5-7 year old children’s affective, cognitive and physical development, across 12 primary schools within Merseyside. This was a fantastic opportunity to see the rationale behind their research, the methods they are using, and more importantly, what the next steps are for the project. This was also an opportunity for me to see how I and other undergraduates could get involved.

As a second year student, the prospect of a final year dissertation is not too distant in the future and this research day provided an opportunity to consider my future projects. For instance, building upon the impressive progress of the Sample PE guys, is there an avenue to conduct something similar for those in secondary education in the future? Well that was an idea put forward by Dr Jonathan Foulkes in the afternoon. Specifically, John is in the early phase of designing research that compares traditional vs games-based teaching. This proposal led to a great conversation where I could contribute with potential research questions and method design. What an opportunity to shape some of the department’s research.

The day’s events culminated with a presentation from the aforementioned Dr Sam Robertson. Using his experience of working with the Aussie rules Western Bulldogs, Sam delivered a cool argument for the use of technology as an aid for decision making in elite sport e.g. team selection. Sam posed the question of whether human or machine knows best at this level, before critically considering both options. Sam concluded that managers in elite sport who make decisions without using both human and machine input are surely missing a trick. This was just many insights that I would not have gained, if I did not take the opportunity to attend the research day.

From Ben’s account, involving undergraduates in an event, typically attended by postgraduate students and staff, appeared to be a huge success. Traditionally research days such as this take place during reading weeks or summer terms when undergraduates might not be on campus or able to attend. This is something to reconsider however, because there were several benefits from this simple invitation:

  1. Conversations between staff and the students were more relaxed away from the context of an assessed module and relationships were strengthened
  2. Students gained an appreciation for the work that staff do outside of lecture time
  3. Students were exposed to new ideas, theories and methods that could inform their own research
  4. Students provided practical and valuable insights on PE research which were not always thought about by staff who have long since left high school

To conclude, connecting students with research is a key part of PE at Marsh where we continue a legacy of developing innovative pedagogies. The next example of this will probably be the Power of Sport Conference, where undergraduates, postgraduates, staff and big name speakers will all deliver presentations. This will ensure that everyone from undergraduate students through to professors can learn from each other.

Interested in studying physical education? Take a look at the courses available at LJMU.


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