Category Archives: Blog

Spring update 2017: recent research activities

Is this thing still on?

Sweeping the dust off and trying to get back into blogging my research and teaching life. Here’s what I’ve been up to lately…

This year I have got involved in a few projects that have led to there being six papers ‘on my desk’ at the moment – metaphorically on my desk, as some of them are still only concepts. So managing my time is a priority at the moment, or even managing my expectations about what I can successfully complete. Getting back into my teaching after maternity leave (updating units to improve them, thinking about long term changes, remembering everything after an academic year off) has taken a lot of my energies this year but as designing and delivering teaching is a never ending task, there comes a time when it must no longer get in the way of my research activities.

My attention is on three main projects:

Social Justice in PETE

Following the creation of over 70 interviews with PETE and PESP faculty across the English speaking world, I have three papers to contribute to:

The knowledge base for social justice and socio-cultural issues in PETE…how do PETE and PESP faculty know what they know or believe to be social justice and socio-cultural issues? What professional development could be offered for teacher educators?

International perspectives on social justice in PETE…what is called social justice in different areas? How does local context affect what we see as social injustices and how to educate for social justice?

Whiteness in the PETE curriculum… prompted by the question generated by a student movement ‘why is my curriculum white?’, we examine the construction of curriculum on two PETE courses.

PE textbooks and children’s colouring books

Data collection and analysis is all complete for both elements (one on PE textbooks, one on colouring books) of this project so it is just (‘just’!) about editing and refining the text of both papers and ensuring sufficient theoretical basis and educational implications. I presented this work at BERA in September 2016 and more in depth in a research seminar at York St John in December 2016.

Student journeys: narratives in student experience

Over two academic years we are collecting interviews with Level 4 and 5 students on their journeys (geographical and metaphorical) to and through university to understand more about their dreams and intentions in coming to university and succeeding. We have carried out some interviews and observations and will be inviting participants to engage collaboratively in developing teaching and learning changes.

Announcing new project: Student Journeys: What is it like being a student?

Scholarship on social justice in education prompts questions concerning the purpose and culture of educational organisations that might (unknowingly) work to exclude some individuals or groups and furthermore that contemporary approaches to student recruitment and course design can result in alienation for students from learning. We propose to consider how we might contribute to creating and maintaining socially just learning environments and experiences for our students, paying attention to how the hidden curriculum within existing structures of teaching and learning, indeed, within the geographical and cultural spaces of higher education, might affect students’ approaches to their learning and their experiences across the campus.

While debating the challenges of engaging and retaining students in their learning, University of Bedfordshire staff were aware that we have limited knowledge of how our increasingly diverse body of students holistically experience and understand University life (both the more ‘formal’ teaching strategies and curriculum executed by the instructor/University and ‘informal’ extra-curricular activities and spaces engaged by students), and the diverse role Higher Education plays in their lives. UoB students in the department of Sport Science and Physical Activity are diverse in terms of ethnicity, socio-economic status and geographical origin. We also recruit a number of ‘non-traditional’ students through widening participation. A number of students choose to remain living at home, commuting daily to the University.  Additionally, some of the sport courses have a heavy weighting towards male students, which can affect the experiences and retention of female students.

Our project therefore is to launch a research programme aimed at exploring, through an innovative ethnographic/qualitative action research approach, a range of our student’s perceptions of, and identification with, their University experiences as understood from their own culturally and socially grounded standpoints.

The research element of the project incorporates multi-method qualitative inquiry among L4 and L5 cohorts and includes insider interviews, focus groups, participant observation and auto-ethnographies to investigate:

  • Student identities: What is it like being a student at UoB?
  • Student journeys: Identify the geographical, cultural and emotional dimensions shaping and defining students ‘Higher Education Journeys’ to, in and around University
  • Student narratives: Understand the holistic role and importance of both ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ University provision in shaping students’ perceptions of, and identification with, their University experiences
  • Teaching and Learning insights: How we can tap into students’ values in order to activate behaviour change toward increased levels of engagement.

Student participants/co-researchers are sought to begin the inquiry and to develop plans for shaping teaching/learning and informal experiences.

If you are a UoB student and would like to be involved, contact: joanne.hill@beds.ac.uk
This project is run by Dr Joanne Hill and Dr Alex Stewart. It is possible thanks to a University of Bedfordshire Teaching and Learning Enhancement Grant.

Listening to ‘during the break’ discussion at conferences

Is what we value about conferences not the scheduled speakers, but the dialogue during question time and in the coffee breaks?

As audience at academic conferences, we sit down to listen to speakers present, we have an opportunity to ask questions, and we have breaks during which we might discuss the presentations. Conferences might audio-visually record speakers for an archive or to share their ideas, and individual audience members might make notes on the presentations for our own use, might discuss what interesting or controversial topics we heard. However, usually nothing of the ‘during the break’ elements of a conference is recorded and the very nature of a conference – the opportunity for dialogue – is not retained as part of the record of the conference.

In the last few years the notion of ‘back channel’ at conferences – sharing content and developing ongoing conversations online, beyond the speakers at the podium – has grown (McCarthy and boyd, 2005; McCarthy et al., 2004), with much of the impetus for this development arising from microblogging and social media sites such as Twitter (Ross et al., 2011). These enquiries have largely emerged in computer science and have aimed to understand the potential of social media to enhance conference experiences and increase speakers’ social networks.

However, this skims over the valuable face-to-face conversations happening during the gaps between presentations on the day: among audience members in the queue for coffee or lunch, and between audience and speakers during the question time following a presentation. Presentations are used to share thoughts and create dialogue. In these spaces, speakers’ presentations prompt insights, additions, reflection and debate among audience members.

I attempted to research the value that ‘during the break’ discussion at conferences can provide, but beyond the social media-based research cited above, it was surprisingly difficult to find writing on the importance of sustaining conversation or learning beyond listening to the speakers. Conferences as an opportunity for collaboration can have significant value in pushing one’s own academic research forward and opening up new avenues. There are academic conversations regarding future research, collaborations and suggestions of reading, but it might be the personal/political conversations that generate so much. The extension and development of speakers’ subject matter by audiences (in dialogue with the speakers) during the breaks is a vital part of conferences, not least for demonstrating the value of multiple voices in creating and shaping dialogue within and beyond academia.

 

McCarthy, J. F. and boyd, d.m. 2005. Digital backchannels in shared physical spaces: experiences at an academic conference. CHI ’05 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, April 02-07, 2005, Portland, OR, USA. (pp. 1641-1644).

McCarthy, J. F., McDonald, D. W., Soroczak, S., Nguyen, D. H., and Rashid, A. M. 2004. Augmenting the social space of an academic conference. Proceedings of the 2004 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work, November 06-10, 2004, Chicago, Illinois, USA (pp. 39-48).

Ross, C., Terras, M., Warwick, C., and Welsh, A. 2011. Enabled backchannel: Conference Twitter use by digital humanists. Journal of Documentation67(2), 214-237.

 

Social justice in teaching and the value of caring

There are many nice things about doing research with other people but one of the best things about being part of a group is the possibility of reflecting on your progress and sharing the responses you have to what participants tell you.

I was doing just this one evening last week, 16th June 2016, as a member of my research group had shared how her students had responded to her telling them about an incident or a turn in her own life and experiences.

We are researching the place of social justice and socio-cultural issues in Physical Education Teacher Education programmes. I am in my share of the data generation phase in universities mainly in the UK at the moment (it’s an international project covering the USA and NZ as well). I replied to my research group to appreciate the story that had been shared and to express what value there is in doing work on social justice: it can be hard but energising – vital maybe. I said that a recent interview participant of mine had said something on these lines recently: we teach social justice because we just have to … it is about fairness in all aspects of life, not just in sport or physical education but because those fields feed into and from all our social worlds. Because we care and want a better world.

We were reflecting at the time on the aftermath of the Orlando shooting in the USA so our thoughts were geared towards how we can respond to these events and the hate that caused them in our teaching and research about social justice. I had also seen the news that day that MP Jo Cox had been attacked and was in hospital.

It’s not just an abstract concept, social justice; we are dealing with real lives and events, not political correctness. The personal stories make all the difference.

After I sent the email, I looked at the news and learnt that Jo Cox had died as a result of her injuries. The email conversation then seemed to mean so much more to me.

There are not always opportunities to tell our students we care nor might we often demonstrate it (emotional labour being something that might be sidelined in neoliberal academic practice) but one of the elements of teaching social justice and socio-cultural issues must be being a socially just and caring teacher. Addressing the ‘isms’ in education (Dodds, 1993) gets more complex all the time: no longer just sexism, racism and ablism but homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia affect teaching and learning in physical education, and then I can’t forget teaching about privilege: class, racial and male privilege, also British citizenship privilege and English speaking privilege seem important now.

I support the things Jo Cox stood for and worked hard for, though I didn’t know of her before 16th June. I am also REMAIN for the EU referendum. I have read so many powerful arguments for remaining over the last few days and cannot articulate it as well, so in brief. We are better as a part of the EU for our environment, our universities, our rights and because being part of something larger – not turning away from others – is important. Being in the EU isn’t just about immigration and refugees, but a lot of the words being expended around the referendum have been about those topics. While anyone’s individual vote to leave might not be xenophobic, that is what the leave campaign has been built on. Leave proposes a Britain that is insular and right wing (also, they aren’t going to spend any saved money on the NHS). I vote remain to say that the type of country I want is one that welcomes, connects, cares and works with other people across difference because this is part of social justice work to me.

Dodds, P. (1993). Removing the ugly ‘isms’ in your gym: Thoughts for teachers on equity. In Evans, J. (ed.) Equality, education and physical education, 28-39. London: Falmer Press

Body-positivity in dance: the importance of community

For World Ballet Day (1st October 2015), I talk about a recent research project carried out in London-based dance school Irreverent Dance, research that has been published as Hill, J., Sandford, R. and Enright, E. (2015). It has really amazed me what my body can now do’: boundary work and the construction of a body-positive dance community. Sport in Society. You can find the paper at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17430437.2015.1073946.

As a scholar of physical education and sport pedagogy, I am often on the look out for good examples of physical activity sites that offer something new for (future) teachers and coaches to learn from. It’s what can help guide developments in the ways physical education, sport and dance are taught. This led me to get in touch with Irreverent Dance, when it was coming up to a year old and offering mainly ballet classes. For me and my co-researchers, Irreverent Dance seemed to offer the sort of positive experiences and environments in physical activity that we were looking to learn from, in its challenging and alternative approaches to dance teaching and practice.

At the risk of starting on a negative point, traditional ballet teaching styles and spaces have often been considered a little exclusionary or marginalising of body sizes and shapes that don’t fit the expected in ballet. Amanda from Irreverent Dance writes here about her perspective on these aspects of ballet and why it is important to challenge them.

While there are many valuable things to say about the teaching styles found in Irreverent Dance, this piece (and the research behind it) concentrates on how the teachers and dancers worked to create a community – in and out of the studio and also online – that supported everyone in that space developing a greater sense of their own body capabilities: that is, how body positivity was encouraged. This idea, body positivity, is highlighted by Irreverent Dance in its promotional material as a central goal. Body positivity is becoming a popular idea that might counter the marginalising of anyone outside the norm. As a goal in sport and physical activity it could be useful alongside well-being, pleasure and other social or personal outcomes. So how does it work in practice? What do teachers or coaches need to do?

We sat in on some Irreverent Dance ballet classes and a showcase, and interviewed dancers and teachers, to find out what body positivity meant to them and how it was developed. Three things stood out to us:

1. Celebrating bodily capability

There was a high level of celebration of what bodies can do. This sense of achievement was expressed both in relation to specific ballet technique and in terms of general physical ability. Irreverent Dancers were able to develop their dancing ability at a pace they were comfortable with, progressing gradually through ballet grades and repeating terms if they wished. Even if the moves were not reproduced in a textbook fashion, the developments that learners had made were much more important. The learners’ reflections suggest that their understandings of the body as ‘not capable’ of doing something might have arisen in previous dance or movement experiences. Learners were instead actively encouraged to think ‘I can’ in Irreverent Dance. As a result, many felt that they could now own the identity of dancer. The community of Irreverent Dance worked hard to create a ‘freeing’ space, with a commitment to inclusion, respect and not judging others. From the first class, learners were asked to treat others and, importantly, themselves, in a positive manner.

2. Committing to gender neutrality

Alongside body positivity, another vital element of Irreverent Dance that appeared to have been built into the environment of the school was gender neutrality. Boundaries of gender in sport and physical activity are usually quite deep seated – separate competitions and classes for men and women, and distinct deals of masculine and feminine appearance or comportment. Irreverent Dance notes that traditional ballet expectations that men and women wear different outfits, different colours, do different dances and take on distinct roles can be quite limiting and normalising. Elements of dance that have typically gendered boundaries were addressed: for example, men were invited to learn to dance en pointe if they wished. Dancers commented that their perception of what their bodies could do developed positively, when heteronormative and cisnormative boundaries (in dance movement and performance) were eliminated.

3. Challenging ballet norms

A central element in the learning and community of ID was deconstructing ballet’s gender boundaries; challenging dominant notions about what gendered ballet bodies look like, what they should do and what progress must be made. Some learners reflected on how they had been looking for a dance class that would suit their ‘uncoordinated’, ‘geeky back of the class loner’ or ‘fat’ bodies. Ballet norms in the sense of technical requirements, language, music and dress styles were recognized but with gender norms being challenged or even removed, this meant that learners who would previously have not had access to ballet could find a space that was safe and positive for them.

Committing to these positions in a dance school might take a lot of work, as dancer habits can be difficult to shake off and the broader culture of ballet still promotes traditional and restrictive movements, clothing, and so on. By working together to ensure a respectful community, learning about having a positive attitude to your own and others’ bodies, identity and physical capabilities has become an integral part of Irreverent Dance, not just learning about ballet itself. In a way, this means that dancers can just learn about ballet, without worrying about how they fit in (or don’t).

My thanks again to the members of Irreverent Dance who shared their experiences.

Theoretically, this paper uses Bourdieu’s ideas of habitus and field to explore how Irreverent Dance and Dancers crossed, transformed or shifted boundaries of physical capability, gender and dance. We developed a methodology based on appreciative inquiry, a strengths-based, as opposed to deficits-based, approach to creating change.

Abstract

Boundaries around normative embodiments in physical cultures can be exclusionary if one’s embodied identity does not ‘fit’. Normative boundaries are particularly marked in codified forms of dance such as ballet. Moves towards body positivity aim to challenge these normative boundaries by redefining what dancers’ bodies can look like and how they should move. This paper stems from an appreciative inquiry undertaken with one such project, a gender-neutral, LGBTQ friendly adult ballet school in the UK; a subcultural context that marks itself as distinct from broader cultures of dance. Interviews with learners are analysed through a Bourdieuian lens to explore the construction and maintenance of a body-positive subculture. Findings suggest that boundaries of ability were crossed, with celebration of all bodies’ capabilities, and boundaries of normative gender expression were transformed through a commitment to gender-neutrality and LGBTQ-friendly behaviours. However, boundaries around technical and aesthetic norms, while shifted or challenged, ultimately remained in place.

New baby (blog vacation Autumn 2015)

Introducing my daughter Beatrix Ruby who arrived 26th August. While I take care of her I will be having a blogging vacation for a few months. There will be a couple of scheduled posts about my recent publications and research. Thanks for reading, catch you later!

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Visual methods with young people: encouraging creativity or bad photography?

I have just seen my final paper from my PhD project be accepted for publication, which offers me a chance to reflect back on the five publications that project prompted (all linked to at the end of this piece). It was a visual ethnography with secondary school students over one academic year, with students creating photo diaries of their engagement in physical activity (and also what they do when they are not active). The creative and participatory elements of this methodology gave me plenty to write about in these publications and I noted the additional insight into young people’s worlds that a photography project can provide – especially their lives outside of school or otherwise beyond the ethnographic site where we cannot physically go. I was also keen to share the participants’ photos as much as possible by reproducing representative pictures alongside the interview data we generated in talking about the photos and the participants’ experiences of physical activity. It felt important to share because this was something that the participants put time into making – and perhaps in some way it would work to deprivilege words in academic publication.

Participatory methods are often active or creative, and work to engage participants in the research process (Enright and O’Sullivan, 2012); they are a part of listening to and privileging student voice over doing research ‘on’ young people. For Gauntlett and Holzwarth (2006), visual creative methods are enabling, reflective, and a good starting point for examining identity and self.

What happens if participants engage with these methods but aren’t particularly … creative? What are we really looking for, something pretty or artistic or evocative?

There were indeed many wonderful photographs created by my participants, who wanted and were able to tell a story with or through their images. Examples include the boy I called Mitesh in Hill (2013 and 2015) who brought back more than 50 photos of his attempts in PE and out-of-school play to work on a body that would provide him with more status. It was really easy to decide to share some of these photos to add emotion to his verbal explanations. The visual was really powerful.

If this doesn’t happen, should we not bother reproducing the images in our publications?

In this project, of a total 539 photos created by the 25 participants, I received 78 photos of empty spaces, 75 photos of objects, and 112 self-portraits or snaps of friends. Many of them would not go in a photo album nor would they be chosen for an art exhibition. In short, they are not ‘great photography’.

Collectively, they contribute to telling stories about these young people’s engagement with and access to physical activity, its importance to them and how they try to fit it into their lives alongside school work, visiting family, relaxing with friends, worship and helping out at home. This side of the story showed that finding time for physical activity was difficult; it also showed that taking photos during physical activity is not always possible; and importantly the ‘storyless’ photos prompted some participants to explain that this was not all they did – they were able to talk about their other activities that the photos did not show. Photos in that sense provided elicitation, prompting further ‘feelings and memories’ as Douglas Harper has discussed (2002, p. 13).

I think the risk is that the ‘boring’ images that are not shared become the story not told, the hidden elements of the research project, and we might find ourselves at risk of not telling the whole story, simply because the data itself has little to ‘show’. This is obviously something that can happen with other forms of qualitative data, with mundane accounts or short answers possible in interviews. But I feel that there is still something to prove with creative methods, something that needs displaying to prove they are worthwhile forms of data generation, in the face of scepticism. I want to be proud of the project as a whole and that means reproducing elements of the data, not hiding it because my 13 year old participants had bad photography skills. In a journal publication where reproduction of four or five images might be possible, how do we make choices about what to show? If you claim to have used visual methods, but only reproduce the text or verbal data, that might render readers disappointed or confused as to what the visual data were for. In order not to privilege verbal accounts over visual, even if they are contradictory or less … instantly valuable? … the visual should, in my view, be shared.

Perhaps ultimately, this reflection contributes to calls for accessible datasets – provided we have ethically prepared for this – to let viewers see for themselves. Leonard and McKnight (2014, p. 2) highlight that the ‘seemingly mundane’ image is open to interpretation and might be seen differently by different viewers (citing Pink, 2007).

All data reproduction, whether from qualitative or quantitative projects, is a manipulation of the whole that will always involve some level of subjective decision making on what and how to present snippets of data in publication. In analysing and sharing data, researchers distill, shorten, concentrate, categorise – however you would like to call it – meaning that even the bad photography should be chosen if it contributes to emphasising the story or the decisions you’ve made for that publication.

References

Enright, E., & O’Sullivan, M. (2012). “Producing different knowledge and producing knowledge differently”: rethinking physical education research and practice through participatory visual methods. Sport, Education and Society, 17(1), 35–55.

Gauntlett, D., & Holzwarth, P. (2006). Creative and visual methods for exploring identities. Visual Studies, 21(1), 82–91.

Harper, D. (2002). Talking about pictures: a case for photo elicitation. Visual Anthropology, 17(1), 13–26.

Leonard, M., & McKnight, M. (2014). Look and tell: using photo-elicitation methods with teenagers. Children’s Geographies, 1–14. doi:10.1080/14733285.2014.887812

Pink, S. (2007). Doing visual ethnography: Images, media and representation in research. 2nd ed. London: Sage.

The five publications from this project

Hill, J. and Azzarito, L. (2012). Representing valued bodies in PE: a visual inquiry with British Asian girls. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 17(3), 263-276.
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17408989.2012.690381#.U5yyKfldWSo

Hill, J. (2013). Rejecting the weak Asian body: boys visualising strong masculinities. In L. Azzarito & D. Kirk (Eds.). Physical Culture, Pedagogies and Visual Methods, 76-91. Abingdon: Routledge. http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415532778/

Hill, J. (2013). Using participatory and visual methods to address power and identity in research with young people. Graduate Journal of Social Sciences, 10(2), 132-151.
http://gjss.org/images/stories/volumes/10/2/GJSS%20Vol%2010-2%20Hill.pdf

Hill, J. (2015) ‘If you miss the ball, you look like a total muppet!’ Boys investing in their bodies in physical education and sport. Sport, Education and Society 20(6), 762-779. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13573322.2013.820695#.U15a1VVdWiw

Hill, J. Girls’ active identities: navigating othering discourses of femininity, bodies and physical education. Gender and Education 27 (6), 666-684. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09540253.2015.1078875#.V2RNQrsrLIU

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