Using the meaningful physical education features as a lens to view student experiences of democratic pedagogy in higher education

Lynch, Shrehan and Sargent, Julia (2020). Using the meaningful physical education features as a lens to view student experiences of democratic pedagogy in higher education. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 25(6) pp. 629–642.



Background: Higher education (HE) physical education (PE) can provide opportunities for students to develop meaning(s) and values towards movement experiences. However, it is an under researched area in the educational sphere and little is known about what or how students find, meaningful movement. While there has been increasing interest in the features of meaningful PE, few studies have explored how they relate to students’ experiences of movement in the context of HE or indeed the meaning held for certain features such as ‘fun’. In seeking to address this gap, the purpose of this article was to explore what university students found meaningful in PE.
Method: Using data from a larger digital ethnographic study, this research featured six students studying a university PE class taught by an educator with a sociocultural perspective towards education and movement. Digital video narratives and reflective essays served as qualitative data and were analysed using collaborative thematic analysis.
Findings: Four themes are described in relation to students’ meaningful experiences. These are (a) meaningful PE is fun and contains elements of delight, (b) meaningful PE is a combination of fun and challenge (c) meaningful PE develops motor competency in personally relevant areas, and (d) meaningful PE is a social and personally relevant experience. Our findings demonstrated the interlinking nature of meaningful PE features and, specifically, how they are embodied by higher education students.
Conclusion: We argue that students can have meaningful PE experiences, even when educators do not plan for them. Furthermore, the features of meaningful PE, particularly in relation to ‘fun’ can extend to university settings. Moreover, sociocultural educators with a clear vision for classes can contribute to students developing foundational beliefs towards movement. This is exhibited through employing democratic pedagogies such as high levels of reflection and goal setting.

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