Wednesday 4 September 2019

Enriching Secondary Physical Education with Social Media - #active365 and Results of a Thesis

Submitted by: Lisa Taylor, Calgary Board of Education and Friends of HPEC Grant Recipient

As a high school teacher, I found my students were constantly on their smartphones; they were texting, taking “selfies” and using social media.  In 2015 I decided that I needed to find a way to use this popular technology to get students even more engaged in physical activity in my physical education (PE) classes.  The #active365 program was born!

What is #active365?
The #active365 progam is an optional program that I designed for my PE students.  I informed students that if they took a photo of themselves being active for at least 20 minutes outside of school hours, with a short description of what they were doing in the photo (if it was not otherwise obvious) as well as “#active365” to allow for the use of hashtag functionality search options within social media, they could send their photo post to me via social media for marks (which fit within our PE assessment rubric for comprehensively demonstrating the Alberta Learning (2000) PE curriculum outcome D10-1: students will “demonstrate a commitment to an active lifestyle through participation in and out of class”, and outcome D20-1 & D30-1: students will “model an active lifestyle“).  The program was based on the premise that once students graduate from high school they should be active every day for at least 20 minutes (following the World Health Organization recommended 150 minutes per week for adults, divided by 7 days per week, equalling approximately 21 minutes).  Submissions were accepted based on an honesty policy, knowing that even if my students were not active for the full 20 minutes and merely took a photo in front of a soccer field with a ball (for example), they were still identifying how they could be active within their community as part of an active lifestyle. 

My own experience with #active365.
I ran the #active365 program over the course of 3 semesters with 5 separate classes using applications including Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram.  As few as 12% of students in one class and as many as 50% in another bought in and sent me photos of themselves being active. My students sent me images of their activity in dance classes, badminton practice, biking, hiking, kickboxing, running, lifting weights, walking their dog, walking to the bus stop, playing lacrosse, getting ready for water polo, disc golf, officiating hockey as well as a number of other activities.  It was a wonderful window into my students’ independent physical literacy journeys! The best part was that I got to know my students much better as the #active365 program fostered an opportunity for great conversations in class and therefore improved my student-teacher relationships. The #active365 program also informed my practice, helped me with report card comments, and held me accountable as a role model as I took on 20 minutes of daily physical activity and posted on social media as well.  

Thesis focus: #active365
Having found success in engaging students in the #active365 program in my own classes, I wanted to find out if this program could work for other PE teachers as well.  As a master’s student, I decided to make the #active365 program the focus for my thesis. I engaged 2 dedicated Alberta (AB) PE teachers (“Teacher A” who used a PE 20/30 class in the study and “Teacher B” who used grade 8, 9 and 10 PE and health classes in the study) for the duration of one semester (approximately 4 months) and used data from social media posts, a preliminary questionnaire, brief field notes regarding the beginning of their journeys, as well as a one on one interview at the end of the study to formulate four main themes: 1) social media can support the achievement of secondary level PE outcomes; 2) social media can help improve student/teacher communication and relationships; 3) students can demonstrate resistance to social media program adherence; and 4) age or grade level can affect social media student participation.

1. Supporting PE outcome achievement. Teacher A received active photo posts from 50% of his PE 20/30 students. With an interest in using social media as a platform, Teacher A also worked to engage his students in a variety of other AB PE outcomes as well, such as those targeting body image, performance enhancing substances, and issues related to physical activity among other topics that he perceived to be more difficult to achieve through physical activity in class. Via a public Facebook page or private Google classroom submission, 100% of Teacher A’s students bought in and were awarded grades if they demonstrated the achievement of those targeted PE outcomes.  A number of other studies have also demonstrated that social media can support learning as an extension of the classroom (Al-Dheleai & Tasir, 2017; Becker & Bishop, 2016; Daniels & Billingsley, 2014; Graham, 2014; Krutka, Nowell, & Whitlock, 2017, Loomis, 2018). Teacher B received active photo posts from 30% of his students. He used social media platforms including Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, as well as Google Classroom. He found that the students who posted #active365 photos were top grade earning students who didn’t need a mark boost and therefore were not awarded grades. 

2. Improving student/teacher relationships.  Improved communication with students led to improved relationships between students and teachers.  Teacher A indicated that using social media as an extension of his PE class invoked conversation which helped strengthen relationships with students.  Teacher B found that students were less shy to communicate with him as they conversed about their #active365 posts with pride. He perceived an increase in student confidence and discovered new aspects to students.  Improved communication or relationship development through social media has been found in a variety of studies (Balcikanli, 2012; Chen & Chen, 2012; Krutka et al, 2017; Nowell, 2014).

3. Student resistance to program adherence.  Both Teacher A and B found that getting students to post was a struggle at times. Teacher A found himself often commenting to push student thinking past “yes” or “no” answers in response to his evolved question and comment style posts on social media.  Teacher B indicated that he used a number of strategies to encourage the students to post active photos including providing reminders in class, hanging posters with program related information around the school, role modeling desired behaviour, doing selfies with students in class, and offering all requested social media applications to students.

4. The impact of grade level or age.  Teacher B indicated that a few of his students’ parents prohibited their child from using social media.  Furthermore, Teacher B also found that a few parents did not allow their child to be posted online in association with the school whatsoever.  However, Teacher A did not experience any limitations or restrictions set by the parents of his grade 11 and 12 students. Teacher B also found it difficult to assign marks or improved grades to students for work demonstrated online as the #active365 program was not mandatory, took place outside of the classroom, and not all students participated.  However, Teacher A did not experience any difficulties assigning improved grades when students demonstrated outcomes using social media. This may have been due to a difference in grading systems (for example, 4 point scale grading versus percentage grading) or adding a separate grade book task for social media work as opposed to considering social media as an extension of the classroom where no additional tasks need to be created in a grade book.  There is a lack of literature comparing grade levels or age when assigning marks for course work demonstrated through social media.

Additional Benefits to Incorporating Social Media in PE
Along with the four themes mentioned above, a number of student benefits were also noted in reviewing the data from the study as well as the literature related to the themes.  First, when publicly posting thoughts on social media regarding question and answer style posts, as done with Teacher A’s students, students stand to gain a more in-depth understanding of outcomes when their opinions are challenged (Daniels & Billingsley, 2014; Loomis, 2018).  Second, with Teacher B, students were educated on some of the differences between posting publicly or privately on social media including the potential long-term impact of posting information or images publicly; something Feng and Xie (2014) advocate is especially important for less experienced social media users.  Third, when students post online, they can take time to formulate responses as opposed to being put on the spot to answer during class (Loomis, 2018). Fourth, when students use social media to be active, they communicate that healthy behaviour to their online peers, which can be positively influential as teens tend to mimic their peers (Wouters & Greenen, 2013).  Lastly, students can benefit from using technology that is typically correlated with sedentary behaviour and a decrease in wellness (Barkley & Lepp, 2016; Kenny & Gortmaker, 2017; Marques, Calmeiro, Loureiro, Frasquilho, & de Matos, 2015; Mitchell, Pate, & Blair, 2012) to be active!

Limitations from the Study

First, the results of this study were based on the experience of 2 Alberta PE teachers.  While these two cases give insight as to how a social media program such as #active365 can work in a PE class, they can not generalize what all teachers might experience taking on a similar endeavour.  Second, students did not directly participate in the study and therefore all results were informed by teacher and researcher perceptions of the data. Third, Teacher A’s PE 20/30 class was made up of predominantly male students (26 boys and 2 girls) which may have impacted the engagement of students as females are often more involved in social media than boys (Ahn, 2011; Feng & Xie, 2014; Sampasa-Kanyinga & Chaput, 2016; Van Kessel, Kavanagh, & Maher, 2016). 

Recommendations for Teachers
If you are interested in bringing social media into your PE class, consider the following recommendations.  First, be flexible. Students may like to engage using different social media applications, others may prefer to email you an image or simply show a photo to you in class.  Second, consider focusing your social media work on outcomes that your students can benefit from most and use this opportunity to target outcomes that may be more difficult to achieve in class.  Third, consider educating your students on the differences between private and public social media posts and the long term impact of publicly posting photos and content online.

For any teachers interested in setting up #active365 in their classes, feel free to contact me via Twitter @lisamptaylor with any questions.  Furthermore, you can access a Start-up Guide and Program Poster by clicking on the links below. 

#active365 PE Teacher Start-up Guide:
#active365 Program Poster:

PE 10/20/30
Interested in bonus marks?

Happy Tweeting/InstaGramming/SnapChatting!

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