When fitness bands become student–tracking devices
A "nightmarish" vision of a future in which technology makes physical education more boring, judgmental and narrow is driving a new study by a University of Queensland academic.
The project stems from the assumption that developments in digital technology present exciting educational opportunities but carry a new set of philosophical, educational and ethical questions and dilemmas.
"Will we leverage the power of digital technology to expand student's minds and open up choices about how to live, or will we use it to monitor students' behaviour and tell them how to live?" Dr Gard said.
"For example, much of the health-related technology that we are seeing involves asking children to count the calories they consume or expend when they are exercising. Is this this what we want students to be doing at school?
"There is a lot of money to be made from digitising school health and physical education and, make no mistake, companies are already vigorously marketing all kinds of health and fitness technologies to schools.
"Then you have the whole 'big data' concern about how your child's records are used."
The recipient of a $177,000 Australian Research Council Discovery Grant for the study, Dr Gard is collaborating with academics in Canberra, Melbourne and Illinois, USA.
One aspect of the research sure to raise interest is the potential impact on the career prospects of health and physical education teachers.
"You see gyms already that have replaced human staff with digital screens which either instruct the class or measure the output of the participants," Dr Gard said.
"Similar things are happening in school physical education programs in the United States.
"Do we need to send someone to university for three-to-four years if they are there merely to over-see children using technology?
"And if you could train a health and physical education teacher in a matter of months, what would that mean for their pay scale?
"Then think of a perfect storm, where performance pay for health and physical education teachers is linked to children losing weight, and you introduce some very tricky ethical situations. Once again, some American states are moving in this direction."
The study will also investigate how schools use digital technology to measure students, such as their BMI (body mass index), and what becomes of the data once collected.