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Otago announces new Dean of School of Physical Education 


Friday 1 December 2017 12:30pm

Otago announces Associate Professor Chris Button as the new Dean of the School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Science. (Photo Sharron Bennett).

Associate Professor Chris Button says his “healthy obsession” with physical activity will be a driving force in his new role as Dean of Otago’s School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences.

Dr Button came to Otago from Edinburgh in 2003 because then-Dean Keith Davids – who was also his PhD supervisor in the UK – described the School, the University and life in New Zealand in such glowing terms that moving “felt like a very easy decision”.

“I liked that I was coming to a School that had a long and prestigious reputation, and that the staff had a holistic and grounded perspective of science and physical education,” Dr Button says.

Research interests

Since then, much of his research and teaching has concerned the use and application of technology to aid skill acquisition, and how its use promotes physical activity.

A current project using active video games to assess and develop children’s movement competency typifies the “applied interdisciplinary” approach he values in research.

Similarly, his work on water safety is motivated by the well-publicised issue “that New Zealand has a disproportionally high number of drowning and water-related accidents.”

Understanding how complex issues and factors combine to increase risk could help inform policy and practitioners, and help reduce the number of preventable drownings, he says.

Dr Button describes seeing “real-world applications of research” – he cites collaborative initiatives with High Performance Sport and Water Safety New Zealand, and consultancy work with Snowsports NZ, Netball NZ, NZ Football, and Motorsport NZ – as among the most rewarding career projects.

“Quite rightly, academics are expected to demonstrate the impact of their work in numerous areas. Whether it is in the education, medical, recreation or rehabilitation sectors, I think Otago has an awful lot to contribute in terms of knowledge and skills.

“The School has always excelled in the ‘applied’ field, and I expect this to continue because our staff and students have an uncanny knack for recognising practical applications in their scholarly activities – it is this quality that arguably sets us apart from other institutions nationally and internationally.”

In addition to teaching papers at all undergraduate levels and supervising postgraduate students, Dr Button is an Executive Committee member of the Australasian Skill Acquisition Research Group, and is an Associate Editor of the European Journal of Sport Science and an editorial advisor for Frontiers in Psychology.

Future directions

As Dean, Associate Professor Button says he will prioritise maintaining and growing the School’s reputation as a world-class research institute.

The 2017 QS World University rankings confirm that Otago is New Zealand’s leading teaching and research university in Sport and Exercise Sciences. Its seventh place global ranking of 1,127 universities worldwide – based on national and international academic reputation, research and reputation of graduates amongst employers – made it the highest ranking department at any New Zealand university.

But reflecting on these recent accolades should not detract from discussion on the Schools’ future direction, and the need to innovate in an increasingly competitive sector.

Since Otago’s PE School began instructing students 70 years ago, the number of tertiary providers offering the subject has “increased dramatically.”

“Whilst I am deeply respectful of the School’s long history, and its achievements, we must now consider very closely what physical education, sport and exercise sciences will look like in the future.

“While we still want to help create excellent PE teachers, we recognise that vocational opportunities in this sector are changing rapidly. Graduates might work in a number of areas, including as personal trainers, rehabilitation therapists, event organisers and wellness consultants, and it is our responsibility to equip them with the skills required in these various, dynamic workplaces.”

Dr Button says existing world-leading research programmes within the School – such as Te Koronga, the BEATS study, and the EXPINKT™ clinic – show the potential exists to increase the School’s involvement in similar initiatives in future.

“I also want to refresh our curriculum and reconnect with our external stakeholders in a meaningful way. I am particularly excited about the development of new undergraduate programmes that the School looks forward to offering in the near future. These new qualifications will attract excellent students to Dunedin and I’m confident that – like me – they will never regret their decision to come here.”

Dr Button says strong leadership, a clear sense of direction and resilience will help the School navigate through this transitional period.

“I am fortunate to have inherited an incredibly talented and passionate group of academics to work with. Taking on the position of Dean is without doubt the biggest challenge I’ve faced in my career thus far but I feel very proud and grateful to have been given this opportunity.”

Physical activity and exercise also features in Dr Button’s life outside of academia, and he hopes his “body will hold out” so he can enjoy a few more years playing and coaching football.

“I must confess I never stop thinking about physical activity! Whether it’s cycling into work along the beautiful Otago Peninsula, playing football or going camping with my wife and daughter, I take every possible opportunity I can to move and try new things.

“I also enjoy coaching my daughter’s football team. It challenges me to practice what I preach to students.”

Praise from PVC Professor Richard Barker

Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Sciences), Professor Richard Barker says he is delighted with the appointment of Associate Professor Chris Button to the role of Dean of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences.

“Chris is a strong all-around academic whose research on movement coordination and skill learning has important applications in sport and also water safety and survival skills. He has been the recipient of several research grants from organisations such as SportNZ, ACC, and Water Safety New Zealand emphasising the impact that Chris’ research has for New Zealand communities.”

Professor Doug Booth

“Chris’ collaborative leadership style has been evident as the School has been working through the complexities of a redesigned curriculum, and his enthusiasm for the school’s growth will undoubtedly instil certainty and confidence during this time of change”.

Professor Barker also thanks outgoing Dean Professor Doug Booth for his valued contribution to the school, division and university.

“Doug is a well-respected member of the sciences community. He began his time at Otago as a lecturer in social history of sports at the School of Physical Education in 1994, before moving to the University of Waikato as a Professor of Sport and Leisure Studies in 2004. He returned to the University of Otago to take up the position as Dean of the School of Physical Education in November 2007. Doug was instrumental in the school’s name change in 2015, to the School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences to better reflect the breadth of the curriculum.”

“I wish him well with his future endeavours.”

A list of Otago experts available for media comment is available elsewhere on this website.

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