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Training ground

The School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences provides a comprehensive programme of teaching and research, reflecting the growing importance of the sports and exercise industry. It is now launching an endowment fundraising campaign to further extend its research and outreach activities.

Long gone are the days when the School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences was preoccupied with training phys-ed teachers, but perceptions persist.

It is one of the reasons why the School of Physical Education – founded by Philip Smithells in 1948 as a diploma course for physical education teacher training – expanded its name in 2013.

The Dean of the School, Professor Doug Booth, explains that the new name better captures the diversity of teaching and research undertaken today.

“We teach everything from anatomy to physiology, from biomechanics to psychology, from dance to history. We're interested in human movement, broadly conceived; we are trying to give the students a holistic approach to human movement.”

Booth notes that, in the process, the school maintains close links with other disciplines across the University.

“What we are doing is taking parent disciplines such as physiology and saying, 'How do we apply these to human movement?' or 'How do we apply sociology, or marketing, or nutrition to sport?”

Physical-education students take papers in other departments and students from other disciplines take advantage of the specialist teaching in the School. Booth cites the examples of neuroscience students studying motor and sensory rehabilitation, and management students taking sport management courses.

Booth explains that the school's development reflects the huge growth in the sport and recreation industry over the past few decades.

“The real growth spurt took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the sport and recreation industry really began to develop.

“The sports bureaucracy has grown immensely. There are national sports organisations, and regional and community trusts. There is also greater diversity in physical activity; there are classes and activities for the aged, and people requiring rehabilitation. A lot of our students pursue those areas.” Only about a quarter of current students go into teaching.

Booth says that the Bachelor of Physical Education degree has been designed and structured to enhance knowledge of these diverse fields.

“Although other places offer variations of our degree programme, one of the things that makes us distinct is the breadth of our programme. We require everyone to do a component of exercise science, social science, dance, outdoor education and Māori physical concepts.”

Students are able to major in exercise and sports science, physical activity and health, professional studies, and sport and leisure studies. Otago also provides postgraduate degrees in physical education, sport and technology, outdoor education and dance studies.

“The staff take their teaching very seriously and they are very good at it,” Booth says. “They get excellent feedback and student evaluations, and that extends into our postgraduate supervision and mentorship.”
He says that the research undertaken by staff and postgraduate students is as diverse as the teaching.

“Research undertaken by staff includes not just blue skies research, but practical research involving clinical populations. We have a motor development clinic for children with motor control difficulties and clinics for cancer survivors. And we are undertaking research into cardiac rehabilitation. Much of this work means advising people of the value of physical activity.

“In the past few years, the notion of exercise as medicine has become prevalent. The school is at the fore of this development. A simple walk can produce better health benefits than getting a pill from the doctor. It teaches people more about their bodies and about the environment, another critical element of well-being.”

Booth adds that the school is particularly pleased with its achievements in performance-based research funding.

“Academic peers recognise the quality of the school's research and its contribution to knowledge across a whole range of areas.”

The six staff research briefs (below) well illustrate the breadth of research undertaken within the school.

The teaching and research are supported by the school's laboratories, which include some of the most advanced equipment and facilities available anywhere in the world, to teachers, researchers and students of physical education. Among them are an environmental chamber, strength-testing laboratory, a motion-analysis system and an aqua flume.

The school's alumni includes a who's who of New Zealand sport: international representatives Anton Oliver and Farah Palmer (rugby); Lynn Gunson, Anna Stanley and Adine Wilson (netball); Pat Barwick and Suzie Pearce (hockey) and Suzie Bates (cricket); along with respected coaches such as Robyn Broughton, Leigh Gibbs, Graham Henry and Jamie Joseph; and sports administrator Kereyn Smith, the Secretary General of the New Zealand Olympic Committee.

Endowment campaign

The School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences is launching a fundraising campaign to establish a five-year $5 million endowment fund.

The fund will support the school in its commitment to expanding research capacity and extending community outreach to help those who will most benefit from increased physical activity and movement.
It will also support a new School of Physical Education Research Fellowship.

To find out more about the fundraising campaign and/or to contribute, please contact Professor Doug Booth at the School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences.

Phone: +64 3 479 8995

The great outdoors

Associate Professor Mike Boyes is passionate about research on outdoor education and outdoor recreation.
He is particularly interested in research on teaching and learning in the outdoors, outdoor leadership and participation by older people in outdoor adventures.
His current research projects embrace children and safety management, the experience of time in the outdoors, outdoor education and the social exchange of emotional support, the roles of intuition and analysis in outdoor decision-making, and the social risks of adventure sports.
Boyes has completed funded research projects for various professional and national bodies, including New Zealand Outward Bound, the Spirit of Adventure Trust, the International Sail Training Association, the New Zealand Outdoor Instructors' Association, SPARC, the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council and the World Wildlife Trust.

Young people's health

Professor Lisette Burrows' research focuses on understanding the place and meaning of health and physical culture in young people's lives.
She analyses curricula, policies, pedagogies and interview material to test everyday assumptions about what young people are like and what they need or desire in terms of health and physical education.
She is especially interested in how broader health policies and issues such as obesity shape what happens in the name of health and physical education in schools.
She also has an abiding interest in the ways families are increasingly positioned as culpable for young people's health.
Burrows recently became the first female professor of physical education in New Zealand.

Water safety

Associate Professor Chris Button immerses himself in research on water safety education, sometimes literally.
His recent funded research projects include one on behalf of Water Safety New Zealand on the benefits of training inexperienced swimmers in surviving sudden, unanticipated immersion in cold water, which accounts for about 60 per cent of deaths from drowning in New Zealand.
Button continues the school's long history in water safety education, in which it has helped to train many thousands of students over the years in its aquatics programmes, and conducted many important research projects on water safety topics.
He says that, in recent years, the school's unique and famous aquatic flume has been busier than ever and staff members are generating new, cutting-edge knowledge through its use.

Māori health

Dr Anne-Marie Jackson's research is centred on supporting the hopes and aspirations of Māori communities within Māori physical education and health.
She focuses on the importance of Māori worldview, the Treaty of Waitangi and Kaupapa Māori theory.
Alongside her colleague, Dr Hauiti Hakopa, she fosters Māori research excellence through a research group called Te Koronga, in which they are growing the next generation of scholars who research on Māori topics.
She says that their postgraduate students are able to firmly stand with their feet in two worlds and contribute directly to the communities they work with.
Jackson believes that there is a wide gap between universities and Māori communities, but she remains optimistic that research like hers and that of the school's research students is closing the gap.

Exercise and cancer

Dr Lynnette Jones' specialist research area is in exercise oncology.
This includes evaluating the use of exercise training to prevent or relieve the physiological and functional effects of treatment on the cardiovascular system, physical fitness and muscle strength in breast cancer survivors.
She is also researching the underlying mechanisms by which chemotherapy might lead to cardiovascular dysfunction.
Much of the research is undertaken with breast cancer survivors attending the Exercise Training Beyond Breast Cancer clinic: a programme she designed to provide survivors with an individually tailored and monitored exercise programme.
Jones believes that a well-prepared exercise practitioner needs a well-rounded education that integrates theory with practice, and that the experience students receive while working with clients in a supervised exercise setting provides that opportunity.

Active living and health

Dr Sandra Mandic is particularly interested in research in physical activity and health, and cardiac rehabilitation.
She currently leads the Built Environment and Active Transport to School (BEATS) study, which examines “active transport” (walking and cycling) to school in adolescents.
This multidisciplinary study involves multisector collaborations among Dunedin secondary schools, the city council, the local communities and academia.
Mandic says that with all 12 secondary schools in Dunedin participating, the study provides a unique sample of students and parents across one city with a varied physical environment.
She says that the findings will enable community health promoters, policy makers and city planners to address barriers to active transport to schools, encourage active transport, and create supportive environments in which to promote it.
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