Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Creating Physical Education in Remote Australian Schools: Overcoming the Tyranny of Distance through Communities of Practice

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Creating Physical Education in Remote Australian Schools: Overcoming the Tyranny of Distance through Communities of Practice

Article excerpt

This paper reports on a qualitative case study undertaken in a remote part of Queensland, Australia. While there is some modest agreement about the capacity of contemporary information technologies to overcome the problems of schooling in areas of extreme remoteness, generally, children educated in such contexts are considered to be disadvantaged. The experiential areas of the curriculum, which often require specific teaching expertise, present the greatest challenge to teachers, and of these, physical education is perhaps the most problematic. This research reports on a case study of three remote Queensland multi-age primary (elementary) schools that come together to form a community of practice to overcome the problems of teaching physical education in such difficult circumstances. Physical education is constructed in these contexts by blurring the school and community boundaries, by contextualizing the subject content to make it relevant, and by adjusting the school day to accommodate potential physical education experiences. Each community gathers its collective experience to ensure the widest possible experiences are made available for the children. In doing so, the children develop a range of competencies that enable seamless transition to boarding high schools.


While there has been some debate as to the extent to which living in remote or isolated communities constrains opportunities and facilities readily available to children in more urban environments (Patterson & Pegg, 1999), generally, research signals an association between isolated community living and disadvantage in terms of health, economic stability and education (Australian Council of Deans of Education, 2001; Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 2000; National Board of Employment, Education and Training (NBEET), 1991; Robson, 1993; Scott, 1993).

In terms of education, limited equipment, facilities, and professional development opportunities, compounded by economic constraints are some of the issues facing educators, parents, and community members living in remote areas of Australia. Although computer mediated technology has been proposed as one solution to overcome the isolation (d'Plesse, 1993; Stevens & Mason, 1994), it may offer little assistance for teaching physical education and encouraging physical activity in remote schools or communities (cf. Baills & Rossi, 2001). Inadequate professional support for teachers, particularly in settings where no physical education specialist is available, is of concern particularly given an increasing societal concern for the health and activity status of young people and corresponding calls for schools, and physical education, to be part of the solution (Motley, Rossi, & King, 2005; Australian Sports Commission, 2005). As such, attention to how physical education might be fostered in isolated settings is warranted in order for educational institutions to find ways to support teachers and communities in creating healthy citizens.

This paper presents a case study of a school-related event in order to illustrate the ways a group of educators, working in isolated school settings, fostered community relations which in turn supported the provision of a locally situated physical education curriculum responsive to students' interests, experiences and needs. We draw upon Wenger's (1998) notion of communities of practice to make sense of the social processes through which the educators, parents, and town citizens work to encourage health and active living.

In what follows we elaborate on our use of Wenger's concepts, key terminology, contextual details of the case, data collection, and methods and analysis. Then, we discuss our findings regarding the educators' efforts to foster collaborative practices in building communities. In particular we focus on the educators' use of asset rather than deficit logic (see Morgan & Ziglio, 2007 and Willeto, 2007 for good discussions of asset vs deficit logic) as well as their willingness to blur boundaries between school and community. …

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