A new study on walking classrooms (but I do have some issues with the study)

True story: one of the very first classes I ever thought was inspired by the ancient times and was performed (in part) walking through the corridors of an old monastery close to the teacher training department. Based on this new research that I found via @jellejolles I now could tell that I was a visionair. This new study seems to show that walking classrooms seems to better for not only for students’ physical health, but also for classroom engagement. But do read also my comments after the press release, because I do have some issues with this story.

From the press release:

What began in a response to a physical activity challenge for the computer science faculty at KTH has become a study in how education and fitness can be combined to improve both physical well-being, and classroom discussions.

University lecturer Olle Bälter improvised his “walking seminar” in media technology at KTH during the spring of 2014, in response to a competition in which staff were recording the number of hours they and their students spent sitting, as opposed to being active.

Taking his group of 10 students for a stroll through a wooded park near the Stockholm campus, Bälter immediately began to see results.

“Students feel freer to talk when they are outdoors than when they are in the classroom,” Bälter says. His experience seemed consistent with a paper that he cites as an inspiration — a Stanford University study linking creativity with physical activity.

Now Bälter and his colleagues are adding their experience to the body of knowledge supporting more activity in education. In an article presented at the Lund Institute of Technology eighth pedagogical inspiration conference in December, Bälter and coauthors Björn Hedin and Helena Tobiasson reported that a significant majority of the students surveyed preferred the walk seminars over traditional seminars.

Notably, 21 of 23 students surveyed said that after the workshops they felt better than after typical, sedentary seminars; and no one thought they felt worse. Furthermore, 17 of the 23 students believed that communication was better.

“It is noticeable how much easier it is for individual students to express their views on these walking seminars, particularly when the class is split into smaller groups,” Bälter says.

Second-year student Frida Haugsbakk agrees. “Everyone chipped in, even those who were too shy to speak in larger groups,” he says. “On the walk, students can address another student directly, while the others simply listen and enter the discussion later on.”

Normally I would link now to the published study and give you the abstract, but there isn’t one yet and I’m not sure if there ever will be one, because I do have my doubts about the quality of this study.

Off course, it’s only based on the few elements in the press release, but these are some of the issues I have:

  • immediate result? This could be because of the Hawthorn effect, because something new happens, not because of what is happening.
  • The study is based on  self-reports, with the students almost surely knowing what is being researched.
  • It’s a rather small group, no control-group,…

In fact the only thing we can tell for sure is that the students tell us they had a good time. We’re not even sure if they are telling the truth, because e.g. they didn’t want to hurt the feelings of their professor.

Does this mean that it isn’t true that physical activity can help learning? No, we know this from many other studies, check e.g. here, here or here.

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