Physical Education and Research Grand Challenges

An AIESEP Research Fellow recently stated in a presentation to graduate students that, “not all research questions are made equal”. For those of us who have mentored students in developing research questions this is often a truism, with the finalized research question often dictated by pragmatic considerations such as the students’ skill and timeline and the values of the mentor. What may be lost in this process of conceptualization is the broader discussion of how the project may impact society or even contribute to a societal “wicked problem”. Addressing societies’ ‘wicked problems’, has become a focus of many national academies and research funding agencies. These problems are the ones that are the most intractable, and multifaceted and often require a multidisciplinary approach. The transdisciplinary research teams (or university agencies) that are addressing these societal issues (e.g. water use, health disparities, climate change) often coin the term, “Research Grand Challenges” to describe the nature of their work. The question remains of our field is how we as physical education and sport pedagogy specialists could or should engage within these research grand challenge initiatives that are proliferating across the globe. Transdisciplinary research efforts are often challenged by multi-agency communication and can lack collaborative fluency that hinder the production of valued scholarly products that fit the traditional tenure and promotion timeline. The current research landscape seems to be moving towards these type of collaborative research initiatives that are directed at producing solutions that manifest a longer-term positive impact on society. The nature and type of the grand challenge addressed (e.g. health, education) is obviously value driven however, I would argue that some level of engagement in these types of initiatives is important for the continued proliferation of our discipline. As my institution engages in these types of initiatives, I hope to use my research committee membership as an advocacy platform to help ameliorate some of the marginality that has ensued around physical education. My hope is that other members of AIESEP will take this opportunity if it presents itself….