A Collaborative Approach to Teaching and Learning Sports and Exercise Rehabilitation in Higher Education (Part 1)

Authors: Michael Cole (BSc, PGC(H)E, PgDip, PFHEA, NTF), Briony Hurd, Karl Anthony and Abdulayneyn Nassir


Learning and teaching Sports and Exercise Rehabilitation (SER) can be a complex and multifaceted endeavor. We are three BSc Sports Therapy students and a senior lecturer, working in equal partnership to research and produce this written report. Our approach, encompassing non-traditional teaching methods and showcasing an example of how to achieve a specific learning outcome, outlines the importance of student voice and lecturer-student collaboration in the co-creation of knowledge. In Part 1 we discuss how SER can be taught in higher education and suggested an alternative approach to the traditional ‘expert-student’ paradigm. In Part 2 we continue as a student-staff team of equals, further demonstrating this approach by presenting a written report that answers a question that is fundamental to sports physical therapists’ knowledge, understanding and application: ‘What is Sports and Exercise Rehabilitation?’.


In this article we suggest three key factors necessary for optimal learning and teaching in undergraduate Sports and Exercise Rehabilitation. In Part 1 we provide a research-informed basis for the three factors, summarize how they are commonly evaluated in UK higher education, and provide a brief insight in to how they manifest in a rehabilitation module at the University of East London. In Part 2 we provide an example of one assessment task section that students were required to produce – a definition and summary explanation of what ‘Sports and Exercise Rehabilitation’ is. In doing so, Part 2 is an explicit demonstration of our pedagogy in practice. This article is co-authored by three undergraduate students and their senior lecturer. Parts 1 and 2 together demonstrate a collaborative approach to co-producing Sports Medicine knowledge in higher education.

Part 1: Is There a Best Way to Learn About Sports and Exercise Rehabilitation?

It is widely accepted that optimal learning is context-dependent and that its consideration depends on the definition of ‘learning’ and ‘teaching’. Here we define learning as ‘the transformative process of taking in information that – when internalized and mixed with what we have experienced – changes what we know and builds on what we do. It’s based on input, process, and reflection. It is what changes us’ (Bingham and Conner, 2015, p.19).

Despite their substantial flaws and limitations, in the current higher education climate measurable outcomes are the evidence of best practice with which successful learning has taken place. We acknowledge that students’ ability to both engage with teaching and demonstrate learning achievement (measured by external observation and evaluation of pre-selected outcomes) is influenced by a variety of factors including the course curriculum, lecturer expertise and methods, assessment and feedback processes, availability of learning opportunities, the educational environment, and the specific context of the learner, including systemic socio-economic barriers. Prior to outlining the three factors necessary for optimal learning and teaching, we provide some context.

We are three undergraduate students and a senior lecturer who worked together to produce this article in the months following our engagement in the core level 5 sports and exercise rehabilitation module at the University of East London (UEL). UEL is a post-92 higher education institution (HEI) and, since 2013, London’s leading provider of BSc Sports and Exercise Therapy courses. Sports and Exercise Therapy is an allied healthcare vocation that has a UK professional membership body, The Society of Sports Therapists (SST). The SST helps to protect the public by regulating its student and graduate members to adhere to codes of ethics and proficiency. In accrediting BSc courses for HEIs, the SST requires academic learning outcomes to align with professional competencies.

Reflecting on our Sports and Exercise Rehabilitation module at UEL, we posit three main considerations that are paramount for optimal learning and teaching in Sports and Exercise Rehabilitation (see Figure 1), with each having outcome measures or metrics that give some indication of how well they may have been satisfied.

The three main considerations for good learning and teaching in Sport and Exercise Rehabilitation.
Figure 1: The three main considerations for good learning and teaching in Sport and Exercise Rehabilitation.
  • Industry – Given the professional standards and vocational competencies necessary for graduates in this field, ‘good’ learning and teaching may be evaluated by student and entrepreneurship readiness metrics (Dacre Pool and Sewell, 2007) and graduate destination data, as well as successful validation (meeting university conditions) and accreditation (meeting professional body standards), and positive employer feedback (meeting industry needs, including evidence of safe and competent applied clinical placements incorporating evidence-informed, critically reflective practice and self-governance).
  • Cognition – Attainment (grades) are often considered the best measure of whether learning and teaching has been effective, based on the students’ ability to recall and/or apply knowledge. However, this is arguable given assessments are often undertaken under pressure as a ‘one-off’ on a given day (e.g. exams) and/or dependent on one’s current level of academic capital, including competency in autonomous study – and/or their opportunity and access to engage with relevant and effective resources (e.g. assignments). Despite these criticisms, assessment performance remains the standard measure of learning. Under these conditions there is strong evidence showing that cognitive science learning strategies, namely spaced practice, retrieval practice, elaboration, interleaving, concrete examples, and dual coding (Weinstein, Smith and Caviglioli, 2021) are instrumental to best practice in learning and teaching.
  • Equity – Substantial research strongly indicates that the ‘best’ learning and teaching occurs in a self-determined (Guay, Ratelle and Chanal, 2008) yet cooperative, collaborative (Laal and Ghodsi, 2012) and scaffolded (Hmelo-Silver, Duncan and Chinn, 2007) environment. Conditions which support this environment include nourishing, reciprocal relationships in which learners build new learning on their previous experiences, co-creating knowledge with guiding teachers using problem-based strategies that resist and subvert the traditional university’s social structures of inequitable power dynamics (Ladson-Billings, 2014). Measuring the effectiveness of such complex approaches that embrace critical ontologies is problematic in both theory and practice, though inferences can be taken from outcomes such as student cohort diversity, student retention, progression and awarding ‘gaps’, and student feedback. Critical scholars generally agree that key contributors to effective, equitable learning is a framework of ‘equity pedagogy’, which covers a broad spectrum of approaches that share the tenets of culturally-sustaining, co-constructed teaching (Dewey, 1916; Le Roux, 2000; Ladson-Billings, 2014), and encouragement of a counterhegemonic consciousness of resistance and emancipation (Freire, 1968; Giroux, 2012; Cowden and Singh, 2013; Hooks, 2013; Sabaratnam, 2017) that centers learners as agents of social change (McGee Banks and Banks, 1995).

Our approach to the Sports and Exercise Rehabilitation module is to manifest a praxis that embraces these three factors. For example:

    • students are invited to co-create assessment and content before and during module delivery.
    • flexible opportunities for learning are provided and scaffolded for different strengths, preferences and stages of development and understanding.
    • group assessments are combined with shared ‘team’ and individual grading.
    • interactive portfolios mix video and written media.
    • clinical examinations facilitate practical and verbal interactions.
    • clinical placement opportunities and visits from industry professionals facilitate vocational development.
    • an extra-curricular film clubs invite students and staff to choose, watch and discuss themes related to the syllabus in non-traditional spaces.
    • a journal club platform for students to choose, read and discuss research.
    • a supra-curricular student-led group helps student peers and staff to understand equity issues in sports physical therapy.

In addition, students are offered the opportunity to develop their own approach to rehabilitation by combining and critiquing established principles, bringing their own thoughts, ideas, research, industry and life experiences to the fore. Module staff are available to feedback and feedforward on draft work in advance of deadlines, enabling students to build towards their deadlines to achieve their goals in a supportive culture. Notably, previous learning is connected to new learning in a student-influenced environment that attempts to destabilize traditional power dynamics between lecturer-student, and between retention, understanding and application. One example of this approach is the article you are reading now; led by three students and co-authored with an academic who experienced the module in 2021, here we position co-production and publication as joint ventures that disrupt the traditional power dynamics of the learner-student and expert-master relationship. Publishing as equals and utilizing part of the students’ assessment assignment as the first draft, is representative of our approach, and an explicit exemplar demonstration of student/staff knowledge co-production and communication that embraces the three factors for optimal learning and teaching (see Figure 1).

References (Part 1)

Bingham, T. and Conner, M. (2015) The New Social Learning. 2nd edn. Alexandria: Association for Talent Development.

Cowden, S. and Singh, G. (2013) Acts of Knowing: Critical Pedagogy in, Against and Beyond the University. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Dacre Pool, L. and Sewell, P. (2007) ‘The Key to Employability: Developing a Practical Model of Graduate Employability’, Education + Training, 49(4), pp. 277–289. doi: 10.1108/00400910710754435.

Dewey, J. (1916) Democracy and Education. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University.

Freire, P. (1968) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Seabury Press.

Giroux, H. (2012) ‘Theories of Reproduction and Resistance in the New Sociology of Education: A Critical Analysis’, Harvard Educational Review, 53(3), pp. 257–293. doi: 10.17763/haer.53.3.a67x4u33g7682734.

Guay, F., Ratelle, C.F. and Chanal, J. (2008) ‘Optimal Learning in Optimal Contexts: The Role of Self-Determination in Education’, Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 49(3), pp. 233–240. doi: 10.1037/a0012758.

Hmelo-Silver, C.E., Duncan, R.G. and Chinn, C.A. (2007) ‘Scaffolding and Achievement in Problem-Based and Inquiry Learning: A Response to Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark’, Educational Psychologist, 42(2), pp. 99–107. doi: 10.1080/00461520701263368.

Hooks, B. (2013) Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope. London: Routledge.

Laal, M. and Ghodsi, S.M. (2012) ‘Benefits of Collaborative Learning’, Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 31, pp. 486–490. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.12.091.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2014) ‘Culturally Relevant Pedagogy 2.0: a.k.a. the Remix’, Harvard Educational Review, 84(1), pp. 74–84. doi: 10.17763/haer.84.1.p2rj131485484751.

Le Roux, J. (2000) ‘The Concept of “Ubuntu”: Africa’s Most Important Contribution to Multicultural Education?’, MCT, 18(2), pp. 43–46.

McGee Banks, C.A. and Banks, J.A. (1995) ‘Equity Pedagogy: An Essential Component of Multicultural Education’, Theory Into Practice, 34(3), pp. 152–158. doi: 10.1080/00405849509543674.

Sabaratnam, M. (2017) ‘Decolonising the Curriculum: What’s all the Fuss About?’, SOAS Blog, 18 January. Available at: https://study.soas.ac.uk/decolonising-curriculum-whats-the-fuss/ (Accessed: 12 December 2020).

Weinstein, Y., Smith, M. and Caviglioli, O. (2021) Six Strategies for Effective Learning, The Learning Scientists. Available at: https://www.learningscientists.org/downloadable-materials (Accessed: 15 September 2021).

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