The challenge of teaching ‘pedagogy of aquatics’ on an online platform (Part 1) – Dylan Scanlon & Claire Walshe

As we re-enter the next academic semester, physical education teacher educators are in a process of translating their usual face-to-face teaching into online material which can be used in a fully online or blended learning environment. While this is a challenge for all teaching and learning in physical education teacher education (PETE) and beyond, teaching ‘pedagogy of aquatics’ in an online or blended environment with the possibility of not having full access to the swimming pool proved to be a significant challenge! Usually, all of this module is taught in the swimming pool but given the context we find ourselves in now, it will be taught in a blended learning environment with majority of the teaching being online. I (Claire) found this a very daunting task. Last year, the pre-service teachers spent an hour in the pool learning how to perform the strokes and they spent one-hour shadowing/working with a qualified swim teacher in the UL arena delivering swimming lessons to local primary schools. This year, the students will not be able to engage in this part of the module so this brought in the question of how students could learn how to teach outside of the swimming pool environment. This semester, at best, the pre-service teachers will have access to the pool for a maximum of 3 sessions. Therefore, consideration needs to be given to what is the best use of this time. While I (Dylan) am not teaching on this module this semester, Claire and I work closely together in all of our teaching and learning planning; learning from each other through professional conversations (usually over multiple coffees but recently over multiple Zooms!). Encouraged by others (Alfrey & O’Connor, 2020; MacPhail, 2020), we viewed the COVID-19 influence (that being, a move to online teaching and learning) as an opportunity to engage in a reimagining and redesigning process of how ‘pedagogy of aquatics’ could be taught online or in a blended learning environment. We are using this blog (in two parts) to document that rethinking process (part 1) and to share our teaching and learning practices (part 2) which will hopefully encourage others in the PETE community to do the same.

As we started this professional development journey, we were faced with a question of pedagogy or content (while acknowledging that this question is not as simple as stated here and the goal arguably should be a combination, pedagogical content knowledge); should we be teaching the ‘how’ or the ‘what’ of aquatics in an online platform. Questions arose such as, how can we teach pre-service teachers how to swim online? To learn the different strokes in an online environment? As I (Claire) spoke with Dylan, I began to think if the students really do need to be able to swim proficiently? (the question of content). This is a challenge for many of us involved in PETE, especially coming from a physical education teacher background. This is when our conversation shifted and we moved onto questions such as, is it important for the pre-service teachers to know how to swim, to know how to perform the different strokes? Or is it important for the pre-service teachers to know how to teach the different strokes?. Our conversation brought us to focusing on the ‘pedagogy’ of aquatics, rather than focusing on the ‘content’ of aquatics. In focusing on pedagogy, we further explored the importance of teaching a particular strand on content knowledge, specialised content knowledge. Briefly, content knowledge (CK) can be compartmentalised into common content knowledge and specialised content knowledge (SCK) (Ball, Thames & Phelps, 2008). While common CK is learned by performing the task, SCK is ‘unique knowledge’ that cannot be learned through performance which is needed to teach the common CK, and therefore, it needs to be taught. So, what does this look like in practice, and in an online environment?

In part 2 of this blog, we will attempt to answer this question and share the results of this redesign process and the proposed teaching and learning practices – check in next week for part 2 of this blog!

Key take home messages from this early discussion phase:

  • This is a challenging time for all physical education teacher educators; in one way, we are going to the unknown but we viewed this as an opportunity. An opportunity to question our teaching and learning practices, an opportunity to question what content we teach, an opportunity to do something differently.
  • The pre-service teachers are faced with a similar challenge as us teacher educators for their future teaching practice; that being, teaching online. This adds a different dimension to our teaching practice. We need to teach students how to teach online, how to develop instructionally aligned units of learning for online teaching, and meaningful online assessments. These pre-service teachers face a reality where they more than likely will be teaching school physical education online. With this in mind, we need to select an online learning platform and tools to use throughout the module (which could be replicated in school physical education). We need to be explicit in what we are doing in explicitly telling the pre-service teachers how we planned the lesson, the learning experiences, the formative assessment pieces etc. and add in some ‘debrief time’ to each lesson to allow time to discuss these aspects.


Dylan Scanlon is a Postgraduate Researcher in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick.  His current research interests include curriculum development and assessment re physical education.  You can contact Dylan via email or follow him on twitter @DylanScanlon1

Claire Walsh is an Applied Studies Coordinator in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences.  Claire is undertaking doctorate work in the area of wellbeing and can be contacted via email at  or on twitter @Claire8Walsh.  Claire is currently involved with the NCCA in the Senior Cycle Physical Education (SCPE) pilot project.

Feature Image:
Tagged with: