WS 2.1 Systematic observation of physical activity and its contexts

Workshop provider(s)

T.L. McKenzie*1, M.A.F. Lounsbery2
1San Dego State University, USA, 2Long Beach State University, USA

Workshop description

Park, recreation, school, and home settings are viable locations for physical activity accrual. Validated systematic observation tools for assessing physical activity that simultaneously contextually-rich data in these settings are available. These tools have the advantages of flexibility, high internal validity, low inference, and low subject burden; their disadvantages include personnel costs, need for observer training and recalibration, inaccessibility to certain environments, and potential subject reactivity. Protocols for these tools are on the ALR Website, observer training videos are free on the web, and apps have been developed.This workshop uses PowerPoint presentations and video examples to provide an interactive session so researchers and practitioners become better informed about: (a) the advantages and disadvantages of direct observation to assess physical activity and its contexts, including policies and practices; (b) published observation tools for assessing physical activity and related contextual variables (e.g., accessibility, usability, and presence of supervision, equipment, and organized activities) in homes (BEACHES), physical education (SOFIT), leisure time at school (SOPLAY), and community park and recreation centers (SOPARC); and (c) viable procedures for training and maintaining reliable observers and managing and analyzing data.

Discussion includes recent innovations (e.g., iSOPARC and iSOFIT apps for IPADS), definitions of behavioral categories, protocols for use (e.g., pacing of observations), coding conventions (i.e., interpretations of common scenarios), observation techniques (e.g., duration, frequency, interval, and time-sampling recording), observer training and recalibration, inter-observer reliability, subject reactivity, activity level validation, and practical issues.

Learning Objectives

Participants will be able to: (a) explain advantages and disadvantages of various direct observation methods; (b) select from among current observational tools and modify them to suit individual research needs; and (c) discuss issues such as observer training, mapping of target areas, and data recording, storage, aggregation, summary, and analysis.

Interactive Features

Participants practice coding video examples and interact with experienced researchers about training and maintaining observers, purchasing and maintaining equipment, accessibility to locations, human subjects consent, assessing reliabilities, and data summary and analyses.


McKenzie, T. L. (2016). Context matters: Systematic observation of place-based physical activity.  Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 87(4), 334-341.
McKenzie, T. L., & van der Mars, H. (2015). Top 10 research questions related to assessing physical activity and its contexts using systematic observation. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 86(1), 13-29.

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