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Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


Reflections on London 2012: How Wiggins and Murray changed my toddler and my own thinking about legacy and educational research

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 20 December 2012

Karen Edge
This summer as London took center-stage for Olympic and Paralympic-related events, my family bucked the trend and stayed in London. As we broke our normal patterns in support of the seismic shift taking place in London, we worked from home and attended a few events. We also broke our ‘no television for toddlers’ rule and our 2 year-old son happily watched as the historical British sporting moments rolled on.
Our little boy was mesmerized by Mo Farah’s long distance-running, Bradley Wiggins cycling, Andy Murray’s tennis, and Jessica Ennis’ heptathlon. As Jessica, Bradley, Andy and Mo found their way into our home, our son cheered them on from a distance. Unexpectedly, this handful of national sporting heroes entered our lives and left an unanticipated yet positive and humourous legacy.
The overall life-changing influence of the Olympics on our son first became apparent on a walk home from his nursery school during the Games. At a traffic light, he stopped and forcefully – in true toddler style – refused to continue our journey home. He quietly paused and waited. Then, as traffic approached, he began smiling, bouncing, and clapping. In a state of puzzlement, I watched.
As the line of commuter cyclists stopped for the red light, my son’s wild clapping escalated and he greeted the cyclists with loud calls of ‘Yeah Bradley Wiggins!’ The hilarity of the scene, with a small boy cheerleading commuters as if they were all racing for gold medals, caused many of the cyclists to momentarily forget the toil of their commuting efforts and laugh out loud. Acknowledging Olympic concerns and critiques, and placing them on momentary hold, I witnessed quite an amazing Olympic-inspired moment.
When combined with our son’s self-initiated Andy Murray-inspired daily ‘tennis practice’ and desire to only wear what ‘Andy Murray wears’, something strange was afoot and the Olympics were the catalyst! As our friends and family were bemused with the evolution of our little one-man Olympic legacy, the researcher in me wondered: would it last?
Four months on, he is still going strong and shows few signs of post-event fatigue! However, as researchers, government officials and agencies gather evidence of the Games’ legacy, I wonder if our own personal, small-scale but influence-rich legacy, will ever make it to the evidence podium? I have also been pondering the methodological complexities of evidencing legacy both for large-scale events like the Olympics and educational initiatives and policy-driven mandates.
Attending Taekwondo triggered my receipt of regular Olympic e-surveys. Surveys first inquired about travel, seating, communication and food and transitioned over time to my perception of legacy. However, the surveys never captured the familial changes that we have endured at the behest of our son.
As the newly appointed editor of an academic journal, we receive many submissions presenting evidence of the influence of educational interventions, programmes and policies from around the globe. While these cases are thought provoking and informative, they rarely consider long term intended and unintended consequence. While multiple UK-based studies explore snapshots of any economic, housing, structural and nation-building Olympic outcomes, the purpose and methods associated with understanding legacy are worth considering.
Similar to the patterns of my Olympic survey experience, early research/evaluation questions often focus on the more structural components, followed by behavioural and attitudinal implications. Legacy is often missing or missed. The very successful longitudinal cohort-related studies aside there are clear and logical reasons for the lack of legacy-based research. The reasons exist on a continuum from a) a lack of research funding to examine the long-term effects to z) the short-term nature of most educational interventions and policies. With a new year upon us, perhaps it is time to resolve to focus on legacy and unintended outcomes as much as the intended shorter-term ones.
With thoughts moving forward to the new year, perhaps it is time to pause and consider: What if we, as researchers, scholars, practitioners and policy makers, individually and collectively decided to focus more often on understanding the more long-term, nuanced legacy of educational programmes, interventions and policies in a different way? While the answers may not easily flow, I am even willing to engage our toddler in cheering you on if needed! He may, in the least, provide some comic relief and a reminder that: 1) legacy comes in all shapes and sizes; 2) legacy is often replete with unexpected consequences; and, 3) to truly understand its influence, you need to ask the right questions. Ready. Set. Go!