Episode 36 – The Quantified Self

In this episode of The PE Geek Podcast, we explore the ever increasing world of the quantified self and the implications its presence has for physical education. We explore this via a variety of mobile applications and hardware which is helping people to capture data and interpret its meaning surrounding literally everything in our daily lives.

Apps and resources explored in this episode include;

Gary Wolf – The Quantified Self

– FitBit Charge HR

– RunKeeperHuman & Sleep Cycle

Press Play below to listen or visit the podcast page. Alternatively you can download a full episode transcript here


00:26 Jarrod Robinson: Welcome to Episode Number 36 of the PE Geek Podcast, and as I always say, thank you for taking the time out of your day to tune in. Now in today’s episode, we’re going to be diving right into the world of the quantified self. And you might be wondering, what is that all about? You may have heard the term before or maybe you haven’t, and you’re sort of wondering how it relates to physical education. Well, today’s episode is all about the quantified self, it’s about how I have experienced it, the sort of things I’m doing to be part of this new sort of phenomenon, that we are now very much capable of being able to be part of, and just sort of the implications it has for physical education and health, moving forward. Now, if you wanna grab a list of all the links and resources and everything mentioned throughout today’s episode, you can head along to thepegeek.com/36, where everything will be listed, including a full episode transcript in case you don’t have a pen or paper handy, you can head along and you can know that I’ve taken all the notes for you.

01:40 JR: So let’s dive into today’s content. So what exactly is the quantified self? Well, essentially it’s all about this new movement, well it’s not really new but it is still growing, which is all about tracking the metrics of daily life, in terms of food, exercise, sleep, et cetera. Using various tools, such as our mobile devices and the smartphones and accelerometers and heart rate monitors and so forth, to grab all that data and bring it into some sort of easy to understand sort of system, so that we can use it to inform our health behaviour. Now I was first introduced to the whole idea of the quantified self a couple of years ago, and I sort of look back in retrospect and realize that there was this real sort of appreciation for this sort of data in my life, going right back to before I really had a mobile device. My very first ever sort of experience with the quantified self was in the early days of pedometers and sort of just using one of those for the first time, gave me this very small set of data which I could use to sort of understand how active I’d been.

03:03 JR: Flash forward a little bit, a couple of years after that, and I got my very first heart rate monitor, I still remember buying it. It had a watch, the heart rate strap, and I used to wear it when I exercised; and just being able to see my own heart rate and how it sort of changed throughout the activity was incredibly motivating, incredibly exciting and certainly helped me get to the stage where I could see the most improvement. Eventually, this led me down a line of finding mobile devices and the mobile devices these days are certainly in abundance, and they are ever increasing, ever getting better. More connected, being able to capture more data and present that to you in a more meaningful way. So very much has shifted from being this realm, which was just for people who were interested in technology and interested in the latest gadgets and so on, to now being something that everyone has the capacity to be able to do. And whether or not you are aware of it or not, your smartphone is pretty much guaranteed already tracking some of feature set for you, that is all about sort of contextualising the life that you are living.

04:20 JR: Now when we get a hold of this data, we can start to understand a lot about what’s going on. And for me, the attraction is very much around, how can we use this information to help further improve physical education, students’ learning outcomes, our health outcomes and so on? You’re maybe sitting there wondering, why do we bother to do these sort of stuff? We existed for many, many years without this data. Why is there sort of a desire and a need to get it now? And I think for me, this is really an important thing that has entered my life, and I know for sure that it’s definitely work to support continual improvement. I think the person who puts this best is Garry Wolf, he was introduced to me via a TED talk that I discovered a couple of years ago. It featured on the blog post that I made around this topic in 2013. So I’m going to give you a brief snippet of how Garry describes the quantified self, and the sort of role that it plays in continual improvement.


05:33 Garry Wolf: I got up this morning at 6:10 AM, after going to sleep at 12:45 AM. I was awaken once during the night. My heart rate was 61 beats per minutes, my blood pressure 127/74. I had zero minutes of exercise yesterday, so my maximum heart rate during exercise wasn’t calculated. I had about 600 milligrams of caffeine, zero of alcohol and my score on the Narcissism personality index or the NPI-16 is a reassuring 0.31. We know that numbers are useful for us when we advertise, manage, govern, search. I’m going to talk about how they’re useful when we reflect, learn, remember and want to improve.

06:17 JR: Now that last point that Gary makes is particularly important for schools and education. It’s no secret that data and numbers and all that sort of stuff is, and has a place, in the school environment, and I can’t think of the amount of times that we have sat through and looked through data related to academic student performance across my teaching career. And in many ways, lots of that data is sort of inverted and it’s just made up and sort of analysed based on cohort averages and all this sort of stuff, but we are actually getting to a point now where we can get actual raw data and information about all sorts of things that students are doing, and for me, that is really exciting stuff. Now if I go and focus particularly on physical education, the opportunities here to clearly show students what it is that they’re doing, be able to track it over time, be able to show the improvements that your program has made, is enormous, and I don’t think, as a physical education profession, that we’re fully aware of the sort of possibilities that exist when we start to think about this quantified movement.

07:31 JR: Now for many years, it would’ve been nice to be able to do quantified self and have students with devices that can track them and give and report data to teachers and et cetera, and parents. But the cost factor was really sort of disadvantageous to making that reality. Today, however, that’s not that an excuse. I mean, you can get an accelerometer that basically does a lot of the function that we’re going to be talking about, and it’s already in the device that your students probably have, which is their mobile phone. I mean, for a couple of dollars, it now cost to get the actual hardware that is an accelerometer that can go into literally any device that you might be using. And you think about what that’s going to mean as we sort of progress down the future. It’s certainly an exciting world. When we start to think that the number… One of the major inventions and one of the major streams of innovation that’s going to happen in our world in the next sort of 10, 15, years is that on the use of sensors and networks, and being able to sense and track data from all sorts of things is only going to be increased and heightened, and that means a lot for us when we’re trying to look at how we can introduce and get valuable data about students and programs effectively and be able to use that to improve our program.

08:55 JR: So for me, at the moment, what sort of things am I doing to sort of quantify my own life and, in turn, make improvements? Now more recently, this has taken form of me purchasing a FitBit Charge HR accelerometer, basically it is. It’s wrist borne. You put it on your wrist, obviously, and you connect it to your mobile device or your computer with the attached dongle, and what it does is it actually tracks of the amount of steps that you make across the course of the day. It shows you sort of the intensity of your day, sedentary time, lightly active, et cetera. And it gives you also the ability to track your heart rate across the course of a 24-hour period. Now I was really attracted to the FitBit Charge HR. There are two varieties, but the HR version, really attracted to it because of the heart rate function. I mean, I had heart rate monitors all my life. They’ve all been sort of a chest strap devices and they’ve, being something that you’ve consciously got to put on, but the ability to have something that tracks your heart rate reasonably accurately to a mobile device across a 24-hour period is revolutionary. Now if you think about that in terms of health terms, you can eventually have it sort of set up so that, and we will, we’ll have it set up so that our heart can be monitored remotely via a professional who can intervene into your health before it becomes an issue.

10:28 JR: Now in terms of physical education setting, imagine if every single student had access to a FitBit Charge HR, where throughout the entire day, their heart rate is being tracked or monitored, all their physical activity is being tracked or monitored, and we can use that to sort of look at how active they are, how engaged they are in physical activity, and be able to provide personal sort of feedback to them, based on the information that we’re receiving. Now I’m incredibly excited about the innovation that’s happening in this area. There’s so many competing products. We’ve obviously got the Apple Watch which has opened up a Pandora’s box of possibility related to tracking and quantified self. You can go in the line of getting the Jawbone, which is a similar device competing in the same space. However, I’m really excited about some of the complete mobile devices and experiences that you can get simply by visiting the App Store.

11:28 JR: So I’m going to share with you you a couple of mobile apps that I personally have used to quantify the activity I do, report it to some sort of central web space, and be able to use it to get data that I can seek improvement from. Now in the early days, I discovered an app called “RunKeeper”. Now RunKeeper was one of the very first iPhone apps to ever come out and is still one of the most highly downloaded health and fitness apps that’s ever been available, and it is really impressive to see its progression and how it worked to become a record keeping tool for everything that you do, such as running, walking, cycling, et cetera. Now RunKeeper was amazing but eventually, the people who brought that to life came along and they released an app called “Breeze.”

12:24 JR: Now Breeze is a pedometer/walk tracker/activity logger, all wrapped into one and the best part about it is, it does it all automatically. So all you need to do is simply place your mobile device in your pocket and just get walking, get active. And basically it keeps track automatically, or automagically, of the activity that you do. It awards you with badges, and helps keep you accountable related to the goals that you want to achieve, and ties that all up into a social stream where you can see and follow other people that you’re connected to. And overall, you actually get to see your progress grow because you’ve got an activity profile and on that profile, you can see the amount of steps and how they correlate with particular days, total activity time, total steps across the entire history of using the app, and it does this all automatically. You don’t have to think about anything.

13:26 JR: And that’s really one of the exciting things about this technology. I mean, it’s not necessarily a conscious thing that you have to decide. So take all that aspect out of it. You’ve got a device that gives you great data that you can use. Now if you wanna check out Breeze you can head along to thepegeek.com Breeze where you can head along and download the app. Now one of the other apps that I’m a really big fan of which is very similar to Breeze in many ways is Human. Now Human is much in the same way that Breeze tracks physical activity and so on. Human does it all wrapped around the guise of not the total number of steps that you want to do, but it’s trying to get you to be active for 30 minutes per day. That’s the goal. So it keeps track of your activity time in minutes rather than total steps. And the whole point of it is to try and be active for at least 30 minutes per day as an adult. If you’re a child, it’s 60 minutes.

14:31 JR: A teenager, et cetera. But this Human app is all wrapped around the numbers which we probably understand more than anything in time. Steps are less, a little bit more, and more difficult to sort of quantify. But if we say that we’ve been active for 30 minutes or 38 minutes, then we can definitely clearly understand what that means and how that translates into improved health and so on. So, Human is a really impressive app. It has a really great user experience that shows you with simple ticks, whether you met your 30 minutes per day or whether you didn’t. And all you need to do is download the app, make sure that it’s on and using your GPS to track your… And your accelerometer to track that data on the motion co-processor. And then forget about it and just know that you’re gonna be getting reports saying whether or not you met your goal or whether you didn’t. Now if you want to get that app you can head along to thepegeek.com/Human and it will redirect you to the store for download.

15:30 JR: Now a couple of other apps which I have played with and enjoyed over the last few years include Sleep Cycle. Now there’s an abundance of sleep tracking apps on the app stores. I’m sure all the Fitbit devices and a lot of the smart tracking wrist watches and so on will track your sleep. However, if you don’t have any of those then you can download Sleep Cycle or some of the other sleep tracking apps. And simply place your mobile device on the side or a corner of your bed, or even in some cases, underneath your pillow, and it can use the accelerometer and the gyroscope to actually track the quality of the sleep that you have. Now I recommend that if you’re doing this, you switch off the device from WiFi and 3G, and just have and use the accelerometer which is all that’s usually needed to track the quality of the sleep. Now when you wake up in the morning, you’re gonna see a graph that shows you the stages of the sleep cycle that you’ve gone through and the way it does that is by interpreting, if you’re really restless, you move around a lot.

16:38 JR: And in light sleep phases, you also do the same. That movement, even if it’s really subtle, is registered with the device because of the accelerometer’s sensitivity, and then it translates that into low sleep or poorer sleep quality. In the really deep sleep phase which is the restorative part, which happens usually in the early morning, we don’t tend to move. And in fact, we are actually paralysed as it were, and that there can be basically tracked as well ’cause obviously there’s no movement occurring on the device. Now the app is actually sensitive enough to be able to track you and not get affected by the results of someone else who might be in the same bed, et cetera. And you can use that data when you wake up to see the quality of the sleep that you’re having which is really impressive stuff.

17:36 JR: Now the other app which I am seriously excited about and I think has had lots of press over the last few years is called “Optimized.” Now Optimized is really impressive. Basically, it works on the underpin that everything that you do in life is connected in terms of whom you meet and everything else is sort of wrapped up into one big connected web. Now, this app basically analyses all of that data across all the different metrics to basically find ways that you can improve. And the exciting thing is that it keeps track of everything in your life, things like sleep, work, the sports you play, and it learns from that and actually starts to interpret the data that you get. And you can get insights after about seven days of use on the sorts of things that you can do to improve your health. For example, how does your work affect your sleep, and how does your sleep affect your mood? And it looks at all these sorts of things to give you a complete picture about your life. And that’s basically the quantified self in a nutshell, using this data to basically seek improvement.

18:52 JR: Now, I definitely recommend heading along to the thepegeek.com/optimized to download the app and start using it. Try it out for seven days and see what sort of recommendations you can get out of the app itself and the fun that you can have tracking the various progress over time.

19:13 JR: And that brings us to the end of Episode 36, a little bit shorter than normal. That’s entirely fine though, there’s so much value wrapped up in the Quantified Self Movement and there’s a whole abundance of apps. And the whole point of this episode was just to get you thinking about quantified self and what you think it means for your life and the people growing up. Now, I’ve spoken to a lot of people over the last few years who say things along the lines of, why would you wanna have any of this sort of information that we know about? As a twofold response to that, I think it’s through data that we can seek improvement and unless you know about something, you’re often unable to make changes towards improvement. But it’s also worth mentioning that people growing up in today’s day and age, I’m talking about the students that we all teach, grow up realising that this sort of data is made possible to them. And for us who’ve grown up in a time when that wasn’t the case, it’s almost like we look at it and think, “Well, we didn’t need that, we didn’t have that so why do we need it?” And the reality is that we’re looking at a very, very different perspective than they are.

20:25 JR: So I think it’s very much worthwhile pursuing it, looking at how we can introduce this into the learning outcomes. And when you think about what Gary said earlier on in the podcast, it’s definitely all about trying to seek that continual improvement. So for me, I’m gonna continue down the quantified self path and I really look forward to hearing what you guys are doing. If you have any questions related to the quantified self or anything else related to physical education and technology, then send me an email, [email protected] or get in touch via any of the social media networks. If you have any questions that you would like answered on the show then you can do that by heading to thepegeek.com/voicemail, and I’d love to use your questions in an upcoming episode. Alright, ’til next time, stay safe, keep learning, and I’ll see you next time for Episode 37.



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