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Making theory walk, talk and think: Using constructive alignment for successful active learning in a second-year psychology of music course

Thursday 4 July: Conference day two, 10:30am – 11:00am parallel session



Room 5 – 301-G050 Lg Chem



Dr Mary Broughton
The University of Queensland, Australia

Dr Julie McCredden
The University of Queensland, Australia



The research aimed to evaluate the efficacy of the active learning approaches embedded in a large second-year psychology of music course designed to motivate and actively engage students in learning. Crucially, a psychologically driven theoretical framework underpinned the design of course activities and assessments to enable discrimination of active learning from active “busy work”. We used Biggs’ constructive alignment framework to achieve the research aim by articulating the intended learning outcomes (ILOs) at the appropriate level of complexity for second-year students, and then creating course activities and assessments for students to develop and demonstrate their achievement of the ILOs.


The initiative/practice

Students completed scaffolded activities and assessments on a semester-long theory-to-practice journey. Students’ conceptual learning was initiated through weekly pre-class readings and online quizzes, and then developed in-class through interactive discussions and applications to real-world scenarios. Learning culminated in a group inquiry project. Students applied their knowledge and skills through collecting real-world data on music and consumer behaviour, interpreting and communicating the results in oral and written forms, and reflecting on their own practice.


Method(s) of evaluative data collection and analysis

Students’ perceptions of the usefulness of specific course activities and their depth of learning were gathered through an in-class survey and written reflections. Interviews with several students deepened our understanding of student’s experiences of the course activities. Quantitative data was summarised in graphs; qualitative data was analysed thematically.


Evidence of effectiveness

The psychological theory applied to the course design enabled examination of students’ depth of learning and engagement. The active learning approach and tasks were engaging and useful to students’ learning and future careers. Online quizzes motivated students to complete the readings, understand concepts, and apply these to their own experiences. The in-class discussions helped deepen understanding and application of core concepts to real-world contexts. The project work developed students’ critical thinking skills. The constructive alignment design principle effectively underpinned a successful active learning course that enhanced student motivation, engagement and applied learning.

Active learning methods such as inquiry-based learning have been widely promoted as useful for improving student engagement and enhancing learning and problem solving. However, these methods work only when activities are well designed and take into consideration student’s ability, the cognitive complexity of tasks and the subsequent scaffolding required. The constructive alignment design framework of Biggs provides a method for helping teachers to determine which specific types of knowledge and cognitive processes they are aiming to develop within students and then to align activities and assessments to ensure these are being enacted.

It is our experience as well as being revealed in the literature that without the use of alignment, active learning can fail in its aims as well as frustrate students by keeping them busy but not learning. This research demonstrates how constructive alignment can be used to effectively to ensure that course learning outcomes are realised.

In the presentation we will demonstrate how the ILOs were created and mapped onto activities and assessment, using evidence-based methods that are able to realise the intended outcomes. This demonstration should be helpful to other teachers wanting to incorporate active learning into classes effectively.


Presentation topic

Academics – Changing Academic Practice

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