Building KU's Teaching and Learning Community

Engaging Students in Research Methods—Dena Register (2007)

A student discussing his posterOverview

In a redesigned course, music therapy and music education students became more invested and engaged in learning about research methods.

Background

Introduction to Research in Music Education and Music Therapy (MEMT 366) is designed to introduce undergraduate students to survey types of educational/clinical research and research techniques applicable to music therapy and music education. Although this course is required for both music education and music therapy majors, most students typically do not see its importance. My challenge in teaching this class has been getting students motivated and engaged. I taught this course twice before, and with each course offering I made changes to adapt to students' needs and interests in order to facilitate their investment and "buy in." These adaptations included completely changing course materials as well as the presentation of the material. I wanted students to apply what was taught in class to relevant research experiences while learning research methods. Thus, in fall 2006 I added a research project that included a paper and research poster presentation. Students who presented exceptional posters were invited to participate in the Kansas Music Educators Association research conference held each February in Wichita.

Implementation

My main goal for redesigning the course was to improve the quality of student work. I used five strategies to meet this goal: 1. I broke down the research paper, to scaffold students' learning and result in a better finished product. Thus, students still wrote a research paper, but it was broken down into smaller assignments during the semester. 2. Students presented a research poster summarizing their research paper. This was not a new assignment, but I also decided to give students an opportunity to critique another student's poster based on what they had learned from the course—and as critical thinking exercise. 3. To further improve student performance and to more objectively assess student work, I implemented rubrics for the paper and presentation, which where given to students prior to the project deadline. 4. I also made sure to integrate the assignments better with class time, to facilitate learning by making a stronger connection between the project and course materials. 5. To improve student engagement, I added more opportunities for participation. I required students to participate in in-class writing assignments to encourage their preparation and reading of course materials. Throughout the semester there were online or in-class writing assignments/discussions. Students were expected to complete reading assignments by the day indicated on the calendar in order to participate in the discussion conducted in-class or online.

Student Performance

The mastery approach and using scaffolding improved student work. Student work from this semester was generally better than it has ever been. I attribute this change to the way the assignments were broken down into the various pieces necessary to complete the entire paper, with time allotted for instructor and peer feedback.

The student examples selected represent several different elements that demonstrate growth and initiative for these students. Students were invited to design a study that was of interest to them based on the reading that they did in the initial weeks of the course for their review of literature as well as the lectures that covered various types of research.

Reflections

I continuously work to help students learn and practice strategies that will apply to their work in classrooms or therapeutic settings, as well as other settings. I find that my students are still hesitant when asked to apply knowledge and ideas they have learned in class to clinics or classrooms. While they seem to enjoy experiential learning activities, they are not always able to transfer and/or synthesize related experiential and didactic information. I am now thinking about other ways to increase the efficiency and accuracy of relevant student outcomes.

The changes made in the course over time have really helped clarify the process and importance of research for students, and they feel more comfortable in the skills they are acquiring. It is also important to note that the fall 2006 group had an overall more positive attitude than students in previous years, which may be attributed to both individual differences and to changes made in the course, possibly enhancing student motivation. Students responded favorably to the assignments, came to class prepared, and participated in discussion and peer feedback.


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Students presenting their posterBackground

Introduction to Research in Music Education and Music Therapy (MEMT 366)  is designed to introduce undergraduate students to survey types of educational/clinical research and research techniques applicable to music therapy and music education. This course is required for both music education and music therapy majors, and the course is typically taken in the junior year. Although students take a couple of other courses in the music education or music therapy sequence that alludes to research in the area, MEMT 366 is really their first exposure to research.

One of the most challenging aspects of teaching this class was getting students motivated and engaged. Students typically do not see a need or value for the course as an undergraduate, pre-service teacher or therapist. Unless it has direct impact upon teaching in the classroom, they are normally not as interested in the course work. Developmentally, these students are generally unable to understand or articulate the direct impact that research has in the classroom or therapeutic settings. This course is typically taken when students are upperclassmen, when they are focused on direct application to the classroom or therapy setting. Students appear to require a great deal of help framing course concepts in a context that they would perceive as immediately applicable to their professional goals. Thus, I redesigned the course to increase students’ interest and demonstrate its value in their careers as therapists or educators.

I started teaching the course following a syllabus created by a colleague who had previously taught the class. Since then I have made changes with each course offering, to adapt to students’ needs and interests in order to facilitate their investment and “buy in.” These adaptations have included completely changing course materials as well as the presentation of the material. I added a project that included a paper and research poster presentation. I decided to invite students who presented exceptional posters in class to participate in a research poster session at the Kansas Music Educators Association conference, which is held each February in Wichita, Kansas. Thus, while learning about research methods, students were able to apply what was learned in class to relevant experiences with research.

For previous course offerings, my action plan was to focus on selecting appropriate reading materials, engaging students in a way that would require them to apply the material, developing assignments that were applicable towards teacher certification, and developing an assessment procedure that adequately evaluated student learning through the use of a grading rubric. I was satisfied with using a research project as the primary assessment, but I made some adaptations. I decided to use a step-by-step, or mastery, approach for the research project, because some students might not come in with the knowledge or skills to write a research paper. I wanted students to use the smaller assignments as a chance to learn and improve their writing. Mastery level teaching also emphasizes that grades are based on individual’s achievement or abilities and everyone has an opportunity to alter his or her grade. In previous course offerings I used grading rubrics but now was ready to finalize the rubric for the final project. In addition, I decided to make a better transfer between the assignments and course material.

Enduring goals
Enduring goals included students’ ability to:

  • Explore basic concepts/types of research in music therapy and music education.
  • Read current, relevant research literature in music therapy and music education and analyze research by type and design.
  • Communicate an understanding of relevant research and discuss implications of said research in their respective disciplines.
  • Learn how to conduct an experiment and write a research report in APA format.
  • Become familiar with appropriate professional forums for displaying and discussing research results.
  • Practice the following standards (as outlined by the State of Kansas, Board of Education), required for teacher certification:
    • #4–The educator understands and uses a variety of appropriate instructional strategies to develop various kinds of students’ learning, including critical thinking, problem solving and reading.
    • #6–The educator uses a variety of effective verbal and non-verbal communication techniques to foster active inquiry, collaboration, and supportive interaction in the classroom.
    • #8–The educator understands and uses formal and informal assessment strategies to evaluate and ensure continual intellectual, social, and other aspects of personal development of all learners.
    • #12–The educator understands the role of technology in society and demonstrates skills using instructional tools and technology to gather, analyze, and present information, enhance instructional practices, facilitate professional productivity and communication, and help all students use instructional technology effectively.

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Students presenting a posterImplementation

Based on enduring goals, students would:

  1. Read current, relevant research literature in music therapy and music education and analyze research by type and design.
  2. Communicate an understanding of relevant research and discuss implications of said research in their respective disciplines.
  3. Design and conduct a research study and write a research report in APA format.
  4. Become familiar with appropriate professional forums for displaying and discussing research results.

Research project
For this course, the primary assignment was for students to carry out a self-designed research project. One component of the project was for students to write a research paper in APA (fifth edition) format. The report had an Introduction section (including a complete Review of Literature using at least ten sources), hypothesis, and design. It included a Procedures (Methods) section and a Results section, detailing results with graphs and tables where appropriate. The paper would be original research not used in another class.

I decided to use a very systematic approach to having each student complete a research paper after realizing that this was a new area for undergraduate students. I initially had made a lot of assumptions regarding where they were in their understanding and comprehension of the process, not realizing that many students at the undergraduate level are still having difficulties with task analyzing, or breaking down a task, into manageable steps. Thus, the research paper was broken down into smaller components that were due throughout the semester in order to allow for editing prior to completion of the entire work.

Research poster
Another component of the project was to develop a research poster to present in class. The research project was designed for students to communicate an understanding of relevant research and have practice developing appropriate professional forums for displaying and discussing research results. Students presented the method, outcomes, and points of discussion of their research in a 30”x 40” research poster. All posters were presented during a class research poster session, and students were asked to give a brief verbal description of their project and answer questions about it. The rubric used to grade each poster was distributed to students ahead of time. Students were also assigned a peer’s poster to “grade,” using the rubric during the poster session. I felt this exercise gave students an opportunity to think critically about other student work, and I wanted to see how they were able to assess the work of their peers and if they were able to pick out important (or missing) elements. It was another exercise to apply what they had learned in the course at the end of the semester, and it was not used in determining students’ grades.

Class time
To gain and keep students’ engagement during class, I frequently utilized a format that consisted of beginning with an activity to engage students, followed by 15 to 20 minutes of traditional lecturing, and concluding with student written responses, either individually or in a pair/share format. I also incorporated aspects of the research project into the lectures and discussions. For example, when discussing research abstracts students had collected, I used the abstracts to go over terminology (i.e., what is an independent and dependent variable). I have found that students benefit from applying terminology to research materials. I also asked students to apply information they learned from reading research literature when filling out research review forms. This included integrating information from the research project to concepts learned in the course.

I also required students to participate in in-class writing assignments to encourage their preparation and reading of the course materials. Throughout the semester there were online or in-class writing assignments/discussions. Students were expected to complete all reading assignments by the day indicated on the calendar to ensure quality participation in the discussion conducted in-class or online.

Textbook selection
For this course, I chose the textbook, Understanding Research Methods, by Mildred Patten because it is broken down into concise, one-page descriptions or explanations of fundamental research concepts that are easy for students to read and apply. Also, the follow up questions at the end of each section help students focus on what they need to take from that section. The end of each section also asks readers to think about how they would apply the material. In addition, because they would be writing research papers, I also required that students have the most recent version of the publication manual for the American Psychological Association (APA). I then compiled a list of supplementary readings to further assist them when working on their research projects.

Research paper components
The components of the research papers included:

Abstracts. Students needed to find abstracts and articles to complete a review of the literature. During one of the class sessions we met in the library, and a music librarian helped students use search engines and become more familiar with the music library. I had students first find 10 abstracts before participating in a class session that was devoted to discussion of the abstracts. Following this class period, they then wrote their research reviews.

Research analyses. Students completed a research analysis. They chose five of the ten abstracts, read those entire articles, and filled out a research review form for each of the five studies. The form asked basic information about the article and asked them to apply the principles of the article to course concepts. For example, topics 14-18 in the book Understanding Research Methods by Mildred Patten discuss how and why to write a literature review. After completing this reading assignment, students were asked to use one of the articles that they chose and address the essential elements from the reading as related to the article that they found. Some questions that the students addressed included, “Were the citations correct?”, “Was there continuity in the set-up of the topic for the study?”, “Were direct quotations used?”, “If so, how?”, “What kinds of transitions did you find?”. This was done in an effort to 1) be sure that they read the assignment and 2) help them apply what they were reading and facilitate an understanding of reading and critiquing the research literature that they found.

Review of literature with bibliography. One of the first components of the research project was then to do a review of the literature with bibliography. Using a minimum of 11 sources, students wrote a review of literature that supported their chosen research topic. The paper should have included a clear introduction, transitions between articles and/or sections, and a clear conclusion that tied in all ideas presented in the paper and set up the research question. The paper should have included a bibliography in APA (fifth ed.) style, as well as correct citations in the body of the work. I graded this section using a rubric. The rubric was based on students’ use of evidence to support their conclusion and their critical thinking skills, such as recognizing multiple sides and the strengths and weaknesses of each position.

Method. Students articulated the research plan including all specifications of what they were measuring and how they were measuring it. This document needed to provide details about the number and type of subjects, how the data was collected, what instruments were used, and what data was collected. Specificity was very important. I also graded this section using a rubric.

Mock data collection. I enlisted the help of a colleague to go over the Kansas Performance Assessment requirements for music educators in Kansas and we used that as a model for having students create a way to collect the data that they needed to complete the performance assessment. This in-class exercise allowed us to give students some preliminary information on this task, which they would have to complete as professionals, as well as provide an opportunity to pinpoint what data needed to be gathered, design a simple method for collecting it, and then carry that out in the course of one class period.

Data collection, results and discussion. All students were expected to complete these final steps of their chosen research project in order to complete the research paper. These sections were turned in as part of the final, complete research paper. Students were able to schedule individual meetings with the instructor as needed in order to ask questions about their specific projects.

As each portion was due, I assisted students with revisions and followed-up with discussions in class. For each section of the paper collected during the semester, I used a competency based grading system where students were required to continue submitting their materials until appropriate revisions were made. At the end of the semester when the final paper was due, I used an all-inclusive rubric for grading the completed project. In previous semesters students were not given the rubric in advance. In fall 2006, I decided to distribute the rubric ahead of time to give students a better idea of what was expected for the final paper.


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Students discussing a posterStudent Performance

Student work from this semester was generally better than it has ever been. I attribute this change to the way the assignments were broken down into the various pieces necessary to complete the entire paper, with time allotted for instructor and peer feedback.

Five students were selected from the Fall 2006 class to present their research at the Kansas Music Educators Association conference in Wichita on February 23, 2007.

The student examples selected for this portfolio represent several different elements that demonstrate growth and initiative for these students. Students were invited to design a study that was of interest to them, based on the reading that they did in the initial weeks of the course for their review of literature as well as the lectures that covered the various types of research.

Kody’s work (pdf) reflects a case study that was conducted with a piano student with special needs that he worked with on a regular basis. Because we did not spend a great deal of time covering case studies, Kody had to do a great deal of independent work in order to pull together the information necessary to complete his project. Kody’s process evolved over the course of his project, and he learned the importance of specificity in trying to gather information for his case study. There were particularly poignant changes in his method from the first draft to the final, and he was able to arrive at some conclusions and some additional questions through his discussion.

James and Emily (pdf) were the only ones in the class to attempt a quasi-experimental study with different treatment groups. Their study stemmed from questions that they had as music educators and was directly related to issues they will face as future band directors. Both students stated in their reflections that they learned a great deal about organizing and implementing the study in small steps. They became very invested in the outcome of their study and were disappointed that their results were not statistically significant. They did a nice job discussing potential reasons for their outcomes and generating ideas for future research.

Kelli and Hannah (pdf) had a functional concept for their study and were able to find adequate support in the literature. However, they had a difficult time with the implementation due to organizational troubles and were not able to gather enough data to present clear results. Thus, it was difficult to facilitate the type of discussion that would have made transfers and arrive at meaningful conclusions. This was an example of work that started out strong but needed more follow-through in order to achieve a higher standard.

Emily and Lindsey’s project (pdf) evolved significantly over the course of the semester. They tackled their topic from both the music educator and music therapy perspective in an effort to look at how music benefits two diverse populations with similar needs. While there were flaws in methodology, both students demonstrated a great deal of initiative in the conception and execution of this study. Another unique element of this particular work was their ability to come together from two different perspectives and articulate common points. That is often difficult for students in these two majors to do.

Additional student work:


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Students discussing a posterReflections

I am continuously working on helping students learn and practice strategies that apply to their work in the classroom or therapeutic setting, as well as transferring skills for other settings. I find that my students are still hesitant when asked to apply knowledge and ideas they have learned in class to come up with proactive strategies for the clinic or classroom setting. While they seem to enjoy experiential learning activities, they are not always able to transfer and/or synthesize experiential and didactic information that relate to one another. These issues have improved as a result of strategies learned and implemented as a result of my participation in the Center for Teaching Excellence Best Practices Institute and Service Learning Institute. I am now thinking about what additional changes in this course I can make that will increase the efficiency and accuracy of relevant student outcomes.

Students’ attitudes have varied from year to year and are affected by the feedback and information that they receive from their peers prior to taking the class. In addition, students whose advisors teach performance-based or applied music courses may feel they are less prepared for the application of research to the broader population. The current arrangement has helped students complete their preparation for a broad range of skills with courses that focus on music performance aspects as well as pedagogical or therapeutic aspects. Addressing this issue from the first day of class and continuing to incorporate writing and discussion opportunities for students to think about and articulate how research applies to them has helped this problem tremendously.

One of the last writing activities that I asked the class to complete was a page that asked them the following questions:

  1. Based on what you learned in this class, what role might research play for you as a music educator or music therapist?
  2. Discuss one study that you read and how it applies to you professional and/or personally.
  3. What are three things that you learned by conducting your study?
  4. What were the greatest challenges you faced while completing the project? Were you able to overcome this challenge? If yes, how? If no, why not?

I began using this as a measure for what students were taking away from the course, as opposed to relying solely on scores on the student evaluations required by the university. Students are generally able to articulate purpose and learning in their answers to these questions, and I am able to get a better sense of things that I need to focus on in future offerings. That being said, course evaluations have gone up each year, with the fall 2006 ratings being above the departmental mean. The changes made in the course over time have really helped to clarify the process and importance of research for these students, and they feel more comfortable in the skills they are acquiring. It is also important to note that the fall 2006 group had an overall more positive attitude than students in previous years. They had a positive attitude at the start of the course, and their attitudes may also have been attributed to changes made to the course. Students responded favorably to the assignments, came to class prepared and participated in discussion and peer feedback.

Student comments about the research posters were superficial, or they had a hard time finding constructive ways of evaluating their peers. This is definitely an area for further expansion in future course offerings.

As far other changes, I would still like to add a service learning option that puts students in front of a classroom or therapeutic setting in order to collect data. Service learning would provide students with real-world applications of the course materials in addition to assisting the community. However, there are some logistical issues in the way of time and scheduling constraints and approval from the school district and KU Human Subjects Committee that need to be addressed in order for this to be feasible.

Student reflections about conference opportunity
“I thought that it was a great experience. It was interesting to see other’s work, as well as having them ask about our poster and research. It was a lot of fun! It almost made me feel like more of an adult. Kind of weird, but it felt as though I was a colleague, rather than a student.” –Emily Bogard

“It was a very rewarding experience to be able to present our research study at the KMEA research poster session. The research process has been quite the adventure, and I’ve discovered it to be an area of great interest to me. It was exciting to see my professors and their colleagues presenting their research studies, as well, because it inspired me to always continue learning, observing, and seeking answers.” –Lindsey Shoemaker

“Thank you for the opportunity to do the formal presentation [at the Kansas Music Educators Conference]. [The opportunity to] further present my research…made me feel really proud of my work and let me know that research is important for others to see. I was disappointed that there were not many non-KU faculty or non-alums who came into the presentation room. It made me wonder how other schools value research in their undergraduate programs. I was never interested in research before hand because it just appeared too daunting, but now I have ideas for a further degree.” –Kody Willnauer

Contact CTE with comments on this portfolio: cte@ku.edu.


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